A lot of people hate living in the city: the crowds, the hustle-and-bustle, the noise. Then there are lots of other people who think they would hate it, but -- once they try it -- discover they love it!!!
I fall into this latter group. I'm introverted, solitary, and anti-social, so the idea of living in a place that's full of people? It was a no-brainer that I'd hate it! I wanted to find my own "Walden Pond" or something. (Never mind that I've never actually read any Thoreau -- it's the principle of the thing!) Then, as I explained in my post le metro, once I tried living in the city, I loved it!!! It was like a revelation of new possibilities that I'd never considered, and now I'm hooked! Today I'm going to explain why I love it, and encourage you -- if you've never considered living downtown -- to think about it.
My number one reason why I love car-free urban living is convenience.
Since your car can take you anywhere, anytime, it seems like it would be hard to beat that in terms of convenience. But really it depends on your temperament and what types of tasks you find pleasant or unpleasant. As I said in my post about le metro, the stress and time wasted on concentrating on driving, finding a parking space, remembering where you parked, not to mention keeping track of maintenance, insurance, etc. add up to a huge pain in the butt compared to the breath of fresh air that is stepping out of your house and taking a pleasant, invigorating walk to your destination. I think commuting by car and working out are both intolerably boring tasks, and it galled me to have to do each one separately if there was any way I could trade them both in for a task I like, namely going for a walk. Walking regularly is a pleasant, painless, even entertaining way to get some exercise. (The entertainment factor come in if you love people-watching like I do -- it's fun and a source of great free material for aspiring writers.)
An additional plus over traditional workouts is that you can't just start up with good intentions (buy the equipment and/or gym membership) and then decide you're too tired, lose interest, etc. If your only means of getting home involves your own feet, then you don't need a whole lot of will-power to stick with the program.
And that's not to mention the cost in actual money! It was painful to me to see such a huge chunk of my paycheck go bye-bye for a vehicle that I didn't even want. For all of my exmo friends who talk about how much better they're doing financially after giving up tithing: giving up a car is even better!!! I caught another person on my blogroll making a similar calculation here.
There are a bunch of bunch of great noble reasons for adopting an urban lifestyle. Not wasting fuel helps us move towards a sustainable future both in terms of protecting the environment and keeping the peace with other people competing for the same scarce fossil resources. Living in the city, you typically interact on a daily basis with people from all different backgrounds, making it difficult to function as a hard-core racist, and encouraging understanding among different groups instead. But choosing this lifestyle isn't a question of martyring yourself for a grand cause -- once you've tried it you may end up doing it just because you want to.
But what about the kids?
That's the best part! Admittedly the question of the school district opens up a whole can of worms, and it may be a challenge to find a solution that works for you as I have in my European dream. But aside from that question, urbanism means a host of different options for kids concentrated within a few blocks of your home.
Back when I was living in New Jersey, a colleague of mine used to talk about the hours she would spend driving one kids to one private school than the other kid to another school, and would waste whole days driving her kids to their various lessons. And she had only two kids who were both young teens. When you live in the city with decent public transportation, it's possible to give kids a bit more independence at a younger age. Obviously you need to work out age-appropriate rules, but you're not locked into a situation where your kids under sixteen are stuck at home (with maybe a strip mall or something within biking distance) except when you're available to drive them somewhere. Plus if the car isn't an absolute necessity for getting around, it's easier to put off the dangerous rite-of-passage of giving your kid the car keys until you're sure your kid is mature enough to handle it.
Kids aren't the only ones who benefit from being able to transport themselves conveniently without driving. There are plenty of people who can't drive because of various handicaps such as blindness, and there are others who shouldn't be driving but do it because it's so inconvenient in many parts of the U.S. to transport yourself any other way. Elderly people can stay independent longer when they live within walking distance of shops. I see this in France all the time: very old ladies with their baskets making the rounds to the market, the bakery, and the pharmacy, and having a nice chat with the shopkeeper at each one. That's what I plan to do when I get old. :D
Plus even people who are normally okay to drive are often in situations where they shouldn't drive (and end up driving anyway for lack of other options). That includes more-or-less unavoidable situations (taking a required prescription, feeling angry and hence less able to concentrate), as well as irresponsible ones (driving while talking on the phone or after drinking). Drinking is only half of the problem of drinking-and-driving, the other half is the driving, which should be just as avoidable. And even if you're a safe driver, you are endangered by having to share the road with tons of poor drivers, many of them in super-sized assault vehicles...
The real question, though, is whether it's even possible.
Admittedly, in the U.S. it's pretty challenging to find a place to live that is a "walkable urban space" (where pretty much everything you need can be obtained within 1/4 to 1/2 mile or so of your home, even perhaps your job, plus ideally convenient public transportation and safe bike routes fill in any gaps). Daddy, Papa and Me wrote a post about the possiblity of walkable urbanism in the U.S. And I'd like to encourage more people to consider it, because the more people that want a walkable urban space and make it a priority, the easier it becomes to make it a reality.