You’ve got a check list for making a move to a new community, it probably includes the usual things: school scores, price per square foot, walk scores, commute times to your key locations.
You’ve seen the Stepford Wives, Weeds, True Blood… There’s one more dimension to consider when scouting the right community to settle into. A value audit can help you embrace the non-economic parameters that may bring greater happiness than an extra bedroom streaming with natural light or a completely flat yard. There’s more to life than well-kept lawns, late model cars in the driveway and the best schools and school scores. Beyond the physical manifestation of upward mobility, what lies at the spiritual center of the place you’re looking to call home? How do you go about taking the pulse of a community to see if it’s in line with your heart not just your wallet?
Mall walking & highway exits?
Is there a town square or central common where people go to sit, chat or meet old and new friends. Having a visible place to go can create a sense of community. For some, walkability and local business can define a sense of “place” and “home”. For others, easy proximity to the highway, ample parking and nearby Malls are the essence of convenience and solitude that may characterize “home”. Check the walk scores for your next home.
Libraries and bookstores
Conventional wisdom around these parts may be that the library is going the way of the telephone booth, but thriving communities usually have a bustling library to serve many interests and needs. The bookstores per capita can tell you a lot about priorities. Are you sure the locals aren’t all Fahrenheit 451, and check the banned books list at the local Board of Education. Make a visit to the library part of your next open house tour and see what’s on offer.
Music, performing arts, visual arts, you can even lump movie theaters in this category. Is there a local arts scene, arts festival? What’s your arts passion, whether its photography, pottery, theater, rock and roll, or classical, checking out the weekly arts rag for your interests. Mill Valley is home to the Mountain Play, the Sweetwater, and an annual film festival. Nearby Sausalito draws crowds for its annual art festival.
Beauty Pagents, Parades, and Civic Participation
“I'd never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member”, so said Woody Allen. But in your community you might want a to know that the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary or Lions Club is inclusive and welcoming to business, community members and visitors alike. Town organizations and their character reflect the interests and character of their community, and offer opportunities to get involved. Attend an upcoming Chamber event.
Parks & Rec
Is the only way to dip your toe in the water to join a country club or does the town have a public pool and rec center? What are the most popular sports and activities in the town? How friendly are they to your family’s type of outdoor activities – running, cycling, walking, skateboarding, swimming?
Free range kids or contact sport parenting?
What’s the pulse on the youth of the town? Is it typical teen rambunctiousness or are there some deeper, troubling undercurrents. One way to check this is find out the name of a respected local therapist and buy an hour of their time. Or, check in with the local police department.
Civic Life & City Hall
Find out who the mayor is and introduce yourself. Learn about the town from the top down. To some extent, how responsive the mayor and city government are to your questions is how they will be to other issues if you become a resident. Is there a replica of the twelve commandments or the liberty bell on the lawn?
Nothing beats some in person reconnaissance. Seeing firsthand what drop off looks like at the local school(s). What’s going on at the park and what do traffic patterns look like around town. Also, check out the town website. It helps if they have one and it’s even better if it’s looks like it’s updated frequently. If there’s a local paper, read it to get the flavor of the place and the people.
If you do your homework, you may find what you thought was important wasn’t and some more intangibles are. The new checklist may surprise you!