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City living still proves rewarding

Sunday, February 27, 2005

For years, I feared cities.

The fear was rooted in nothing more than ignorance of the unknown, having grown up in a small farm town in Maryland. Aware of that weakness, I set out to change my knowledge and perceptions. I traveled and kept an open mind. So, by the mid-1990s, when I first moved to Pennsylvania, it didn't feel foreign to buy a home in a city.

The parks, the neighborhoods and the proximity to downtown were much more interesting than a house in the suburbs.

We could walk, as we often do, in any direction and see something new, whether an old house, a store or a farmers' market.

In the end, the fact that swayed the decision to buy in York was a practical consideration. A house with four bedrooms next to a park can be bought for the price of a luxury SUV.

In Maryland, a decent house takes two incomes to afford and the mortgage is overwhelming.

Apparently, my family's experience isn't unique.

In today's Real Estate section, Ellen Lyon, a Patriot-News staff writer, looks into some real estate trends for Harrisburg. Housing prices in certain areas are going up, and sales have been increasing, according to statistics gathered by Greg Rothman, a local real estate agent.

As the article mentions, the city's population is nearly half what it was in 1950. A steep decline like that might never reverse. Cities nationwide have endured a similar fate.

I retain great hope for cities, despite the fear and bad images that linger in the minds of the middle class. Schools and crime will remain issues for anyone who has a family. The reality and the perception, however, often aren't linked.

When I bought a house in York, co-workers with houses in the suburbs were amazed at my daring. They wondered: How could I feel safe?

These suburbanites were so convincing that, at times, I had my doubts. After all, they had been in York County for years. What did I know? I learned that they might have known York County, but they didn't know York. Time -- 10 years of time -- has proven them paranoid.

For one, my neighbors don't tolerate crime. Any foolishness in our beautiful park is reported to the police. And the police respond.

The neighborhood isn't rich. We are a diverse group economically as well as socially. Some rent; many own.

The common link is that we take pride in our neighborhood. We don't leave trash on the sidewalk. We clean up graffiti. We talk to one another.

Our mortgages are low, we enjoy a park with tennis courts and playgrounds, and our houses are large and beautiful.

At times, I think we are on to a secret.

TOM BARSTOW: 255-8464 or [email protected]

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