One year ago, we moved to Richmond. This was purely a lifestyle move; no job or family brought us here. We knew very little about Richmond prior to our move – only that housing is cheaper. We’d been casually looking for a house in the Virginia D.C suburbs for a few years, and after seeing yet another nearly half million-dollar townhouse 25 miles outside of D.C., we decided to broaden our horizons. I can’t remember exactly how we decided on Richmond, but we started looking for houses in February 2021 and closed on our tiny, 1946 1,200 square foot cape cod in April 2021.
I’d thought about leaving the D.C. area for years. As wonderful as Northern Virginia is on paper, it always felt oppressive and not quite right for me; too type A, too busy, too stuffy. I spent much of the last decade fantasizing about getting out. I’ve written about this desire many times, so I won’t go in depth, but I just felt unsettled, and unable to rid myself of a restless longing for someplace else.
It’s strange, but Richmond was kind of love at first sight for me. When we moved into our neighborhood, I had a feeling like, “ah, yes, this is what I’ve always wanted.” I felt like I could finally relax. The homes in our immediate neighborhood are a mix of decrepit, uncared for modular-style rentals and tidy if uninspired post-war homes on 1/8 acre lots. But just one block in either direction, there are several lovely neighborhoods with architectural styles spanning the 1880s to the 2020s. After spending most of my life in beautifully maintained but homogenous neighborhoods (the neo-colonial housing lobby must have really had a stronghold in the 1990s), the variety of architectural styles within walking distance is still thrilling, one year later. It makes neighborhood walks much more exciting.
Across the street from us is a large hospital, a meadow (technically a bunch of overgrown empty lots that are either being turned into a parking lot or mcMansions, depending on who you believe on Nextdoor), and a sprawling high-end apartment complex. There’s an easement behind our house where electrical, Internet, phone wires and weeds live in unholy communion, and in summer, the drainage ditch across our house becomes a boisterous frog refuge. At night, after a heavy rain, the frogs are so loud you almost feel like you’re in a nature documentary. Or a horror film. We have a nice sized backyard and a large, uneven deck from which we enjoy watching robins, mourning doves, blue jays, cardinals, several species of woodpeckers, and a rowdy family of squirrels. In the summer months, bats fly overhead at dusk and fireflies light up the yard, and the air feels so heavy with humidity that my summer baseline is hot sweaty mess. It’s dreamy, in a languorous, southern way. Half a dozen frogs live in our rain barrel, as do a million hungry mosquitos, and that is not so dreamy. We can hear passing trains and tolling church bells from inside our house, and our house is close enough to our neighbors that we can make out backyard conversations clearly. For a while, I thought we had overly reactive skunk living in the easement behind our house, until I realized that what I was smelling was my neighbors’ daily afternoon pot-smoking sessions. I know this kind of proximity to neighbors is not for everyone, but I enjoy the signs of life around me. This kind of proximity and liveliness is new to me, at least within the U.S.
I know it’s not entirely fair to compare our lives in Richmond to our lives in Centreville. Currently, we live three houses down from the Richmond City line. In Centreville, we were 25 miles outside of D.C. And while D.C is a tier 1 or 2 city, Richmond is a tier 3 or 4 city, meaning we don’t have to deal with things like traffic or crowds. We have the time and money to access the city here, something we didn’t have in Northern Virginia. The art museum, botanical garden, park system, historic districts and non-strip mall commercial areas are all within a 10-minute drive, or even a short walk. D.C feels more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than here, and there are, or course, many more interesting neighborhoods and attractions in D.C. than in Richmond, but these were mostly inaccessible to us on a day-to-day basis when we lived in Nova. One year in, we are very happy with our decision to move. A walkable neighborhood has always been the dream and, for the most part, our neighborhood is very walkable. My dentist and eye doctor are within walking distance, as is my daughter’s pediatrician and dentist, two bakeries, two dozen restaurants and shops, a small local library, the post office, a grocery store, two farmer’s markets, a hardware store, pharmacy, beer and wine shop, butcher shop, two playgrounds, a coffee shop and a cupcakery. In some ways, our lives have gotten smaller here. My daughter’s preschool is 1.2 miles away, my husband’s job is a 4 miles round trip. The local Aldi is about a mile away, as is Home Depot. In Northern Virginia, five miles might take 20 or 25 minutes, here, five miles take about eight minutes. If we’re up for a bit of adventure and a “long” drive, we’ll make the 4-mile trek to the trail system along the James River or to the historic district.
And if we’re feeling REALLY adventurous and want to experience something a little more urban, we might make the six mile drive down Monument Drive to Church Hill or downtown Richmond because it’s only a 15-minute drive taking the scenic route. Google maps says there’s “traffic” when the commute takes two minutes more than it usually does. These are the joys of being centrally located. I can’t tell you how happy a life without traffic makes me. My day-to-day anxiety is gone, as is the low-grade stress of living in a major metro area. I feel happier.
I’m pretty sure long-time Richmonders aren’t thrilled with all the people moving in from Philadelphia, New Jersey, Northern Virginia and other “expensive” places. The cost of living has gone up here a ton, like everywhere else. But our move here did buy us a major lifestyle/quality of life upgrade, and I’m glad we finally took the plunge.