We moved into a “new urbanism” community in North Carolina almost six years ago. It is called Southern Village, and it lies within a 40 minute walk to the south of the University of North Carolina campus at Chapel Hill.
That 40 minute umbilical chord is psychologically critical for me. Just knowing that I can get downtown on my own two feet in that short space of time is a real plus.
Yes, we need to improve the sidewalks along that route in a couple of key places, but at least that work is on the calendar albeit now delayed for several years. UNC and the town of Chapel Hill seem to have reached an accord and it is just a question of allocating necessary funds from the State and other sources.
Not to worry, however, because we also have – a change since our arrival – free bus service in Chapel Hill. You can get to most places on one or two bus lines that pass within either 2 or 8 minutes walking time from our front door.
Training people to use this service is much more difficult than getting it up and running. And like so many grand plans, all of the energy seems to have been spent in that startup process and little is being done now to explain where people can go and what they can do if they take the bus. I, at least, try to fill some of that gap with friends and others with whom I get the chance to make my bus pitch.
What else is changing here?
Just yesterday, our town fathers and mothers approved plans for the first stage of a new neighborhood park which will cover tens of acres and be about a 9 minute walk from our house. That will provide another nice destination for an exercise outing.
Our health club is expanding into triple the space and will finally get a full rowing machine, in part because a number of us asked for one. That arrives in the next few months.
We will get another new restaurant, 8 minutes of walking away. It will be an Asian theme we look forward to testing it. Almost alongside will come yet another restaurant, this one a more all-purpose American place, and we look forward to testing it out.
Our first neighborhood bank arrives next month. In an age of globalized everything, this will be the first branch office for this Chapel Hill institution.
The trees in the neighborhood are growing more confidently along the sidewalks. Many died in the first couple of years, but now those that have survived, and replacements for the others, seem to be much more settled in their new homes, as are we. The image of tree-lined streets is becoming a reality, at least for the middle months of the year.
The birds, too, seem to be quite comfortable now that the only hammering comes from a few renovation projects and the occasional picture hanging exercise. We are blessed with a forest full of some of the prettiest looking and finest singing birds we have ever “known”. Add to them a few deer now and again, and the odd possum and other unknown creatures, and you have a real nature paradise continually unfolding out our windows.
The season for entertainment on our village green has started, too, with concerts the two last weekends, films to start shortly, and various events planned to get people out on the street and mixing it up and keeping the merchants in business!
We are all tackling our individual landscaping challenges, with some having better luck than others. The homeowners association is addressing some of those who have dropped below the acceptable line of yard presentability, and we are all happy to help do something about those neighbors if we can just figure out what that help might be.
Just outside our community, another new commercial center is beginning to rise, and we will all be anxious to know what it will bring us, and whether the residential community planned around that center will come to pass and what it will finally be.
And we hope for good weather for the occasional workers who are focused on finishing the widening of the main street in front of Southern Village. They have been working on this for many years, but their coffee breaks seem to last for weeks at a time, and what should have been a year’s project has been stretched way too long. That said, traffic has continued to flow well, and the inconvenience has been minimal. It will, nonetheless, be nice to have the road finished.
Oh yes, we have yet another park planned to the north of us which will give us a wonderful walking destination and a route that we can walk into the next town, Carrboro.
Although never perfect, we are watching a community establish itself and get better with almost every day.