Monday, October 11, 2010

Life in the Lehigh Valley 'Burbs?

Many transplants end up buying homes in neighborhoods that their realtors tell them are "safe," and have "good schools," that are both newly-constructed and far-removed from the cities, transportation hubs, and center of activities in the Lehigh Valley.

This weekend, I met a woman who blushed when she described where she and her family lived (Orefield). "We didn't know better when we moved here," she said, and said how much she and her husband love visiting Bethlehem. But, she said, now it's too late. It got me thinking.

Another woman I know grew up in a small city and now lives in Breinigsville, and now laments having moved out "so far." She used the term "cookie-cutter" to describe her neighborhood, and said there were no decent restaurants or grocery stores nearby. She said feels like she lives in her car.
If you live and work at home in the suburbs, as my friends Lori and Amy do, it can be challenging to meet people, and I credit both of them for going out and finding ways to connect with other women in the Lehigh Valley, through their hobbies (fitness and gardening, respectively).

Some people say many realtors are guilty of racial steering. Basically it refers to when real estate brokers guide prospective home buyers towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race. I don't know about that for sure, but I'd say that some realtors do steer young people and newcomers away from older neighborhoods.

A few friends have told me about how much they enjoy living in their community in Forks Township, where just about everyone is under 40 and has little kids. Since neighbors have a lot in common and everyone moved in around the same time, they started fun traditions like block parties and group yard sales right off the bat. During the day, they go to the community center together, since many women stay at home with the kids, and their partners work/commute long hours in New Jersey.

I'm not saying that there aren't good reasons to live in the 'burbs, especially if you know the area well enough to choose a neighborhood, a developer, and a school district, based on real facts, not myth, history or weird statistics. But if you "don't know better," and you rely on your realtor to recommend, you will likely end up far from the center of Lehigh Valley nightlife, culture, and the activities that many of you tell me you want to do.

How did you end up where you did? Now that you live in the Lehigh Valley, do you wish you had done anything differently, or are you happy with your decision? And why?


  1. I'm in the west ward of Easton because that's what I can afford. ironically, I work in Breinigsville where your friend lives, but I wouldn't be able to afford to live here.
    people talk of all the great things about living in the city, but there's been about 10 murders within walking distance of my home (four within a block)since I've lived here.
    maybe 'living in my car' wouldn't be so bad...

  2. Anonymous10/12/2010

    I lived basically in either Allentown or New York for 25 years, and then moved to Emmaus, which is hardly a bustling metropolis. I don't even live in town! I live in an apartment on a private property that is quite secluded in the woods.

    Sometimes, I do long for living in a city or even in a town again. While walking around my place is a lovely, serene activity, I miss being able to walk TO places. That's probably the thing I miss the most.

    But that said, I love the quiet, the space (OMG the space!), the privacy, the different pace of living. I love that crime is not an issue, or crappy neighbors. Even the weather seems better when you live in the woods! Instead of snow being a gross black inconvenience, snow is a beautiful, quiet gift. Instead of rain being a shoe-ruining reason to cancel plans, its a savior for my garden and makes lovely sounds as it splashes into things.... which I can actually hear, since there are no cars, horns, screaming people, barking dogs, or loud stereos in my immediate vicinity.

    That said, I'll admit that the woods-dwelling experience is not likely to be entirely comparable to the suburban experience, but it is an alternative to urban dwelling that suits me alright. Its pretty hard to say what our next move will be.... maybe further into a rural space or maybe back to the City. Pros and Cons to both.

  3. Anonymous10/12/2010

    We live in historic Bethlehem and love, love, love it. However, when my pre-school aged kids finally go to school, our choices are slim... our neighborhood school has low test schools and Moravian Academy is crazy expensive. Or, I'd could drive my kids to another district school if I'm lucky enough choice them into it (but then I might as well live in the burbs 'cause I'll end up 'living in my car.') Since none of those choices are ideal, I'll most likely home school my kids until they're in middle school. They can engage in our neighborhood and community in other ways until then. Schools are a major draw back to living in a downtown. If you can stand the 1/2 mile walk into town, West Bethlehem is a great option with decent schools. But if you're creative and open to alternative educational format, I can't think of a better place for kids to grow up and learn about the world. Think...when we're studying the Revolutionary War, we can walk down the block to buildings used as hospitals during it!

    I highly recommend Wesley Works Real Estate in Emmaus. Sarah, Bryce and others over there really know the downtowns. Several of my friends have used them to buy (great!) places in Bethlehem.

    No matter what agent you choose, it's illegal for them to comment on the schools, ethnic or socio-economic makeup, safety, etc. of a community or neighborhood.

  4. anonymous,
    home schooling is a great alternative in PA; there are lots of good choices, Connections Academy, PAcyber, many others. in spite of how the local schools spin it, they actually do educate quite well. the local districts are understandably upset because they have to give up funding to the cyber schools.
    my experience is that if your child doesn't play football or wants to wrestle, the local schools really don't know how to develop the child.
    cyber schooling allows the parents to have a more active role in the education/molding of their own children.

  5. I live in a twin in West Bethlehem and love it! The houses are quite nice inside if you get lucky ( tall ceilings, natural wood work and LARGE), I walk downtown all the time to
    the library (which is terrific!), main street shops, sand island, monocacy pathway, and all around West bethlehem which is a great friendly neighborhood. Even though I have Wegmans a few miles away and mostly shop there, Sims market is excellent and carry everything you may need at regular prices. And, you do not have to go far for anything...The Halloween parade is a block away, big band music in 8th street park, not to mention walking downtown for Musikfest, Celtic fest etc. West bethlehem even has a dog groomer(The clip joint - excellent!)and i can walk to the Dentist! I cannot ask for a better location. Bethlehem in general is a great city to live in and with all it has to offer we will be staying a long time!

  6. We lived in two apartments, one in Macungie & then one in Bethlehem before we finally bought our home right outside of Emmaus. We would have loved to stay in Bethlehem, but unfortunately, we couldn't find the home we wanted in our price range that brought us into a good feeder elementary school. We don't want to have to move just b/c we have kids and private school just isn't an option. So we searched East Penn, Parkland & Saucon Valley until we found the right home for us.

    We like the mix of quiet (we're a few minutes from town in a sleepy community) and being so close to everything (15 minutes or less to most everywhere we like to go). And after years of driving to Emmaus every Sunday to go to the market, it's wonderful to be five minutes from the heart of the Sunday community.

  7. I can't believe I missed this post. I've told you many times about my embarrassment over living in the burbs. I live in Center Valley now, because I moved in with my boyfriend. We're close to his work, so at least it works out for one of us. If I had to do it again, I would move to Southside Bethlehem. I absolutely love the cultural diversity there and it's bustling and loud enough in the evening for me. Right now, there's just so much space and so much quiet in our neighborhood. I'm a city person who likes noise and close proximity, so I hate it. If you're young and like a lot of life around you, I recommend one of the Valley's cities, near the downtown areas.