Choosing an Urban Lifestyle | Sandra's Story

Sandra and her family have chosen urban living in Dallas rather than following the typical path of life in suburbia with a long commute. I asked Sandra to share her story and to give advice for other families who are considering the change from suburban to urban living.

What made you decide to move downtown when you had grown up in suburbia?
The choice to live downtown was simple for our family – it fit our lifestyle.  After starting a new job that was downtown we had just started a family and it felt natural to have work and family close together. Rather than commuting to work during the weekdays and traveling downtown on the weekends to do the things we loved doing we made the commitment to live downtown.

Any unexpected discoveries?
We got to experience the growth of the city. We moved downtown 6 years ago and there wasn’t much attraction to live downtown.  There was a certain energy that started to build when the arts district was building the Winspear, Wylie Theater, Performing Arts Theater. Then, the Main Street Garden, Belo Garden, Clyde Warren Park, Margaret Hunt Bridge….Many new restaurants and hotels took a chance and started appearing downtown. We could see the people on the street level versus staying underground. We enjoy seeing the life happen outside our 6th floor windows. Our view overlooks the Main Street Garden and there is always something going on.

What was difficult about the transition
We contemplated the difficulty in downsizing. However, it wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be to downsize to a 1100 sqft apartment. It was more of a relief to not be burdened of keeping “stuff”. We’re minimalists at heart and it was an easy transition to use space efficiently. We have to constantly discipline ourselves to keep things in order by not keeping things. I have to note that we do have our families that live close by and they help us with storing seasonal items and some of our large house items. So, I think that would have been a challenge for us if we didn’t have family close by. The most challenging was knowing which school to send our kids to. That took some time asking around and learning about the school system.

What do you think other people considering the change should know?
Well, the lifestyle of living downtown with kids is not for everyone. We had to justify the high cost living with:
  • Making the most of the time that we spend together as a family. (We are able to offset the cost of living downtown by not commuting long distances, not paying as much on electricity, and not paying for home maintenance. It’s slightly more than living outside the city. But, it’s a tradeoff for being close to things we love doing.
  • Making the most of the quality of things we do together. (we surround our kids with museums, music, restaurants, farmer’s market, parks, holiday events. Our window overlooks the annual Christmas parade.)
  • If you don’t have kids, the transition would probably be much easier. Take advantage of what the city gives back to the Dallas community. Downtown Dallas has many free things programmed. You’ll be amazed at your options that you have, especially in a growing city like Dallas.
  • Here are some things that I wish I knew before selecting a place to live downtown:
  •  If you are looking to live downtown, talk to people that live or have lived downtown. Get an idea of what kinds of downtown living arrangements there are. A good way to meet downtown residents is to join the Downtown Dallas Residents Council. They have monthly meetings about downtown events and monthly networking happy hours.
  • Dallas apartments differ on floor plans and will depend on your needs and likes. Some have open loft living, traditional, and a combination of loft/traditional (walls/doors that separate rooms). Be careful of the vaulted ceilings – they look amazing but the electricity stays on all the time to keep cool/warm.
  • Which floor of the building that you live and where the windows are located can make a difference in the sound that comes in from street level. If you are on a low level, you’ll hear downtown evening weekend noise (if you’re close to Main St.). Most likely you only tour a place during the day and won’t notice it as much. We were also fortunate to get a corner apartment (away from Main St.). It’s quieter than living in the middle of the hall.  Side Note: We’ve never lived above the 6th floor but we love that it’s not too low and it’s not too high. It captures a great human scale to watch people and feel connected to the city.
  • Double paned windows help with outdoor sound. For example, we toured a 6th floor apartment with double paned windows and then toured a 10th floor apartment in the same building. The 10th floor had the original historic windows (single paned) and we could tell that it was louder on the 10th floor than the 6th floor. It probably wasn’t energy efficient either.
  •  Outdoor views make a difference. We once lived with views of a small atrium. Not enough sunlight came in and it felt like a dungeon in the winter. We could tell it affected our mood after we moved out and into a wonderful apartment with east facing windows. Also, we once lived in a place with west facing windows and we will never do that again. It heated up our place since we had an entire wall of windows facing the west.
  •  Ask to see the water heater. We once lived in a loft that had 2 small water heaters. These are very inefficient in savings.
  • It’s not recommended to do large shopping trips. We make frequent stops to grocery stores to buy fresh produce in smaller quantities. Living downtown with amenities such as bell carts make it easier to transport large loads from car to home.
  • Ask about storage. We lived at one place that had basement storage which was convenient to store seasonal items.
  • Beware of the online apartment sign-up deals that offer a moving company that will move you for “free” to your new apartment. For us, they tacked on so many charges that we couldn’t negotiate out of especially when your move-in time frame is ticking.
How do you feel the change has made you different?
In many ways I feel like if we lived outside of downtown we would still be much the same. I know I would have regretted not ever making the leap to try living downtown. I notice that I’m always thinking of ways to use things for multiple purposes. I appreciate that I can live my life that feels simple/minimal/uncluttered/ sustainable. I think I’ve learned to live more in the “now” moment and not so much about the “what if”. It’s amazing to watch the world through our kid’s eyes.  Making the little sacrifices to live differently has made me thankful that our kids can experience the world from another perspective than how I grew up. (not that it’s better in any way from growing up in the suburbs – they’ll just have a different perspective/awareness of things).
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall