Since Tumblr hero Mills just broke the exciting news that he and Will are relocating to San Francisco, it seems like a good opportunity to finally bring out this post that’s been moldering in my drafts section for a few months. Below is some advice on moving to San Francisco from last year from Matthew Honan’s blog. I am fairly sure I first read it on kottke.org, but it’s stuck with me. Honan advises potential transplants to, first and foremost, be certain to move to San Francisco proper:
…I don’t simply mean that you should not live in the East Bay or the Peninsula or Marin. I mean live in a part of the city that your great-grandparents would recognize as being San Francisco. Somewhere that was entirely residential, and all of the homes in your neighborhood existed, prior to 1915. If you’ve only lived in SoMa, you haven’t lived in San Francisco. I know a lot of people who’ve moved here from somewhere else only to settle in SoMa…or South Park or China Basin or some other reclaimed part of San Francisco’s industrial past. Big mistake. If you haven’t lived in one of San Francisco’s traditional neighborhoods, you’ve missed out. You haven’t ever gotten to experience one of its primary joys…This is a city of small communities, each with its own character. Get to know one, with its small shops and locally owned businesses, and you’ll find it infinitely rewarding.
This really interested me: the Great-Grandparents litmus test. I was wondering if this same test could be accurately applied to other cities. Would your great-granddad recognize your neighborhood as part of the city you live in? If so, does that make your experience more rewarding? Here’s Karina Wolf on Bright Wall in a Dark Room, writing about the neighborhood in which The Royal Tenenbaums is set:
It correlates with the more modestly numbered streets of Washington Heights where you’ll find a hilly Manhattan full of shambling buildings. The neighborhood is downtrodden and grand: a reminder of a time when New York’s greatness was still under construction. One of my friends, a new New Yorker, moved up there because he thought that’s where he’d find the real city.
The real city. In this case, the portions of Manhattan your great-grandfather would recognize as the newest parts of the city. If you’re looking for summer reading material related to the old New York, Steven Millhauser’s Martin Dressler captures the spirit of that time and place very well.
It’s worth noting that my homestead on S. 12th passes the test, although just barely. My house was built sometime around 1910, as were most of the houses in the area. South Minneapolis, as I’ve written before, is laid out on streetcar lines — houses were built on narrow lots and clustered together, with commercial and light industrial areas located every several blocks on the streetcar lines. This arrangement does make Powderhorn Park a more cohesive neighborhood than others. The older neighborhoods in Minneapolis have that feeling, too: Loring Park, Stevens Square, Marcy-Holmes, Phillips (or at least the pockets not totally devastated by the freeway construction in the 1960s), Whittier, Nicollet Island, Elliott Park, wide swaths of Northeast and North, the less farty portions of Uptown, the parts of the West Bank that weren’t also torn up in the 1960s to build the University expansion. Not coincidentally, these are the places in Minneapolis I’d most want to live.
Of course, Minneapolis isn’t a particularly old city — very little of the housing stock is older than 1900 or so, and almost nothing is older than the Civil War. The further south or northeast you go from downtown, the newer the buildings get, until you reach either the first-ring suburbs or about 1960, whichever comes first. Powderhorn Park itself was practically a suburb in 1910. Said a couple of Minneapolitans a generation earlier about building parks in the city:
‘Why do we need a park? There will never be a house south of Tenth Street.’ Another opponent claimed: ‘The whole city south of Franklin is a park.’
St. Paul, of course, is about twenty-five or fifty years older than Minneapolis in most portions. Most St. Paul neighborhoods pass the Great-Grandparents test. I am pretty sure almost every neighborhood I’ve lived since I was 18, with the possible exception of Bryn Mawr in Minneapolis, has passed the test.
So what about your neighborhood? Has living in an older portion of town versus a newer portion made for a dramatically different experience? Would you rather live in Morningside Heights than on Long Island? What parts of your city would not compel your great-grandma to ask you what you’re doing all the hell way out in the boonies? Are those places nice places to live?