Keep SimplifyingChoose your quarter

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Your life in your dream city is going to be much simpler if you live in the center of your daily activity.

An ideal way of living is to walk to work, routine shopping, and cultural events. However, modern urban development often thwarts this arrangement, and suburban planning and development is usually openly antagonistic toward a pedestrian way of life.

Take the attitude that you are seeking a place that supports what you want to do. You are not seeking to live in a fortress away from the world or a generic suburb. You are seeking to live where you can follow your heart's desire. In many cases, urban neighborhoods or small city centers can give you this.

What I mean by "quarter" is a particular area of a city, consisting of perhaps several dozens of square city blocks.

For example, the Bloomsbury in London, SoHo in New York City, the Third Ward in Milwaukee, LoDo in Denver, or Old Town in Wichita.

TIP: The shortest distance in a city is not necessarily a straight line.

TACTIC: Think about why you want to live in a city and list the focus areas of the city that relate to those reasons.

It makes no sense to move across the country in order to live in the city of your dreams and then settle an hour's drive away from the major activities of that dream. Love the seashore? List that as one of your focus areas. Love the nightlife? Like to boogie? List among your focus areas the major entertainment districts.

A famous quarter itself may be one of your focus areas. You might want to be among the folks in Greenwich Village or Streeterville.

Major focus areas might include your work, your school, your major geographical passion (hiking trailhead, river, lake, mountain, seashore) or major cultural passion (performing arts centers or museums).

Consider if you live car-free or car-lite.

Come up with approximately three to five focus areas.


  1. Photocopy a map of the city that includes your focus areas.
  2. Circle your focus areas.
  3. Draw circles centered on your focus areas with a radius of 1 kilometers (0.6 statute miles) by the map scale. One kilometer is about the distance that would take about 10 minutes to walk.
  4. Look at that area of the map that the circles overlap. Shade any overlap area in red.
  5. Draw circles centered on your focus areas with a radius of 2 km.
  6. Look at the area of the map where the 2km radius circles overlap. Shade the overlap area (that is not already shaded red) in orange.
  7. Continue drawing circles with radii of 3km, 4km, and 5km and shade the overlap areas that have not already been shaded in green, yellow, and blue.

Look at the "hot" spots on your map--the red, orange, and yellow. These are the areas of the closest overlap of your focus areas. In your search for a place in a city, consider the red, orange and yellow areas first.

TACTIC: Visit potential quarters of your dream city that you have identified as close to your areas of interest.

On your map, these are the red, orange, and yellow areas. Don't go with prejudice--don't assume that the stereotypes about a downtown area or "inner" city are true. Don't dismiss an area if it doesn't seem to match your personality exactly. For example, if you see yourself as somewhat quiet person, don't think that a downtown location or a student neighborhood wouldn't be to your liking. Walk the streets. Eat in some restaurants and go in some stores and coffee shops.

While visiting, make note of the following:

Remember, these visits will give you only an impression of an area. In cities, the atmosphere and character of the streets change block by block and from hour to hour. This variation adds to the excitement of living in a city.

TACTIC: Make a final choice of a quarter to live in after synthesizing all your information and impressions.

You might decide that your attraction to a particular quarter is mostly emotional--you might always wanted to live in the Latin Quarter of Paris or the Maxwell Street area of Chicago.

However, remember that proximity to your major points of interest will, in general, improve your living efficiency. The ideal would be walking distance (red orange, or yellow shading) to your key focus areas.

If no quarter seems to be a clear favorite to you, choose a quarter in the city center. Or choose an area near an essential transit stop or near a particular place of interest or emotional significance for you (a church, a park, or a cultural feature).

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