Saturday, February 11, 2017

What Makes Your Neighborhood Great?


Anyone who has read my books knows that Boston is my hometown and the setting for my Fina Ludlow series.  That’s why some readers are surprised to learn that for the past nine years, my husband and I have lived in Seattle.  In some ways, Seattle and Boston are alike: the ocean, great food, progressive politics, and thriving tech businesses.  But they are different in other important ways:  Boston is a city steeped in history (literally) while Seattle feels like a newer city with an influx of transplants.

I love both places, but I’m especially enamored with my neighborhood in Seattle, the downtown core, literally a stone’s throw from Pike Place Market.  Living in an urban center—even a modest one by many standards—certainly poses challenges and exposes residents to the full range of human experience.  Poverty, homelessness, and drug addiction are on full display when I walk out my door, but I also see people from all walks of life, of all colors and creeds.  The diversity and the hum of downtown are a welcome respite from the solitary work of writing.

What are some of my favorite places in my neighborhood?
I grew up in a town by the sea just north of Boston, and I can’t be far from water.  I can see Puget Sound from my home, and the Washington State ferry dock is just a short walk away.  I love being out on the water, and the ferry takes me to one of my favorite bookstores, Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, WA.  The return trip to the city is equally spectacular, offering a completely different perspective on the same set of buildings.  The water and the weather systems that form over it are constantly changing and endlessly captivating.  How could you ever be bored with an ocean in your sight line?

Another favorite spot in my neighborhood?  The Seattle Public Library.  The unique central branch designed by Rem Koolhaas opened in 2004.  The building, with its glass exoskeleton and soaring ceilings, is a must-see for architect buffs and book lovers alike.  I’m a big believer in the value of public libraries, and the SPL doesn’t disappoint.  Need help with your homework?  Want to practice a second language?  Learn how to write a mystery?  The library can help you, for free, no less!

No discussion of my neighborhood would be complete without a mention of Seattle’s most popular destination, Pike Place Market.  To most people, the market is a tourist stop, but it’s my actual market.  I get my produce from Sosio’s (shown in the picture,) and when I ask them what’s good, I know I’ll get spot-on recommendations.  The Hmong flower sellers grow many of their blossoms just north of the city, and my butchers have been in business for generations.

But it’s more than just the fresh food and gorgeous tableau that make the market feel like home.  When my husband and I were visiting the city, contemplating making the move, we noticed a quote nestled into the pavement at the edge of the market.  It is a favorite quote of ours, one we had featured on our wedding program.  Stumbling upon it that day seemed a clear sign that the road to Seattle was the right one to take. 

Reds and readers, tell me about your neighborhood.  What do you love about it? Any frequent haunts? Or maybe you’d like to live in a completely different place?


  1. We’ve lived in city suburbs; here it’s still a relatively short drive to the library, the church, or the shopping center with its stores and restaurants but we’re happily nestled in the midst of pine and oak trees in a quiet rural area where the white-tailed deer regularly wander into our yard and the nighttime skies are bright with starshine.

  2. We live in a very small town and the library is the center!

  3. Joan and Gram, both of those sound just right! And Ingrid, I love the story about finding that quote--talk about a sign!

    If you have or will read any of the Key West mysteries, you'll know I love this little city/town--even though it has some big problems like homelessness, too many tourists, and ahem, occasional hurricanes. I too love our little library--it's pink stucco, set right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I'm on the Friends' board and it's been so much fun to see the staff grow and blossom!

  4. Lucy, there are three libraries within six miles or so of our house, but the closest [our local library], is, like yours, in a converted house in a residential area.

  5. Living in the NoVa suburbs can sometimes feel like a static experience - I'd pass 50 Starbucks before I'd get to a community theater and an art museum is an hour away on the Metro - but because of the close proximity to DC and so many military installations we have an incredibly diverse community. My street alone we have an African family, an Indian family, and a Vietnamese family - all immigrants; we have an African-American family, a Hispanic family, a Jewish family, two military families ... this is a street of just thirteen houses.

    We have excellent public schools and extracurricular opportunities for kids. I can drive no more than two miles (we're off a historic road and due to VA regulations that limit expansion of historical routes there are no sidewalks) in three different directions and find large, well-stocked libraries.

    There are strict by-laws about green spaces and have a large lake 3/4 of a mile away.

    We have a world-class public university a mere three miles away.

    And, my favorite part, we have a warm, giving, robust writing community. :)

  6. Ingrid, that quote makes me cry.

    We live in West Newton, a little town just outside of Boston. We are 14 minutes from the history and fun and culture and incredible attitude of Boston… But in West Newton, we can walk to the movies, and the coffee shop, and three great restaurants… I just love that small town feeling with the big city so nearby

  7. I live out in the township near the small town where I grew up in northern Ohio; I came back for a visit after twenty years' away and never left. I'm a few miles south of Lake Erie; my town was settled in the 1800s by members of the Freelove movement--the elderly librarians kept all the town's histories under lock and key when I was a little girl. At that time the drugstore still had a soda fountain where you could buy a cherry Coke for 5 cents. There are woods and ravines and fields, my home is surrounded by oaks and maples, and like Joan, I greatly enjoy the visiting wildlife.

    The local libraries--about 5 within a 5-20 minute drive--all belong to ClevNet--the Cleveland library system. It's a great resource for small towns. I've lived in the mountains and visited the ocean enough to know I love the water, too. Not sure how I could find a place to put everything together!

  8. Ann in Rochester, persistantFebruary 11, 2017 at 9:27 AM

    We moved into our old house in Rochester 16 years ago and have never regretted living in a city neighborhood. Every thing we need is within a short drive or even walking distance, including a state-of-the-art new Wegman's.

    But the best part is our neighbors. People tend to move in and stay here. Or at least I would have said so until this week. The folks next door put their house on the market Thursday evening, and it sold on Friday. Check out my Facebook timeline for a video tour. This is the guy who did our kitchen after we had a look at his.

    I have no urge to get out into the suburbs. I like sidewalks and knowing who lives in every house on my street and the surrounding ones. That means limitless places to borrow a cup of sugar or ask for help in changing an outdoor flood light. I and Staci-Across-the-Street are the neighborhood nurses, and we have a couple of doctors, one a pediatrician, several lawyers, a few engineers and a ton of teachers.

    There are eight synagogues in Rochester, and we are in walking distance of six of them. I'm not Jewish, nor do I play on on TV, but I can pass, maiden name was Eberwein.

  9. I live outside Pittsburgh. Urban wildlife is the norm here. Just the other night there was a family of deer hanging in our backyard, just nibbling on last summer's clover.

    Of course the Carnegie Library system is ubiquitous in Allegheny County.

    We have scads of universities - from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon (along with some smaller ones) right in the city to Robert Morris and La Roche just outside.

    Outstanding, nationally-recognized medical facilities. A thriving tech sector (Google's self-driving cars are piloting in Pittsburgh and I'm happy to say there have been no reports of major accidents).

    A thriving cultural district with lots of theaters. The Carnegie Museums offer natural history, science, and art.

    Walk around downtown and you'll see people from all different cultures speaking several languages. Go into the historic Strip District to shop all kinds of ethnic cuisine.

    And the scenery, with the rivers and Allegheny Mountains is pretty nice. The city is very green, too. I'd stack a view of the Pittsburgh skyline as you exit the Fort Pitt Tunnel (on a sunny day or at night) against any skyline in the world.

  10. Pikes Place! The Seattle Public Library (the view from the escalators)!! Love them both.

    I live in a suburb of Boston and my favorite places include the banks of the Neponset River in spring. The top of Blue Hill in the fall. The "Greenway" -- walking from Boston's North Station to Chinatown with soup dumplings at the Gourmet Dumpling House at the end of the walk. I be content.

  11. Ingrid,

    Thank you for sharing beautiful photos. Cannot believe that my friends in Seattle who love books did not take me to visit the library! However, we did visit Pike Place Market on a rainy day! I remember it very well. After they moved to Vashon Island, I took the ferry from Seattle to Vashon Island and loved it! Have you visited Vashon Island?

    You mentioned Boston and I remember the Swan Boat on the lake. Another friend and her husband lived in Boston. We visited the beautiful Gardens. And I remember Newbury street.

    Re: my neighborhood. We are fortunate to have a wonderful public library that shares the building with the community center. There are still small businesses in my neighborhood. All within walking distance. We still have a movie theater. There is a great ice cream takeaway, which is actually ice cream made from cashew nuts, which is great for people who cannot tolerate dairy.

    Great post!

  12. Checking in from Toronto, where I've lived most of my life. Having survived enforced periods way way out beyond the suburbs (but not the country) I cling happily to my city home in an old neighbourhood in the east end, close to Lake Ontario. (Waving to Ann in Rochester....) Toronto has 100 library branches, one of which is 3 blocks from my house.

  13. We now rent an apartment in New Haven, CT where we live from September to June -- and we love the neighborhood so much. One reason is that our daughter and her family live here. We naturally cross paths almost every day. Within about a two mile radius we have Yale and my own alma mater, Albertus Magnus College -- we have our church, several delis, the school our older two granddaughters attend (as well as their ballet class place). I just love being part of their lives, but also having my own quiet place.

    And we are very lucky to also have our house in Falmouth, MA (Cape Cod) where we can walk to the beach and to Main Street!!

    Neighborhoods are so important!

  14. I love Seattle, and you showing us your favorite spots. Leslie Budewitz has a lovely Spice Shop Mysteries series set in the Pike Place Market, and she really captures that neighborhood.

    I live in Amesbury (which North Shore town did you grow up in?) and I love walking everywhere through its rich history, with the Powow River running right through downtown. We are a fifteen minute drive from the beach, and the wide Merrimack is even in walkable distance, where eagles nest.

  15. I love hearing about all your neighborhoods, and it's no surprise that libraries are often at the center of them.

    Edith, I grew up in Marblehead on the North Shore and still have family there. My favorite things in town are fried clams at the Barnacle, the Lighthouse, and lobster rolls from the muffin shop.

    In terms of wildlife, in recent years my mom's neighborhood has become overrun with wild turkeys. They are huge and aggressive; they stalk the mailman! I didn't even realize they can fly. Cars don't bother them in the least so if they're in the middle of the road, you'll have to wait until they are good and ready to move. Anyone else have turkey encounters? I always threaten to go outside with a bowl of stuffing and see how they like that!

  16. Ingrid,

    Thank you for reminding me. Once in a while, we see wild turkeys in our neighborhood. I wonder if there is a turkey farm in my neighborhood? There is a branch of Department of Agriculture building (lab?) in our neighborhood.

    Drivers slow down when they see turkeys crossing the street.

  17. Turkeys - yes! We have flocks of them in the summer. Once momma turkey was leading her brood up the our fence. The babies were small enough to slip through and into the high decorative grass in our neighbors' yard. Momma turkey was frantic. Didn't occur to her to go back down the fence line (from whence she'd come), out the gate and meet up with the flock. The Hubby had to shoo her down through the gate with a newspaper. Reunion was accomplished.

    If I ever see you, I can show you pictures.

  18. Having just come home from downtown Seattle, I can say that I love Ingrid's neighborhood, too! Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative and between that and my schedule I never even got to walk around downtown or go to Pike Place Market. But I have on other visits, and I'm sure I will be back. And I got to meet Ingrid, which was the highlight of my visit!!!!

    I love my neighborhood. We are thirty miles due north of downtown Dallas (which I also love) but we live in the historic part of our town, less than a mile from the town square where there are great shops and restaurants and sidewalk cafes and coffee shops, and the most terrific butcher. We have a great farmer's market just a few blocks off the square, too. We've been here for twenty-one years and the only time I'd consider moving is when it's August in Texas...

    Unless I could afford--and convince hubs--to move to London:-)

  19. Ah, we have marauding turkeys here, too, Ingrid. They stop traffic, parade through yards, and generally act as if they own the world. We keep our distance . . . .

  20. Ingrid, my husband has been to Seattle twice on business and said he would love to live there, except the grandchildren would be too far away. I'm hoping I get to visit there one of these days. You've made it sound irresistible.

    What I love most about my community of Owensboro, KY is that I can drive to anywhere within 10 to 12 minutes, my favorite home-owned restaurant in an old building with great ambience, a performing arts center where I get to see reproductions of Broadway shows, and a library that has books on CD for my car time. Owensboro is around 60,000 people. I grew up in a much smaller community, Maysville, KY, where Rosemary Clooney was born and raised. Her brother Nick, George Clooney's father, lives in Augusta, just outside of Maysville. George visits and eats at Caproni's, a long-time local eatery, and goes to Magee's Bakery for transparent pies, which I grew up on. He was just there last week, without Amal this time. I think Maysville will always be my first love for a community because its small population of 8,000 and my father being in real estate meant that I knew just about everyone. And, my first library love started there, with a big old building with giant pillars in front. Both Owensboro and Maysville are on the Ohio River, so having it near is comfort to me.

  21. I live in Coney Island/Brighton Beach area in NYC. I love that I can walk on the boardwalk and see the Atlantic Ocean. We also have the famous Cyclone roller coaster ride and Nathan's where the hot dog eating contest takes place. Then there's the minor league baseball team that plays a few steps away and I just heard that a soccer team will take up residence there as well. If you're looking for Russian cuisine, you'll definitely find it here. What I like most is my view of the cruise ships sailing by and the Manhattan skyline. Progress is rearing it's ugly head with the building of a 40-story complex that will block my view of the Atlantic Ocean, so right now I'm going to appreciate this view.

  22. I live in an old genuine neighbourhood in the Canadian prairie city Winnipeg. I'm about 35 minutes by foot to downtown. My neighbourhood is considered the granola belt - progressive politics, the original organic bakery in town, small-scale commercial activity along one avenue (an important element in a genuine neighbourhood according to the legendary urban planner Jane Jacobs), and our 100-year-old library is just ten minutes over the bridge that spans the Assiniboine River. It's a great place to live.

  23. Ingrid, I grew up on the water in Newyorkachusetts (aka CT) so I have deep love for Boston and New York but relocated to Phoenix many years ago. I loved living in the center of Phoenix and I love in my current neighborhood Old Town Scottsdale as a great place to raise my hooligans. Today was the Parada del Sol (one of the largest horse drawn parades in existence) and I was amazed at how many people I knew in the parade or watching the parade. Hub and I sat across from the iconic Sugar Bowl ice cream parlor, which is just down the street from one of my very fave places the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. I do miss living near the ocean but I have really enjoyed my years int he desert, too.

  24. Dru, we can watch the cruise ships leave for Alaska in the summer, and we never tire of it. They're so huge, like an enormous building cutting through the waves.

  25. Oh, it would be such fun to watch cruise ships! East coast or west...

    And Jenn, that sounds amazing.

    ANd all this is telling me I must go to Canada! And I will be there in June!

    (And we have turkeys too! CRAZY animals.)

  26. A few years back I moved into my current town from a place way out in the country, west of Fort Worth, Texas, where I had lived for 25 years. Although this town is not large, out in the country there was acreage between houses. Sometimes you couldn't see your neighbors at all. I was at least 20 minutes from my job, the grocery store, or the doctor's office, and a good 10 minutes from the nearest gas station. It was really, really quiet, except when the coyotes howled, but I never felt particularly isolated or afraid. When I moved into the "city," I did notice some mod cons that my country home lacked, however. For one thing, I could finally get cable TV and high speed internet. Also, when you're really hungry, people will bring food to your door! Out in the country, pizza delivery has to be arranged at a mid-point where your reasonable driving distance overlaps the pizza guy's delivery area. You meet up in some truck stop parking lot, and the whole exchange feels a little bit like a drug deal as you swap cash for food. But the real difference became completely clear the spring after I moved. A typical Texas storm front was moving through, and the sirens went off. Instead of immediately dashing for the closet, I paused a moment to marvel. "Hey! They have tornado warning sirens here! How cool is that?" Speaking as a woman who has had bits of someone else's barn dumped in my yard with without prior notice, tornado warning sirens are very, very cool.

  27. Gigi, That pizza hand-off does sound like a drug deal! Very shady, and it would require you to put on shoes, which kind of defeats the purpose of ordering in!

  28. Ingrid, hello. I'm glad to read your post today, although I'm a little late!

    I come from Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts. I was always told by my family, who lived there, that my great-grandparents had come down from Québec to find work in the mills of Salem. They always referred to us as French. In working through our history I learned that our little branch was not new in Salem but had returned. I learned this when I wasn't looking for it. Rather I was researching early Salem of the 1600s when I saw a familiar name in the town records. It was my 6th great-grandfather. John left town in the 1700s not long after the witch trials of 1692. He married and adopted the language and traditions of the French community near Québec City.

    They raised a large family and farmed. About 200 years later their 5th great-grandson returned. Not just to New England. Not just to Massachusetts. To Salem within what today would be about two blocks of where John had lived in Salem.

    I miss Salem and Marblehead. I was a restless kid anxious to move and found myself living in California. I am now creeping my way back. In Arizona now and anxious to step up the pace. I miss the Atlantic Ocean, the harbor, boats, old houses, firemen's musters, the woods, the beach in all seasons, sea glass, trees, and belonging.

  29. Hi Reine!

    I miss Marblehead, too, although not last week or this coming week, either! Seattle is gray and rainy, but snow is an infrequent event.

    Sometimes people ask me if I visited Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket while growing up. Those are both beautiful places, but I always thought, why would I? I grew up in the most beautiful coastal town you could imagine!