After spending a weekend in a very urban area (northern Virginia/Washington D.C.) and returning to Knoxville, Tennessee, I have a few comparisons between the places. Some are, believe it or not, favorable to Knoxville.
Driving: Drivers in D.C. are significantly more aggressive than they are in Knoxville. As a result, it is somewhat safer to drive here. However, the roads in Tennessee are falling apart literally before our eyes. In several places around Knoxville and other cities we passed through, we felt like we were four-wheeling in the outback instead of driving on paved roads. We didn’t have that feeling anywhere in the D.C. area. Also, the heavy reliance on the Metro by the locals reduces the burden of longer-distance driving on the roads, and there is nothing like that in Knoxville.
Parking: Yes, parking in a big city can be a challenge. But after having gone downtown this afternoon to meet up with The Wife for lunch and wasting fifteen minutes of her lunch hour trying to get to where we wanted to go and parking the car, I have to give the nod to D.C. on this. That goes for the District as well as the northern Virginia suburbs; in residential neighborhoods and shopping centers there, parking was a snap. We didn’t have any unreasonable trouble parking anywhere we went in D.C., other than when we wen to the National Zoo.
Commerce: Shopping and other commercial activities are significantly easier in D.C. There are many, many more options of things to buy, and the quality of goods available, from fresh produce to wine to fresh flowers to electronics and books, is much greater there than here. It does cost more, but not that much more, and consequently day-to-day consumer activities result in better values in D.C. than here. The Wife went looking for a shirt and failed to find anything she liked, so perhaps she’ll disagree with me on this one.
Livability: D.C. (the district itself) seems remarkably livable. There are sidewalks everywhere; people are out with their dogs all the time playing and having fun on the weekends; there is the open-air market and beautiful parkgrounds for them to enjoy. People seem to live more active lifestyles than in Knoxville; there are more joggers and walkers and other people engaged in recreational athletics than I see here. Perhaps the absence of sidewalks virtually anywhere in Knoxville is responsible for this. D.C. is more dog-friendly, and that’s a big plus for me.
Environment: Here, we are relatively blessed all around. D.C. has some glorious scenery. The row houses are beautiful, the embassy houses are beautiful, the suburban houses are beautiful. The whole area is overrun with green — parks, manicured lawns, trees. Rivers and smaller runs everywhere are pleasing to the eye. And of course in the District, there are monuments and spectacular symbols of America like the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and so on. But Knoxville is beautiful in its own way — it is even more lush and green than northern Virginia and it has wonderful mountains and hills to break up the landscape. Only downtown and industrial zones mar an otherwise-attractive environment here. There were comparable levels of allergens and air pollution.
Diversity: No comparison here, either. Knoxville is like TV in the fifties — pretty much all black and white. Both colors are pure, corn-fed Amurcin. D.C. is every bit as much a melting pot as Los Angeles; perhaps it skews a bit more towards those of European descent than for Latinos, but there’s all kinds there. We had great Mexican food at a taqueria and drove through ethnic neighborhoods with Ethipoians, Koreans, Chinese, and Latinos who had both Mexican and Guatemalan flags; I overhead people speaking in Spanish, Arabic, and Russian and with a variety of accents during our adventures. In neither place do I get a sense of profound or overt racial tension. While here in Knox there is substantial Balkanization of racial groups, when members of different groups interact at work or in commerce, there seem to be very few problems. In D.C., with so many people from so many different backgrounds, people interact with one another all over the board — although it does not escape me that there is still some ethnic Balkanization and the bulk (not all, but most) of our friends there are Europeans, like us. So
Weather: The stifling summer heat has begun in both places. Both feel hot and humid; today it is oppressively so here in Tennessee. I’m tempted to turn the air conditioner on but for now I’m toughing it out with the windows and a very slight breeze. But D.C. got pretty hot, too. Fearing a cold wind or rain, I wore a denim shirt and cargo pants to the ballgame and wound up sweating profusely. If you don’t have formal places to be, shorts and light T-shirts are mandatory this time of year.
Cost of Living: Nowhere I have ever been, except perhaps the pre-EU Czech Republic, compares with East Tennessee for low cost of living. Housing and gas are relatively affordable here; we live in a house somewhat smaller than that of dceditor and her husband, on a similarly-sized lot; the purchase price of the undeveloped lot that our friends live in could buy two, maybe even three, single-family homes in our neighborhood.
While we were there, The Wife asked me if I would prefer to live in the D.C. area than Tennessee. My answer was, “If we had the income to support our existing lifestyle here, yes, I would.” She didn’t ask for a comparison with California.
So is it good to be home? I suppose, but this will only be our home for another week. We’re getting packed up and ready for the move soon, and then this won’t be our home any more. In two weeks, we’ll be Californians again.