accompaniment real estate
A Tale of Two Cities • A college town and an upscale suburb share both a sense
of community spirit and a ‘Best Cities’ designation
written by michael blanding
agazine editors love to count down their Top 10 and Best
Of lists, slashing their bright pink highlighters across those
things deserving attention from the rest of us. As a journal that occasionally
indulges in the practice, we were more than piqued by the recent list in
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance of the “ 10 Best Cities for the Next Decade,”
which singled out not one, but two New England locales —Burlington,
Vermont, (No. 8) and West Hartford, Connecticut (No. 9).
On the face of it, the two burgs couldn’t be more different. One is
a funky student oasis with an outdoorsy vibe that wears progressive politics on its cruelty-free sleeve; the other is a leafy bedroom community
of sophisticated suburbanites that’s a magnet for upscale shopping and
dining. Their character clash leads us to wonder just what kind of future
we’re heading toward. Is it one where we wake up to peruse the arugula at
the organic farmers’ market and end the day savoring a pinot noir at the
wine bar? Where we kayak in the lake before grilling up burgers at the
backyard BBQ? Where we browse the racks of hemp onesies before stumbling upon the perfect Tory Burch flats?
In any decade, both undeniably have their charms. Burlington has
managed to create a gritty urbanity in a town of only 38,989 inhabitants;
West Hartford, population 63,034, is technically a town, with an elected town council and
appointed town manager, and has retained a
suburban, family-friendly character even while
its dining and retail options have overshadowed
the much larger city next door. If there is a quality they share (besides high property taxes), it’s
an emphasis on education, Burlington with the
overwhelming presence of the University of
Vermont, and West Hartford with some of the
best high schools in Connecticut.
Indeed, Burlington can seem like one vast
college campus. Church Street Marketplace, the
main pedestrian arcade, overflows with youthful energy as street buskers entertain the crowds
and eclectic eateries beckon diners. The focus
on fresh local ingredients predates the latest loca-vore craze by a decade, and restaurants strive to
please the palate and the wallet.
median home price:
$20.02 per $1,000
Home of the famous
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream,
Burlington is now among
the nation’s most eco-conscious cities, with an
emphasis on local food
production, giving it a
truly communal feel.
M burlington, vt
west hartford, ct
As Kiplinger’s noted, environmental awareness has led to a green-collar boom, from enviro home-goods manufacturer Seventh Generation
to a proposed wind farm by Green Mountain Power. The mayor even set
a goal to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by 20 percent within the next
decade. What the magazine didn’t mention is the city’s $17 million debt
from a cable deal gone bad, putting a strain on municipal services. And
even though the unemployment rate is among the lowest in nation, the
median household income is just $40,539. The upside is that real estate is
relatively cheap, with the median house price hovering at $235,000.
West Hartford presents a different picture, humming along on a vibrant
economy of small businesses, ample employment in the insurance companies of Hartford and the surrounding area, and a median household income
of $79,619. The city abounds in attractive Colonial architecture, including the home of wordsmith Noah Webster, who lived in town until he was
21. With the median house price at an affordable $277,950, one of the biggest draws of this community of picket fences and front porches, might be
location: two hours from Boston, New York, Rhode Island beaches, and
the Berkshire hills.
With an urbane sophistication, it has hit a sweet spot between the
struggling capital and the ritzier suburbs. The
most recent addition is Blue Back Square (a
nod to Webster’s Blue-Backed Speller), an
open-air mall of style-conscious chain stores
(Ann Taylor, Crate & Barrel, REI) and restaurants that set up alfresco seating to take
advantage of live entertainment in summer. As
Kiplinger suggests, it signals a prosperous (if a
bit generic) future. Still, the heart of downtown
is a few blocks over at Main and Farmington,
where upscale independent boutiques thrive
alongside trendy eateries.
The most appealing commonality of the
two cities is that both are real communities with
vital pedestrian hearts that foster chance meetings between real neighbors from a range of
backgrounds. If this is what’s in store for the
next decade, it bodes well for the future of
the American city.
west hartford, ct
median home price:
$38.38 per $1,000
In recent years, West
Hartford has flourished
as a retail-based suburb
while maintaining a
Colonial homes make up
the bulk of the real estate.
SOURCE: THE 2008 AMERICAN COMMUNI T Y SURVE Y OF THE US CENSUS, VERMON T HOUSING DATA, THE WARRNE GROUP.