Weeks ago, my realtor friend and I said we’d get together soon at the new house. The plan was to down a bucket of wine and chat about my impressions of living in Rancho Viejo. We still haven’t gotten around to it. So, stowing the bucket of wine in the pantry for a later date, I’ve decided to jot down a few thoughts about Rancho Viejo for Melissa and for those who might care to partake.
A caveat, and a quite important one: I’m no fan of suburbia. For years I’ve held fast to my bias against it. I’ve resented every year I had to live in it. I’ve loved living in big cities. I’ve loved living in small villages. But I’ve never loved the in-betweenness of suburbia. When I finally made it out to pine forest acreage with a house in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, I considered it the crowning achievement of my life.
But these days, I find myself back in a standard, single-family-detached-home kind of neighborhood. Not long ago, I would have said “Suburbia, talk to the hand!”
I would have gone on to rant, “Suburbia, you are all about sameness, you create social isolation and cause us to use resources in the most inefficient manner possible! You flatten our cities and make it impossible to live without a car. The band Rush revealed your true nature years ago in their song ‘Subdivisions’. I personally cringed every time I had to exchange my pine treed summer camp for the concrete semi-urban grid of Albuquerque to resume the school year. A university architectural education (indoctrination?) further illuminated your shoddy workmanship, your watered down designs, your relentless decimation of every city’s urban core. For shame, suburbia, for shame!”
But like a lot of things that have happened lately, moving to Rancho Viejo has forced me to get off my high horse. In fact, Rancho Viejo has smacked me upside the head with several things that cause me to re-evaluate my longstanding prejudices against suburbia. For your consideration, Melissa, I offer up this list of ten reasons I enjoy living here.
1. You can see the sky. A lot of sky. I forgot how seeing the sky, from horizon to horizon, every day, in all kinds of weather, at all times of day, can tie you so closely to the wonder and delight that is New Mexico. No power poles or crazy, zig-zagged power lines in your way. No billboards or traffic lights. Not even any huge trees — most everything here is the size of a pinon or juniper and kept intentionally that tall. Which leaves just sky. And plenty of it. I take my dog out for a brief walk every morning before work and for a longer one most evenings. Not so much for the exercise, but to simply spend time outside and to see what the sky is doing. I’m never disappointed by the show.
2. It’s really very beautiful here. And you don’t have to do a darned thing to keep it that way except for pick up after your dog. All the landscaping and maintenance is done by the HOA. The trash is regularly emptied, pathways are trimmed and tidied, tagging (graffiti) gets removed, trails checked and repaired, plants watered with effluent, parks maintained. Wow. I thought it would feel very stilted, living in a community where the common space is regularly maintained. Sort of Stepford Wives-ian, if you know what I mean. But the feel is not constrictive or controlled. It’s delightful. Not only is the open space just beyond the neighborhood beautiful, the environment within the neighborhood is beautiful. I appreciate it every day.
3. Everywhere you look, there are houses nicer than yours and houses that are more modest than yours. Economic diversity – it’s good in theory, but in practice? Rancho Viejo offers the opportunity to judge for yourself. I find that I like having different kinds of households living here side by side. There are retired folks in the neighborhood and young families with children. I’ve met long-time Santa Fe residents as well as newcomers. Some houses are so pristine, you’re not sure anyone is living in them. Others have dogs and gardens and yard furniture and artwork galore. I’m aware that the more expensive homes have given the more modest households access to amenities they might not otherwise enjoy. I live in a fairly middle-sized home, on a street with pretty dense spacing. But that density allows for acres and acres of open space to be enjoyed by the entire community. (And others who come out here to mountain bike and hike the surrounding trails.) Most importantly, I am constantly reminded by the built environment itsel that how I’m doing is merely a matter of perspective: compare myself to the more wealthy and feel inadequate; compare myself to those less well off and feel blessed.
4. You can rediscover the original intent for an attached garage. This is the first time in … wait, maybe ever, that I’ve been able to park my car in the garage. Okay, probably not ever, but it’s been so long that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have to scrape the ice off my windshield on winter mornings.
5. You can save a lot of money. Frankly, you’re going to get more house for your money here than “in town”. The down side is that you might not really feel like you live “in town” anymore. But the upside is that you’ll spend a lot less eating out! It’s hard to motivate yourself to drive back into town just for a meal. Even when you’re craving that mole from Tune Up Cafe. Just not worth the time and effort. I find myself looking for excuses to stay home. “Okay, if I delay going to Ace and to the market until a weekday when I have to be in town, I can spend all of Sunday without having to drive anywhere!”
6. You can walk outside day or night, near your house or far from it, and feel completely safe. Really.
7. If there’s a problem in the neighborhood, you have someone to alert and someone who’s responsible for helping. And it’s not the City of Santa Fe. It’s nice to know someone’s got your back.
8. If I could convince my friends to buy a house here, it would be you like living in a cohousing community. I’ll be working on this one. I will relentlessly advocate R V to my friends! I will reach out to surrounding households! My neighbor two doors down brews beer and makes wine. Apparently the “back alley neighbors” get together frequently to sample. I’m thinking about starting a Sunday afternoon potluck down at the nearest park (there are several nearby) when the weather gets warmer. I’ve already been invited on group dog walks and told the secret location of a great water source nearby. The house next door will likely come on the market this spring. Just letting you all know. I could resume homemade pizza on Friday nights if there was a call for it.
9. This house was designed to bring in a TON of natural light. After years in beautiful but dim adobe structures, it’s pretty swell. I don’t even mind winter when the house is so full of light.
10. I live in suburbia, but I can still hear the coyotes calling to each other at night. Vox clamantis en deserto. Amen.
Note: For clarification purposes, a bucket of wine equals approximately three bottles.
Also note: I would have many more pictures for you, but since Riley is afraid of phones, I can’t carry mine when we go on our walks. The few times I’ve tried it, he’s run away as soon as I took the phone out of my pocket. Twice he ran all the way home without me. But my daughter Carrie DID manage to sneak hers along on a walk one afternoon with us and took these pictures. Don’t let on about it or he’ll never walk with her again.