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David and Mary Jane D’Arville recently returned to the city to live in Union Hill. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
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Mary Jane D’Arville visits Sub Rosa Bakery with her daughter Cecelia. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
Engage people in conversation about why they live where they do, and the answers are as varied as the respondents. But the bottom line is simple: quality of life. As with so many personal opinions, “quality” lies in the eye of the beholder, and can change over the years.
In our area, the question of residential location is often framed as “city” — that being the City of Richmond — and “suburb” — loosely defined to mean any county location that falls outside the city limits. Many city dwellers assert they love the city’s energy. Just as many suburban residents say they love the conveniences the suburbs offer.
Over the last 30 years, Mary Jane D’Arville has bounced between the city and the suburbs. As a singleton, she lived in the Fan and shared a house in Chesterfield County. With her husband, David, she lived in houses on the city’s North Side and in far western Henrico County. Now empty nesters, the couple has moved back to the city to a house on Union Hill.
“I was sold on the community when I visited Sub Rosa [bakery],” she says, and “it’s nice to live in a place with racial and socioeconomic diversity.”
D’Arville says her most recent suburban neighborhood made a good effort to build community, with social events and a tunnel under a busy street to provide easy walking access to the community pool. Even with “wonderful neighbors” and easy access to specialty grocery stores, she missed city living. “Lack of sidewalk makes a difference,” she says. “You miss the physical connection.”
Jordan Rodericks and his son, Miles, enjoy suburban outposts of Fan favorites like Kuba Kuba (pictured) and Sugar Shack Donuts. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
Jordan Rodericks, who recently moved to Henrico after living in Westover Hills, the Fan and the Museum District, agrees. “One of the worst things about living in the suburbs is that you trade sidewalks for driveways,” he says.
The upside, Rodericks says, is the public schools. He went looking for a better middle-school option for his son, an only child. Ironically, he admits, his son is now enrolled in a private middle school in the city, because his assigned middle school wasn’t a great fit. “We’re following what’s right for him,” Rodericks says. But he doesn’t plan to return to the city, noting that high school isn’t far away.
Besides, he adds, the suburbs aren’t the wasteland that some might expect. “The area near Regency Square Mall continues to develop, and I expect that will continue,” he says, adding that it’s nice to see city businesses extend their reach, pointing to eateries Kuba Kuba Dos, Sugar Shack Donuts and Tarrant’s Café, which have opened Henrico locations.
Traci Ford, who recently moved from the Fan to the new Hallsley neighborhood in Chesterfield County, says better schools were also the primary spur for her family, but she has already discovered other benefits. “I’ve been more aware now that America is really different,” she says, pointing to the varied political viewpoints found in her new neighborhood. “Sometimes it’s nice to be sheltered, to be around similar folks, but being in a bubble isn’t really helpful.”
Working with a builder, Ford and her fiancé designed their house to meet their aesthetic and practical needs: it’s narrow rather than wide — “it reminds me of one on Strawberry Street,” she says; it has a front porch with a swing, which inspires sociability; and it has an “amazing” kitchen, which encourages her culinary adventures.
Ford says the neighborhood has “a ton of activities,” and her 9- and 11-year-old children enjoy riding bikes or walking to friends’ houses. “Here, my kids can have a little bit more freedom and can be independent without me worrying,” she says.
Moving from the Fan to a neighborhood off River Road in Henrico, Amanda Morris quickly found one new worry: Another homeowner warned her to watch for copperheads in the creek, a favorite play spot for children. “I loved having a playground in our backyard, so I didn’t have to walk the kids to a park, but I did worry about the snakes,” she says.
Morris says she and her husband were able to purchase a “ridiculously large house for a tiny sum of money, compared with what you’d get in the city,” but she never really separated from her old neighborhood, keeping her school-age children enrolled at Fox Elementary as long as she could.
Not long after the move, Morris’ husband was offered the principal’s post at Lucille Brown Middle School in the city, and she discovered she was having another child. Fearing isolation with a new baby and not much of a support system, Morris decided her suburban experiment was over.
The family returned to the city, and Morris again walks her elementary-aged children to Fox while her oldest takes himself to Albert Hill Middle School, where he’s been reunited with many of his elementary friends. “There’s a snuggly feeling of community all around you,” she says. “It’s a whole universe all in one neighborhood; we’re all in each other’s faces all the time.”
As for the school question, Morris says, her family is committed to making the city system work. “I know so many families who are all in for RPS,” she says, pointing to great high school options that include Community, Open and Maggie Walker high schools.