Cool family neighborhoods around Lancaster, PA?
April 21, 2014 8:22 AM   Subscribe

I'll be moving with my family (including two young kids) to the Lancaster, PA area in August. We'll be renting a place and I'd like to know the names of some good neighborhoods where we can concentrate our searches. In-town or slightly-outside-of-town are all okay (though I want to stay within a 40 minute drive of Middletown, where my husband will be studying). Important criteria: •Friendly neighbors •Relatively low crime •Good school zone is a plus •A cool neighborhood vibe is a plus
posted by KateH to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It may be on the outer edge of your driving time, but your kids would love living in Mt. Gretna, PA.
posted by gudrun at 8:35 AM on April 21, 2014

Litiz, Neffsville, or Landisville might suit you. Landisville is probably the most affordable of the three, not too far from the city via the Harrisburg Pike, and a short commute to Middletown. Mount Joy and Elizabethtown or Manheim are also nice communities, but have more of a conservative feel and feel much more removed from the city. The Hempfield and Manheim Township school districts have good reputations. East Petersburg is another area you could consider.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:43 AM on April 21, 2014

Hi. I live like 10 minutes from where I assume your husband will be going to school, as it's the only post-secondary institution in Middletown. I grew up in Hershey, and I'm now living about five minutes from the house in which I grew up (having spent most of the last 8 years in Indiana for my sins, but whatever). These are definitely my stomping grounds. I now work in Lancaster, so I'm increasingly familiar with that area too. I should buy you guys a beer or something.

First thing though: Middletown isn't generally considered to be in the Lancaster area. It's much more part of the Harrisburg area. Middletown is in Dauphin Country, not Lancaster County, if nothing else. You can certainly live closer to Lancaster and work in Middletown--a lot of people do so--but you should be aware of the general direction that Middletown is oriented.

Second, price-range is going to be really important. Hershey is a very nice place to live and raise kids. . . and one of the most expensive areas in three counties because of the presence of both the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and the global HQ of Hershey Foods. Lots of physicians and corporate execs living in Derry Township, which has also served to attract a lot of similar types working in Harrisburg. So if you're willing to drop $250k-350k+, you can do very well for yourself there. If you're looking to stay under $250k, you'll probably do better elsewhere.

Third, Middletown has pretty inconvenient geography in terms of actually getting there. It borders Swatara Creek, which is a large enough body of water that the eastern approaches are limited in number. It's also right on the Susquehanna, meaning you can't get there at all from the south. In short: odds are decent that your husband won't be taking the highway to school. Which is fine, but does limit your geographical area somewhat.

If Hershey is too expensive for you, I think your best bet is definitely going to be in either Elizabethtown or Mount Joy, particularly the former. Very quaint little town, entirely reasonable housing prices, decent school districts, nice all-around place to live. My wife and I are actually looking in that vicinity to buy our first home.

The suggestion about Lititz isn't a bad one, though you'd definitely be at the outer-edge of your driving radius. 35-40 minutes, easy, assuming no traffic on PA-283 (not an awesome assumption, but not a terrible one either). Manheim would shave off 10 minutes. But E-town? Maybe 15 minutes total. Same for Hershey if you want to end up there.

Hard to know what you mean by "cool neighborhood vibe" though. If you're talking about some place with a lot of mixed-use development and trendy shops/businesses. . . this is Central Pennsylvania we're talking about. We don't really do that. There are a few blocks here and there in Harrisburg, York, and Lancaster which have one or two of those, but they hardly constitute a "neighborhood" in any significance sense.

And those few places aren't in what would be considered "low crime areas" by local standards. There isn't a block in Dauphin, York, or Lancaster Counties that could give some place like Baltimore, Detroit, or Camden a run for their money, but there are definitely sections of Harrisburg, York, and Lancaster that are significantly less safe than the surrounding rural and even suburban areas. For example, Lancaster City has maybe 10-15% of the population of Lancaster County but half of the criminal homicides, a third of the sex crimes, and two-thirds of the robberies. A lot of the rural areas have practically no crime to speak of.

There are some increasingly okay areas in Harrisburg City, but the gentrification process is still in its infancy. The city is currently recovering from a rather unpleasant municipal bankruptcy, and there are a lot of areas with high percentages of boarded-up houses. But there are also pockets where some very good work is being done. You'd just have to be okay with your concept of "neighborhood" being limited to maybe a one- or two-block radius if you're going to live inside the city limits. Public schools are shit though, no two ways about that.

I'd be happy to talk about this in more detail via MeMail, if you'd like. Again, I've spent the better part of thirty years basically right next door, so I've got a decent feel for the lay of the land.
posted by valkyryn at 9:57 AM on April 21, 2014

It's on the outer limits of your desired range, but you might consider Paradise. I've lived here for ten years and I love it. It's fairly rural, but that's part of the appeal for me.

Welcome, possible neighbor!
posted by DWRoelands at 11:15 AM on April 21, 2014

Another local here.

Grew up in the sticks between Middletown and Elizabethtown. I currently live in Mount Joy.

I would definitely suggest E-town or Mt Joy if you are trying to find something with a decent commute to the School you are talking about. PA-283 is hit or miss for me, depending on traffic. You can take 230 strait up through both towns into Middletown if you prefer.

If you can get here to visit ahead of time for a weekend, some driving around well really help you get a feel for things.

It's going to be hard to find a cool everything in walking distance culture and shops and restaurants neighborhood around here. Plan to drive.

When we were looking at for our current apartment it was pretty much either Old possibly dodgy house rented by the owner, or Apartment Complex.

posted by PlutoniumX at 1:05 PM on April 21, 2014

So, we checked out the area this past week and I wanted to give an update of my impressions.

Downtown Lancaster has some sketchy sections, by the looks of it, BUT the area around Central Market was FANTASTIC and exactly the kind of "cool neighborhood" area I was referring to. It had neat little shops and restaurants all within walking distance, with an urban vibe. There happened to be a huge cosplay convention going on the day we were there, so that was fun to see. Very diverse neat neighborhood, and we loved seeing just how many people were out and about downtown on a Saturday (which is pretty different from my hometown of Nashville).

Having said that, I don't think we'll necessarily try to live in downtown Lancaster because we found a school we liked north of town and we'd like to get a bit more space, if we can. But a great area to spend the day.

Lititz was a great neighborhood, too, with adorable houses and a quaint, walkable downtown area (with a great English pub). I'm not sure "cool" is the word I would use for it (even though it bills itself as "America's Coolest Small Town", but it was certainly cute.
posted by KateH at 6:23 PM on April 30, 2014

« Older Tips for learning birdsongs?   |   Migrating to Medicine from Computer Science Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.