Is it fair for me to want to live close (walking distance) to work?
April 26, 2006 12:32 AM   Subscribe

Is it fair for me to want to live close to work? My fiancee (soon to be wife!) and I are thinking about moving to Melbourne (Australia) and the place I want to work at is located in the middle of the city. I've suggested living right in the heart of the city so that I can walk to work, but she's getting upset with neighbours in our current place and would like to live in a house (which implies out in the suburbs)...

Whenever we discuss it, we seem to get into an argument!

Currently, I live within walking distance to work (about 20 minutes walk, a situation I carefully engineered when I got this new job). I must admit, I've really gotten used to it and the idea of a 30 - 40 minute commute doesn't appeal to me anymore (I've done it before).

However, whenever we discuss it, she says she wants to live in a house rather than a unit. Her reasons aren't really that clear, but I think it's a combination of noisy neighbours, along with a "looking to the future" attitude that we might need a house for kids. My problem is, she doesn't work currently (she is studying externally), so it doesn't really matter to her where we live (in terms of a commute), whereas I have to get up an hour earlier every day if we live in the suburbs.

Does it seem fair for me to make this argument? I can't seem to get anywhere on this one and am interested in opinions.

If you don't want to "take sides", I'm also interested in comments from MeFites about living conditions in cities versus suburbs as well as commentary on surviving the commute (if you do think I should move to the suburbs)!
posted by ranglin to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Commutes can be bearable.

I have an hour commute on a train and the train is quiet enough that I can spend time thinking/napping/reading until I get home. I commute for the opposite reason (I live in the city and work in the suburbs) but I definitely would not want to do it if I had to drive (pollution/car rage/the extra worry about my car breaking down).
posted by kechi at 12:49 AM on April 26, 2006

I'm not saying you're in the right and she's in the wrong - I don't think there's a right and wrong here, necessarily - but your argument certainly seems fair to me. It's certainly less stressful and more healthy to walk.

Are there no houses or townhouses in the downtown that you could afford?

I can also imagine that if she's getting the chance to move, she will want to make it as ideal as possible, and may be thinking long-term. Neither of you is being unreasonable; talk it out.
posted by Dasein at 12:50 AM on April 26, 2006

Could you compromise and maybe cycle to work thus allowing you a wider area within which to look for a house?

Could you initially rent close to work and then buy later on when her studies are over?

I think that arguing whether a commute by car/public transport is bearable for you is missing the point. I think you'd actively miss the 40 mins walking exercise you're getting every day.
posted by oh pollo! at 1:19 AM on April 26, 2006

20 minutes on a train and you can be in very pretty (if expensive) suburbs in Melbourne. From memory it didn't take me longer than 30 minutes to get to town from where I was studying and I was quite a few suburbs out. May I suggest a compromise? ... twenty minutes by public transport (which is excellent in Melbourne) and walking. This should be enough to get you into housed areas and although these are expensive suburbs as you are talking about living in the middle of the city I am assuming that price is not as much of an objective as location. Although as oh pollo says loosing out on the incidental exercise would be a bugger.
posted by Gilgad at 1:33 AM on April 26, 2006

If it will make her happy, it's worth considering her wishes. However, I don't understand how a dislike of your neighbors now has anything to do with where you live next. You aren't bringing your neighbors with you, are you?
posted by majick at 1:45 AM on April 26, 2006

My wife and I are having the same discussion. When we were in NYC we lived both in the city and outside of it. I think your argument is reasonable, but honestly there are pros and cons to both sides. I actually quite liked living outside of the city and it was a nice escape from all the activity. (Even though it meant a longer commute) Buy an iPod and load it up with free audiobooks and podcasts.

In any case, sounds to me like she's "nesting". Not to make any misogynist statements, but this might be a more biological than logical argument.
posted by BigBrownBear at 1:53 AM on April 26, 2006

I think you should defer the argument until you arrive in Australia and can start checking out neighborhoods in person. I know when I moved to Hawaii I was intent on buying a house - I was tired of living in apartments in Seattle. But when I got here, all the decent houses I could afford had less privacy than I was used to, with bedroom windows literally less than 6 feet from a facing neighbor's bedroom window. I ended up getting a townhouse - one shared wall with a very quiet neighbor and much more privacy than any house I looked at or any apartment I'd ever lived in.
posted by zanni at 2:03 AM on April 26, 2006

Commuting to RMIT or Melb Uni (where I assume you are going to be working) teaches you to empathize with those cattle shipped in trucks across country. It burns you out. Makes you hate cities. But then again all of inner Melbourne tends to do that after a while. Your girlfriend should leave you just for giving up a place like the Gold Coast!
posted by zaebiz at 2:26 AM on April 26, 2006

I moved to Melbourne a little over a year ago, thus the searching and decisions around where to live are still fresh in my mind. If, in fact you will be teaching at RMIT or Melbourne Uni, then there are a few communities within walking distance that mainly comprise Melbourne's iconic terrace homes (North Carlton, Fitzroy and North Melbourne). The closer you get to the CBD, the more terrace homes become unaffordable and are mixed with apartment blocks of various levels of ingenuity mainly aimed at students and young professionals.

I started my search thinking that I would be happiest in the leafy 'burbs or somewhere on the sandbelt. Frankly, unless you want a car lifestyle or get lucky and snag a place close to a tram line or train station. Plus, if you're planning on renting up front, I was disappointed with the available units; small bedrooms, limited storage, etc. Again, aimed at a flash, young urban lifestyle despite being nowhere close to a village centre.

All that said, and depending on what part of the CBD you'd be working in, there are a multitude of communities within walking distance that offer a quiet lifestyle in a terrace or small building.

Full disclosure: I ended up renting a place in Carlton not far from Melbourne Uni and Lygon Street and easy walking distance to Brunswick Street, Rathdowne Village and the CBD. Access to the major expressways also couldn't be better. It's amazingly quiet except for once or twice a year and access and services couldn't be better.
posted by michswiss at 3:06 AM on April 26, 2006

Is it fair for me to want to live close to work?

Honestly, the answer to this question doesn't really matter. There is a more fundamental question here which is the kind of marriage you are going to have. Either you're going to weight each of your interests equally and decide who gets what they want on the basis of some reasoning/arguing process, or you're going to come to a (possibly unspoken) agreement that her happiness is always going to come first.

Obviously, in the latter kind of marriage you're still obliged to take care of yourself which would mean, for example, that you don't accept an arrangement that would affect your ability to be a good husband in other ways (e.g. a very long commute that would make you tired and cranky). The idea is to do what's best for her taking the whole picture into account.

I don't know your situation, but it is possible that you've had a type-A (equal weighting) relationship but she's expecting that it will become more of a type-B (wife comes first) relationship now that you're getting married. It's worth thinking about. I'm not going to tell you what to do, but I honestly find it easier since I decided to go with type B, it certainly saves a lot of arguments and anyway if she's happy, you'll be happy as well.
posted by teleskiving at 3:06 AM on April 26, 2006

You get a good bit of your life back when you can walk to work. If the travel time if shorter and if you spend that time walking instead of sitting on your bum in a car, you are lengthening your life by getting more exercise and spending less of that extra time doing a mindless task (traveling to and from work), and you are reducing your distance from other things. Don't forget:
Melbourne has twice shared top position in a survey by The Economist of The World's Most Livable Cities on the basis of its cultural attributes, climate, cost of living, and social conditions such as crime rates and health care, once in 2002 [2], and again in 2004.
If you were talking about moving to Detroit, I might understand your wife's objections, but Melbourne is a good place to live. Get her out in the country on weekends for picnics and a roll in the grass and she'll be happy.
posted by pracowity at 3:37 AM on April 26, 2006

In Melbourne, a 20 minute train commute can easily turn into an hour of hell. Cancelled and delayed services, overcrowding, late night physical violence, overzealous gangs of fare enforcement officers, broken ticket vending machines, the presumption of guilt if you make a ticket mistake... the list goes on and on. By the time you get home you will be stressed and irritable.

A good compromise would be to consider moving somewhere close enough to bike to work a few times per week, maybe along the Yarra. Alternatively, find somewhere to park a car within biking distance to work.
posted by Meridian at 3:48 AM on April 26, 2006

20 minute train rides in Melbourne are not bad. The trains are sometimes delayed but that has reduced now that construction on a major station has reduced.

20 minutes walk / ride from Melbourne or RMIT gets you into some nice spots in the inner North and to the East like Carlton, Fitzroy etc. They are not quite 'the suburbs' you'd get in US cities nor are they a dense urban environment.

The city itself in Melbourne isn't such a great place to live. There are high rise places there and there is stuff to do but you pay a premium.
posted by sien at 4:05 AM on April 26, 2006

The essence of a good marriage is compromise. Think of this as prelude to your future life. You guys are going to have to balance the good and bad aspects of either location and how important these are to you. Frankly, I see you in a nice home I am the burbs, but the process of getting to this decision should be made without rancor or hurt feelings.
posted by caddis at 4:34 AM on April 26, 2006

The essence of a good marriage is compromise.

Agree with caddis (well, substituting 'relationship' for 'marriage'). Happily, in this case, the best parts of Melbourne are the inner suburbs. Not the CBD, and not the burb-burbs.
posted by pompomtom at 4:42 AM on April 26, 2006

However, whenever we discuss it, she says she wants to live in a house rather than a unit. Her reasons aren't really that clear

I'm going to stop you there. That is your problem. She has strong feelings about the topic, and she's not telling you why they're so strong.

You need to get her to talk about it some more, in a non-confrontational, non-argumentative way. Your reasons are perfectly logical and eminently understandable. Of course, on the face of it, we're going to side with you.

But your fiancée's reasons are unknown. Nothing's going to get resolved until you figure out what's really going on.

In a movie, this would be because she was pregnant. I'm just saying.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:47 AM on April 26, 2006

I'd try to present the idea of getting a place in the city to rent while you get a feel for the area and where to you might want to settle down into a house. Set a specific timetable: You will live in the city for 1-2 years, during which time you will work on finding a place that everyone will be happy with in the long term. Set specific milestones (save x per month for a move, research a neighborhood/suburb per month, etc) and meet them so she knows you are serious about considering her wishes. This gives you time to get a feel for neighborhoods, transit options, etc. Who knows? You might find housing in the city that works for both of you, she might decide she would rather live near the conveniences of the city, or you might decide a somewhat longer commute is a good trade off for your own space and possible future family.
posted by mikepop at 5:50 AM on April 26, 2006

On the one hand: where do you spend your life, what kind of people are your neighbors, what is the environment in which you will spend most of your time?

On the other hand: how difficult is your commute?

If she has strong feelings, despite her inability to articulate why, it would seem to me that the living environment is more important than the length of commute. It is part of the essence of the life you will live. That is why I suggested that I see you living in the burbs. (what a typo in that though - through the wonders of careless spell checking "im" became "I am" instead of "in.") I agree with pompomtom that finding those reasons would help you discuss the situation rationally. However, you may find that many important life decisions in a relationship are not made "rationally." Just because someone's reason for wanting things a particular way are not rational to you does not mean those reasons are not valid. If something is really important to the other person you had better find out why or at least respect those reasons.
posted by caddis at 5:58 AM on April 26, 2006

You didn't mention if you're buying or renting, and I think it's significant. It depends on the local market characteristics, but my experience has been that central areas can be much less buffeted by the winds of real estate market changes, making it easier to sell for a good price and make some money in the mid term, which in turn can give you more options when it does come time to look for something larger/more private/more peaceful.

In this situation (and provided that you're buying not renting) I would do everything I could to find something reasonable in a relatively central area (i.e., more what you would prefer) with a view to reselling in 2-4 years. If you do your research well, and barring any market catastrophes, by the time you look for something that leans more towards her preferred features, the added equity you will have built up will likely give you a lot more options. At that time you may be able to consider an older, closer suburb that better mixes the things both of you want but that right now might be out of reach.

At least it worked out a bit like that for me in a similar situation.
posted by mikel at 6:00 AM on April 26, 2006

However, whenever we discuss it, she says she wants to live in a house rather than a unit. Her reasons aren't really that clear

I think part of the problem here is that your reasons are logical while her reasons are probably emotional. Both approaches to picking a housing location are valid, they're just different.

Honestly (speaking as a girl, here) I think part of what is going on is probably tied to the wedding. She (like so many of us) has a perfect picture in her head of what her life is going to be like after she gets married, and in her case it involves a little house in the suburbs and a white picket fence. By saying "lets move to the heart of the city" you're sort of implying to her that one part of her "dream married life" isn't going to come true ... so perhaps (by implication) other parts aren't as well.

Another thing to take into consideration is what type of living arrangements you've had in the past. Do you currently live in a big city? Or in an apartment in a small town? It could also be that she's just overwhelmed by the idea of living in a (by assumption) small space in a very big city and doesn't know quite how to cope with it. I grew up in a rural area and now live in a very small city where the apartments are almost all converted spaces in former single-family homes. If someone said to me "well, now we're moving to New York City" I'm quite frankly not sure that I wouldn't freak out and panic -- how do I do my laundry? Grocery shop? Get from place to place: rural-ish vs heavy urban can be a big change.

They key to you and her not fighting about this is that you not dismiss her (clearly emotional) arguments as, well, just emotional. Emotional reasons for wanting or not wanting to do something are not any less valid than Logical reasons -- they're just different approaches to problem solving. I suspect that some aspect of your conversations about this involve you saying something like "that's silly" or "yes, but why do you want this" or "that doesn't matter" or "but that's not fair to me" or in some other way implying that if she doesn't have practical, logical reasons for wanting this, her arguments are not valid.

The emotions we feel about our homes are not all logical. You know the saying that "Home is where the heart is" -- is this going to be your first home together? If so, then you want both your hearts to be in it.

Talk with her about what features she wants in a home. Perhaps she wants a lawn and green space of her own. Perhaps she wants a garden. Perhaps she just wants to not have a shared wall with unknown neighbors. Don't talk about practical vs impractical ... just talk about your future home in a daydream sort of way ... youi might be surprised what you find out.
posted by anastasiav at 6:39 AM on April 26, 2006

Since you mention that she is studying externally, I assume (correct me if I'm wrong) that home is her main work environment. Location may not be important for an external student but environment certainly is.

Having said that, I agree with posters above who say that you need to encourage her to articulate the reasons behind her preference for a house. Without that information you won't have much chance of a workable compromise that you'll both be happy with.
posted by harmless at 7:03 AM on April 26, 2006

It's perfectly reasonable to want to live close in (I feel the same), and this is more than a decision about what kind of dwelling you're in, it's about your lifestyle in general. But it's not reasonable for either of you to make a priori decisions about what kind of place you'll live without looking at your actual options, and it sounds as if you have not done that yet (apologies if I've misread you).

You need to spend as much time as you can checking out your various options before making a decision. Each of you needs to look at the options and ask yourselves "what would my life be like if I lived here?" It's possible that you'll come around to her way of thinking, or she yours. Once you've explored those options, then you can have a knock-down drag-out fight over it. But it's not worth arguing over at this point.
posted by adamrice at 7:11 AM on April 26, 2006

I have to say that Meridian's experience of Melbourne public transport is completely different to mine: I commuted from Camberwell to Melbourne Uni, and it was an easy hour (20 minutes walk, 20 minutes train, 20 minutes walk), and despite being dependant on public transport (and lifts), I never saw anything even remotely disturbing and was only late once in a year because of a cancelled train (20 minutes late then). From the stories I hear, I imagine that it might depend on which line you're on.

Another point is that you can live up in Brunswick/Coburg fairly cheaply, and it's a nice area. My brother is renting a house for his family there, and it's an easy tram ride (or bikeable) to Melbourne Uni, and affordable on whatever money he's making while still at uni. There's lots of other spots within that kind of distance.

Overall, Melbourne isn't that big a place, and I think you should be able to find a house in the suburbs without having to commute by car for 1 hour every morning.

The only other thing I have to say is: if you move into a house near a live music venue, it's your problem that they're playing loud at 2am.
posted by jacalata at 7:52 AM on April 26, 2006

(Sorry, the music bit might be a bit obscure: see this article for the behaviour I'm talking about. Not meant to imply that you would do that etc etc...just for the 'city life' aspect).
posted by jacalata at 7:56 AM on April 26, 2006

However, I don't understand how a dislike of your neighbors now has anything to do with where you live next.

When I lived in LA, I once had neighbors so bad that I vowed never to live in an apartment again. When I had the chance, I rented a house and eventually bought one. Now I would never consider an apartment after not having crazy 3am parties next door on Tuesday nights for several years.
posted by mathowie at 8:25 AM on April 26, 2006

If you live in the city she will hold negative feelings towards you. If you live in the country you'll have negative feelings towards her. It seems to me the best option would be to find a new job and live within walking distance of it. That way you can live where she wants and walk to work like you want. Of course that's easier said than done, but marriage will often require a sacrifice.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:38 AM on April 26, 2006

It will come down to compromise and your ability to maintain a happy, healthy marriage.

However, I wanted to address the point about kids. I often hear people say that they need a house for their existing/future children. And while I'm sure some people could not possibly live without a house, I wanted to take up that point.

My husband and I live in the downtown area of a city. It takes him 10 minutes to walk to work. When I was pregnant, this meant that he didn't have to leave until about 8 am, which was really helpful when I was suffering from morning sickness or having achey muscles. He was also home for lunch and home early for dinner. This gave us more time to make healthy meals, shop, plan, decorate the nursery, etc.

Once we had our baby, my husband was able to handle getting up at night or playing with the baby in the morning, because he didn't have to get up at 6 am to go to work. He left at 8 and would be home at noon. This gave me a much-needed break during the day. I could nap or take a shower (ask any new mom how hard that is) or make lunch or simply sit and read. My husband was home again for an early supper. THis meant that he could take the baby while I made a nutritious meal and froze extra servings for other nights. (This was incredibly helpful once we started solids, as I could whip up a batch of mashed carrots at the same time.)

Our son is now a toddler. He enjoys playing with his dad in the morning and looks forward to seeing him at lunch. Sometimes we go meet his dad for lunch, drop by the office, or bring a picnic. Because his dad is home at a decent hour, we're able to go for a walk after supper, then come home, play, have a snack, bath, and do the bedtime routine.

Because of my husband's proximity to work, I'd estimate my son and his dad spend 4 hours a day together that commuting would take away. My husband also knows many of the neighbourhood parents because we run into them during the week and not just on weekends. (And weekends are so busy.) As well, when I need physio or a doctor's appointment or need to make an important call (I work from home), my husband can help out without taking more than his lunch break.

As for living in an apartment, we're fortunate to have a 2BR. I know lots of people who have 1BRs and a toddler. Our space is big enough for everything you'd have in a house and we are soon going to put a sandbox on the balcony (for use under supervision). We go to the park, toddler groups and mom & tot classes, where we have access to swings, slides, climbing structures, tricycles, and all the things you would have if you had a yard. And my son gets a social experience at the same time.

Living in an apartment instead of a house also costs less. While our city has steep condo prices, it sure costs less for a 2BR city condo than for a nice house an hour away. We only need one car (rarely driven), which saves $500 a month. Our property taxes and maintenance are a little less. We don't have to buy a lawn mower or spend precious family time on tending to eaves troughs or the like.

My support system is really strong, too. Because of the population density, the 30-60 families from my parent-infant drop-in show up at the library storytime, toddler gym, department stores, grocery stores, etc. I get together with other moms all the time and this gives me access to lots of information, support and friendships.

However, if your wife doesn't have this vision, you can't force it on her. For me, it's a dream to have everything so close. I think my stress level would be a lot higher if I lived out in the suburbs. But not everyone values the same things.
posted by acoutu at 9:14 AM on April 26, 2006

I wonder if some amount of her difficulty in expressing her opinion to you has to do with feeling like she's got no leverage in the discussion. She's a student, you're The Worker - she may well feel like you're wielding a veto here and that's why she's expressing herself exclusively in a What Will Make Me Happy manner rather than any logical arguments.
posted by phearlez at 9:51 AM on April 26, 2006

Yeah, this is a communication issue, not a housing issue.

I had an extremely difficult time getting my husband to articulate what, precisely, it was he was looking for in a dwelling. I'd show him a page of listings, and he wouldn't be interested in looking at a single one. It was a long and drawn out process to get him to tell me what it was about each property that he disliked. From there, we could form a picture of the desired property, and from there we could purchase a house.

So this works a bit better when you are looking at actual properties that you could actually afford to live in. I'm sure your fiancee is not opposed to a short commute for you, she is just looking for something that she's not able to articulate, and thinks she can find in a house. Show her properties that you'd be interested in, if she vetoes, ask her why. Get a detailed reason out of her, and make sure the reason applies to the specific property you were looking at. At the same time, look at properties that she's interested in. Ask her what it is about that specific property that interests her. If you don't want that particular property, veto and tell her why. Eventually you should get sick of constant vetos and the compromise process will start to move along.

The key is not moving in anywhere for the long term if you don't agree. If you are having trouble building this very detailed vision of where to live and agreeing on a place, perhaps you can live in a short-term sublet while you find a suitable long-term place.

Basically you are building a shared vision. This is probably your first major argument and major test for your relationship. If it doesn't turn out well, consider postponing the wedding until you can learn to resolve conflict.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:53 AM on April 26, 2006

Oh yeah, I also made a rule that of a page of listings (all of which I found acceptable on paper), he actually had to go physically look at one of them that was most acceptable to him. You guys can have two lists and the rule that you'll each go physically look at a place on the other's list.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:01 AM on April 26, 2006

So you want to avoid living in the suburbs (detached house, big garden, but need a car to get around, long commute). Fair enough... but I'm not sure that living in the CBD is the solution.

In Melbourne, a great compromise would be to live in the 'inner city' (what sien and jacalata said) and still be a 30 minute walk / 15 minute cycle to work. This would give you a small terraced house with a small garden, in an area with lots going on, but still a walkable commute (with a tram line for when it rains). When this is the alternative, the CBD option may start looking less attractive!

Try to see what's available in Melbourne in your price range to buy / rent. Or better yet, plan a visit Melbourne to get a better understanding of how the city is set up and what the different suburbs are like, before making any decisions about where you're going to live!
posted by MaJumelleDiabolique at 11:53 AM on April 26, 2006

If she's in this frozen up state, it sounds like you'll have to do some emotional aikido for the discussion to even begin. Much harder to think logically while overwhelmed with an emotion. And if she feels she's fighting for some deeply-held dream, she'll probably keep fighting as long as she thinks you oppose or want to destroy this dream.

So you probably have to find out what is so important to her, (aren't you curious anyway?), and then repeatedly say you care about those things, or want her to have them, or accept that they're important to her. After finally realizing you'll help her get the things she cares about, hopefully she'll be able to hear what you care about, and you can start thinking of creative solutions.

I imagine she would want to help you get what you want, too, since all of those things would be good for a future family, like you getting home sooner after work, saving commute fare...
posted by salvia at 5:07 PM on April 26, 2006

Hey, I used to go to Melbourne Uni and lived and worked in Melbourne for a couple of years after that.

For what it's worth, I found Melbourne life was much, much more pleasant when I lived within walking distance of uni or work.

There are loads of places in Melbourne where you can live in a house and walk to work in the city.

As well as Carlton / Fitzroy / Brunswick, you could walk to town / uni from Parkville, North Melbourne, Richmond, Abotsford (have I spelled that right?), or Collingwood.

Or bayside - South Melbourne, Albert Park... St Kilda. They're on the light rail which is a nice cross between the sometimes agonisingly slow tram and the (in my experience) always, always late or cancelled train.
posted by t0astie at 6:29 PM on April 26, 2006

Definitely defer the argument until you are here. It's an immensely walkable city with a good transport system and small houses that are walkable from the CBD.

I envisioned a house in the suburbs, but the glut in housing has led to affordable apartment rentals in and near the city. If you do end up commuting, I find that the trains operate far better than in comparable cities I have lived in (London, Boston, NY) -- although the locals consider the transport dreadful. They've never been stuck in a midtown subway, it seems.
posted by mozhet at 3:54 AM on May 3, 2006

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