Urban Living Across the Country

Meet downtown dwellers from coast to coast.

Austin, Texas

As executive director of an arts organization, Meredith Powell lives for culture. Her city is famous for its annual SXSW music festival of up and coming bands. Powell's Victorian-style rental -- complete with stoop, patio and garden -- gives her unexpected access to the vibrant scene. "There is live music daily down the street," says the 31-year-old. "I'll sit on my stoop, hook into the wireless internet and do my work while listening to live bands." When she wants a front row seat she simply strolls to the nearby ballet. For still life, she visits the Austin Museum of Art.

Living in a historic district affords Powell a rare mix of old architecture in a downtown increasingly dominated by high-rise condos that go for a median price of $175,300. She also enjoys walking her golden retriever in one of several public squares. "I once trained for a marathon and did all my training downtown," she says.

Los Angeles, Calif.

When a government office building was converted into lofts, television writer Bill Tan was the first tenant to move in. Initially, his rent was $1,450. Eight years later he's seen only one rent increase, but condos and co-ops now go for a median price of $327,200. The staggering boom comes from what he calls the downtown renaissance of nightclubs and restaurants is a hot topic in local news.

"When I first moved here it was really dodgy...and I loved it," says 36-year-old Tan, who describes streets filled with drug addicts, homeless people, and the psychologically unstable. "Now all the buildings have been rehabbed and you have hipsters in skinny jeans and Range Rovers who are total posers. When a Starbucks opens up, I will move on."

Chicago, Ill.

A few years ago, downtown "lifer" Tim Surufka jumped on a co-op unit in a vintage 1926 space. "In the beginning, a lot of these coops were cash-only kind of buildings and I couldn't get a loan for anything," says the 50-year-old real estate agent. Now, stiff financial prerequisites have lifted and the median condo/co-op price is $244,300.

One big perk to his location is its accessibility. He lives and works on a thoroughfare called Lake Shore Drive. "It's three minutes from my office to my home" by car, he says. Another plus is living somewhere he considers the anti-suburb. "Any need for a pet a family or kids is the theme in the suburbs of Chicago," he says. "There are just strip malls and shopping malls. I don't do those things. Big cities are the only places I go."

Miami, Fla.

Monica Garcia considers her neighborhood "the Manhattan of Miami," where she holds season tickets to the performing arts center and recently threw a party in nearby park. (She doesn't have to pay New York prices; the median condo/co-op price is $178,300.) With a growing nightlife and dining scene, she and her husband consider their purchase an investment in an up-and-coming neighborhood they hope will boom.

The location is convenient to their work and daily errands. Her husband swapped a second car for a scooter and they take public transportation to the supermarket and video store. The best part, though, is the view. "I live on the 30th floor and my bedroom faces Key Biscayne," says Garcia, 32, who works for a real estate company. "I love waking up with the sun reflecting off the water. You can see Miami Beach. It's gorgeous."

Atlanta, Ga.

Scenic walks and a mix of cultures -- punk, hip hop and skate -- brought magazine editor Dennis Byron Jr. to Little Five Points, Atlanta. "It's such a melting pot," says the 36-year-old, who also enjoys walking in the many green spaces. "People are starting to be a lot more expressive in their style and fashion."

Recent legislation relaxed alcohol laws in Atlanta, and that keeps this frequent beer writer happy to toss one back at home. "Tons of beers came in and the pubs are coming up," says Byron Jr., who shares a rental apartment with a roommate where condo/co-op sales had a median price of $150,500 in 2007. "I'm loving it. I no longer have to cross state line for quality beers."

Minneapolis, Minn.

Lawyer Adam M. Nathe says his southwest corner of downtown is "older" and "classic," not quite the "hip vibe" of the North Loop. Still, he loves pounding the pavement around his condo. He can get to so much on foot -- the symphony, restaurants, sports stadiums -- that he and his wife are down to one car. "And nobody believes us when we say haven't filled up the car in the month," he says.

The 37-year-old strolls to the farmer's market for organic vegetables and walks to work. But, his favorite activity is jogging a twenty mile loop around nearby lakes. Nathe marvels, "I can start at my condo, not see any people and only cross two streets."

Washington, D.C.

Raised on a dairy farm, Patricia Zingsheim has always craved city life. Now she resides in the center of art, music and fine dining without fear. "I feel really safe living in this area," says the 58-year old, who bought her condo in 2004. (The area's current median price is $277,200.) "When you walk home, even if it is late at night, there are always people on the street."

When she is in the mood for fun closer to home, she just hops in her elevator. "We have a spectacular roof with a pool and commercial grills," says the architect and district government employee. "Typically there are a lot of parties up there and in the surrounding buildings. It's a huge trend here, a whole other world of public life."

Denver, Colo.

Retiree Jerry Arca owns two adjoining condos in downtown Denver, a town he loves for round-the-clock accessibility, abundance of services, and safe streets. He walks everywhere (except the supermarket, which his area lacks) and often socializes on the way. "There is a real sense of community here," he says. "You hardly ever walk down the street without somebody stopping to say hello and chat."

Or cheer the home team. There's another perk to Arca's prime location. "My wife and I both love baseball," says the 65-year-old. "The Colorado Rockies' Coors field is right across the street and we go to thirty plus games a year!"

Phoenix, Ariz.

Dan Klocke is a man of change, which is why he purchased a home in historic downtown Phoenix. "It was a dump," admits the father of four. He put his fix-it skills to work on the duplex, which he has largely renovated himself, cutting housing costs in an area where the median condo/co-op price is $182,500. "We finished up the bedrooms and now we are doing the kitchen," says the 38-year-old. "There are still a couple rooms to go. Bless my wife for being patient."

Perhaps she distracts herself by gazing at the city skyline, which is just outside their door, or snacking at one of the many new local restaurants they enjoy. "These neighborhoods are coming on strongly," says Klocke, looking to the future. "It's home and it's a great investment at the same time." 

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