The 20-minute neighborhood: 4 reasons why walkability will be a key focus in our next big move

The 20-minute neighborhood

Let’s rewind 5 months. My partner and I are sharing a quaint little apartment in graduate housing. We’re both in the middle of our PhD programs. Spring is in full swing.

I remember sketching out tentative plans for the summer. Beach days. Springs days. River days. And then, out of the blue, he gets an offer to move with his advisor to a new state to finish his degree program.

Fast forward to today. We are locked into two apartments. One for him in Texas, one for me in Florida. Two places to call home. I’ll be staying in the same small apartment in graduate housing while he completes his degree across the Gulf of Mexico.

The move is challenging personally and financially, but we decided together that we would cherish these new beginnings, rather than resent them for any temporary hardship they may cause. After all, a lot of good can be forged from tough times.

The move has made us think a lot about our ideal neighborhood. The place we would like to settle down and call home. In the not-too-distant future, we will be moving again (but to be together, rather than apart).

What type of neighborhood exactly? Well, we do get a lot of property envy watching HGTV (Property Brothers, anyone?). But our next home will not be a 4-bedroom, 4,000 sq. ft. suburban family home in the country (much to my Mom’s chagrin). Instead, we’ll be looking for a pad in a “20-minute neighborhood.”

The 20-minute neighborhood

What if you could access all of your basic needs with a 20-minute walk, or less?

That’s the main idea behind a 20-minute neighborhood: your home is no more than a 20 minute walk from work, play, and your basic needs and services.

This idea isn’t new. It was mainstay before cars, when you had to walk out of necessity. The reasons for the renewed interest is that it’s finally gaining support from community development agencies, and has become a reality in some pilot cities around the US. For example, in Portland, Oregon. In 2010, Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Director of Planning and Design Susan Anderson spearheaded a strategic plan to make 20 minute neighborhoods a reality.

My partner and I didn’t grow up dreaming about these types of neighborhoods. But there are some specific reasons why a 20-minute neighborhood would fit well into our frugal, active lifestyle.

Cut transportation expenses

This is no surprise. Right now, I’m fortunate that most of my basic needs can be met with a 20 minute walk. I live within a 5 minute walk to the gym, and a 20 minute walk to work and the grocery store. However, not all of my basic needs can be met with a <20 minute walk from the apartment. So, I have a car. And I buy car insurance. And a car decal. And car maintenance. And of course, gas. Reducing or eliminating these would be a boon for our finances.

I don’t have to do any financial analysis to know that my wallet and my health are in better shape when I walk or bike, rather than drive. And yet, driving is a natural part of my weekly life. And unless hyper-efficient cars become more accessible, cutting the car is a big priority. I cringe thinking about the number of hours I’ve spent behind the wheel this year.

The goal of these types of neighborhoods isn’t to put BP, XOM, or CVX out of business. Rather, they are intended to make walking or biking a real, sustainable option for those that want it. There are definitely days where life rears its ugly head and driving is the better option. If I’m running late, if it’s pouring rain, or if I have to bring a large load to work, I’m going to take the car. Plain and simple. There are just some things that I’m not willing to sacrifice, like being on time or having dry clothes.

Increase our health-span

Because what’s a dividend worth if you’re not alive to enjoy it? The reason why I am an income investor is because I expect to be able to use that income to cover my partner and I’s future expenses. Our combined crossover point hovers close to $1500 bucks per month, meaning we need $18,000 per year to keep a roof over our heads, feed ourselves, pay fees, and have a little fun.

It’s not enough to be alive. Being well is a key component of my income investing plan. Each day that I’m well is a day I can soak up information about the world and plan my next investment. That’s why I set running goals and track my workouts.

An upside to living in a 20-minute neighborhood is that we would have walkable access to tracks, soccer and baseball fields, picnic areas, playgrounds – you name it. Right now, the best park in our town is more than a 20 minute walk. It has an awesome winding trail around its circumference, a huge pool and slide, a playground, and there are always people grilling and picnic-ing on the weekends. We would go more often if it were accessible.

More time to spend where I please

With our basic needs within an arm’s reach, we’d be able to spend less time on traveling and more time on things that give us pleasure. We have a lot of side projects that we want to get going. I’m counting at least 2-3 web based projects that we have notes on and have started to varying degrees – but none of them are finished. And then there are apartment projects, little DIY things here and there, that we would like to do. Not to mention, I have a bookshelf full of brand new books that I bought with great intentions, but haven’t read. In other words, I have a lot of use for spare time.

My partner and I have a running joke that “we don’t understand how people do it.” We often feel like we are just barely surviving keeping the house in order, getting errands done, working on school, spending time together, and crafting our future together. And we don’t have kids. We don’t have pets. We don’t have any serious medical issues or critically-ill family. (We have a lot to be thankful for.) But even though we are able to live below our means now, we aren’t very efficient at it. A lot of time and energy goes into planning our weekends just to get by.

We are our worst critics. Sometimes I have to remind myself that plenty of highly successful, independent, creative individuals are also limited to 24-hours each day. Like Dolly Parton, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Elon Musk. Although their wealth has completely redefined their access to resources, allowing them to structure their affairs in ways I can’t even fathom, I get some solace from this thought, however naïve it is.

From my perspective, there isn’t a straight line from ‘20-minute neighborhood’ to ‘more time’ to ‘more productive’ to ‘more success’ or even fulfillment. But I do see how it could help us shave time off car-commutes. Time that we could instead spend together, cooking while the other works, reading while the other gardens. You get the picture.

Join a tight-knit community

Another stated purpose of these neighborhoods is to foster real community. I call it ‘in-it-togetherness.’ Since everyone is walking to the parks, stores, banks, and library, you’re more likely to bump into someone. Barring an auto accident, how likely are you to run into someone on your way to grocery shopping this weekend? Even if it just amounts to nonverbal recognition, the sense of familiarity is enough to increase satisfaction.

Overtime, it’s possible that the nonverbal recognition evolves into meaningful conversation and friendship. The idea with the 20-minute neighborhood is that this is more likely to happen if movement is a large part of the community’s daily life activities. And since community is one of our values, we will actively seek it out in our next move together.

Summary

If you would have asked me five years ago where I want to live 10 years down the road, I probably would not have said that I want a small, cute apartment, in a friendly neighborhood, close to local music, local businesses, and a park. But I place value on these things, and I realize that not everyone does. And so what works for me may not be ideal or preferred by everyone.

This idea may be most well-suited for temperate climates, but I think it’s a possibility for many neighborhoods, with proper planning and design. Since weather/climate impact the livability of a 20-minute neighborhood, it’s another situation where you cannot take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. For example, the summer heat in Texas or Florida alter the requirements for a neighborhood compared with Washington or Wyoming.

There are other considerations that have become important to us, too. Like living in a neighborhood in a state with no income tax. There are seven of these: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Right now, saving on income tax is huge because I make close to 14k a year, excluding my small but slowly growing dividend income. We can’t guarantee that our next move together will be to one of these states, but it’s on our minds.

Can all of your basic needs be met with a 20-minute walk or bike from your home? Would you want to live in this kind of neighborhood environment?

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  • http://www.itpaysdividends.com Thias @ It Pays Dividends

    I’m definitely not in a 20 minute neighborhood. While we do have some things close by, it is more bikeable than walkable. I do love the idea thought. We want to find something similar to this if we ever leave Wisconsin. I wouldn’t want to do a 20 minute neighborhood when it is -20 degrees outside 😉

    • http://www.mrmodernmillennial.com Mr. Modern Millennial

      Haha, no! I’d be looking for a 5 minute neighborhood! Or maybe a commune. 🙂

  • http://financiallyfitz.com Luke Fitzgerald

    Walkability is unfortunately not our current situation. Although I’m not sure if it will ever be, it’s something that would be wonderful. You gave some really good reasons why, too! I agree 100%
    Things have definitely changed over the last couple decades. There are many factors – some good some bad – but I think this has had the biggest detriment. Disconnectedness is a serious problem (IMO)

    • http://www.mrmodernmillennial.com Mr. Modern Millennial

      Re: disconnectedness. I agree. Living in an apartment complex in university graduate housing, this is less of a truth than it probably is for other residential areas/complexes. There is an ‘in-it-togetherness’ about living in graduate housing that makes the students more friendly, likely to interact. Obviously this is not across the board. I have lived in a non-university based apartment complex and most opportunities for interaction were left at that – as opportunities. There are a lot of variables to account for, which makes any generalization refutable.

  • http://anythingyouwantblog.com Ali

    I love the idea of living in a community like this. I have most essentials available to me now within a short walk, but unfortunately my job is a bit further away and requires either a train ride or a drive.

    • http://www.mrmodernmillennial.com Mr. Modern Millennial

      I think a lot of people are in the same boat. We all have a handful of things that are really convenient or at least accessible by walk or bike, but not everything. The devils’ in the details. It’s going to take the concerted effort of planners and developers to make this happen 100%. There are hot spots like Portland where it’s happening, but not everyone wants to move to Portland. And not everyone has the flexibility to make these sorts of decisions to move wherever they want in life. Hopefully in the next 20-30 years this type of living will be more common.

  • http://unplannedfinance.weebly.com Hannah Rounds

    We were very purposeful in selecting our neighborhood with the primary focus being close to childcare and school for my husband at as low of a cost as possible. It’s been good, but we still require a car for grocery shopping and doctors appointments and such. I think in our next move, we will definitely prioritize location centrality as well. It would be sweet to ditch the car altogether.

    • http://www.mrmodernmillennial.com Mr. Modern Millennial

      When you think about it, it’s unbelievable how dispersed everything is. To have to get in a 1-2 ton vehicle to go pick up food, see the doctor because you are ill, relax in the park… is wild to me. We get in cars and sit. We get to work and sit. And then we go home, take care of everything/everyone, and then sit. Unless you have an active job, most of your day is spent sitting.

      When you mentioned childcare and doctor’s appointments, I realized I hadn’t even thought about that aspect of one’s life (but that’s just because I haven’t reached that, yet).

      Together, we have had some horror stories in terms of failures and repairs. I **love** the idea of being car-free.

  • Emily @ evolvingPF

    I love the idea of the 20-minute neighborhood. If I can sustain my self-employment, I would certainly have that option as I can work from home (or in a coffee shop, or whatever). But (as we learned) jobs in my husband’s niche area of research are few and far between, so we won’t be able to be choosy about our city.

    I didn’t even realize WA had no state income tax until I was drafting our budget after my husband had committed to his new job – it was a very pleasant surprise!

    • http://www.mrmodernmillennial.com Mr. Modern Millennial

      Right. My partner and I envision having the flexibility to choose where we live, but we will ultimately be drawn to where the jobs are available. **Hopefully** the job prospects are **so good** that we have a little lee-way and choice about the neighborhood.

      I love the idea of working from a coffee shop. Or park bench. Or beach. I would probably need to buy a wi-fi card to make that happen.

      No state income tax is certainly a plus for us. We fall at the lowest rung of virtually every tax/income threshold, so our dividends aren’t taxed either. Plus plus!

  • Our Next Life

    Love the phrase “health span”! It captures the idea so well of the length of your quality life, not just the years when you’re drawing breath. We used to live in a “20 minute neighborhood” in the city, and loved it. Except that it was in the city. 🙂 We now live in a small town, and love that, but definitely traded some walking convenience for the privilege. Thankfully we can bike to almost anything in under a half hour, which is a good enough trade-off for us at this point in our lives. 🙂

  • http://www.nomorewaffles.com/ No More Waffles

    Dylan,

    Great post! It accurately describes the way I’ve organised my life. Everything except work is within a 15 minute walking distance: stores, bakery, city centre, friends, etc.

    No need for a car and if I need to get somewhere fast I just hop on my bike. Oh, and if I need to travel long distances: the train station is only ten minutes away!

    Best wishes,
    NMW

    • http://www.mrmodernmillennial.com Mr. Modern Millennial

      Thanks NMW. I yearn for a good bakery around my parts. There are a few, but they are too far to walk or bike to make it worth the pastry/loaf of bread.

      The one thing that you don’t see much of in FL is trains. There is talk about building a high-speed commuter train system through the heart of Florida, but it hasn’t happened yet, to my knowledge. I would love that, though, because I have family in New York City that I don’t get to visit too often.

  • Nick

    NIce blog, you and your partner sound very similar to us! I’m from not so sunny Northern Ireland and I was curious how you’ve tried to find these neighborhoods that already exist? My attempts over here haven’t gone amazingly well….

    Currently I’m living with my parents and their location is ideal, 4miles from the city so I can cycle commute, parks are plentiful and their town is small, yet highly desirable. Unfortunately that reflects in property prices! I’m hoping as a software engineer I can get a work from home gig once I build the career capital and we can move a bit further out to prioritize lifestyle over everything else