And Community

Montclair - No Shortage of Porches

“Look at that porch!” says practically every client on our first tour of the town. “Oh, look at that one!”

Montclair and Glenridge are full of porches, and it stands to reason that my clients moving from the city would be drawn to them. A porch is the suburban version of a front stoop – it’s a way to be at home and be out in the world at the same time.

But it’s not just city dwellers who are drawn to porches. The National Association of Home Builders said earlier this month that of the 780,000 single family home constructions started last year, over 65% of them included porches – 10% more than a decade ago.

To me, there’s nothing better than a porch with a roof. I can’t think of many things as relaxing as an early autumn Sunday morning – watching the leaves dance around the yard or even listening to the rain – while sipping coffee in a big-cushioned chair on a cool, dry porch. I’ve seen many homeowners add a front porch and it completely transforms the feeling of the house. It just seems more welcoming.

A gracious front porch can be set up like a second living room, with rugs, table lamps, and ceiling fans. I have a friend who keeps a tea cart on her porch; it’s always stocked with glasses and an ice bucket for an impromptu evening gathering. Someone shows up with a bottle of wine and suddenly it’s a get-together. She says it’s been a great way to get to know her neighbors.

As you can tell, I’m pro-porch, even though I don’t have one of my own. But in this walkable suburb, I feel as though I benefit from the porches of others – for an evening chat or just a walk-by wave. It one of the many things that make a bustling town like Montclair truly feel like a tight community.

Hillary Clinton Visits Montclair

Last night at Back to School Night, I sat in on my daughter’s 8th period class and turned to a mom sitting nearby, “This class seems so empty.”

“It’s because of Hillary,” she said.

I was not one of the lucky 1,000 people to score a ticket for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book signing here at our own Watchung booksellers. Apparently, they sold out in an hour.

A friend went and was telling me about it this morning: people started showing up at 2:00 pm for Clinton's 6:00 pm arrival. Over the next few hours, the line wound around the corner to Watchung Field.  “You could feel the love,” my friend said. “Grown-ups. Children. There was such a sense of camaraderie.”

One of the things I love about Montclair is how that camaraderie shows up everywhere. Exercise classes. Library events. Town soccer. The Van Vleck Plant Sale. We have big town amenities (art museum, indie movie theater, a minor league baseball stadium) and a small town vibe.

In my opinion, Watchung booksellers contributes a lot to the overarching feeling of community. They support all the local writers (of which there are many!) through readings and book events, they host tons of book groups and children’s programs, they always have enough staff available to advise and recommend.

And last night they brought us Hillary.

In fairness, Back to School Night provides its own brand of camaraderie, especially at the high school. People you’ve seen throughout the years watching your kids play sports, serving together on PTAs, sitting against the window of Montclair Music Studio waiting for Abigail’s violin lesson to end – all come together for a few hours. Clumps of old friends convening in front of the Nurse’s Office or outside one of the stairwells during their children’s lunch period. It honestly feels like a great big cocktail party (although without any cocktails).

I’m the mom who always looks forward to Back to School Night, especially for the feeling of community. But I will admit this: If I’d gotten a Hillary ticket, I would have happily cut class.

 

Montclair's July Fourth Parade Is No Joke!

If you’re moving to Montclair and you happen to purchase a house on Midland Avenue, there will be a rider in your contract about the 4th of July – namely that you’re required to have a lawn party for the parade.

Okay, I’m kidding about the rider but you’d never know it if you lived here.

For as long as I’ve lived in Montclair, our July 4th Parade has been one of my favorite events.  The parade starts around 11 o’clock at the library on South Fullerton Avenue, turns onto Bloomfield Avenue, and then travels the entire length of Midland Ave, ending up at Edgemont Park. It always begins with antique cars, then come the marching bands, local groups and businesses -- the beloved Community Pre-K marchers, the always-festive Egan and Sons’ float, the high school football team, the Boys Scouts, Bike and Walk Montclair, School of Rock. The list goes on and on.

Midland Avenue is an extra wide street, centrally located and easily accessible. Some families pull a few lawn chairs to the curb and settle in for the festivities. Others set up food and drink for dozens of guests. For nearly two hours, this usually-quiet, mile-long block turns into a massive party – a meandering mingling, of happy and fun.

If you happen not to buy a house on Midland, your first order of business should be to make friends with someone on the block so you have a parade perch. Actually, I’m kidding again. People from all over town stroll Midland’s sidewalks and can plop down on a curb anywhere.

Still, I’ve heard of Midland Avenue sellers adding a clause in their contracts reserving a curb spot for their family in perpetuity. Here, I’m only half-kidding. Families often do return, year after year, to take in the music and merriment that is the Montclair July 4th Parade. We have so much pride in our town and community, and at the parade, it's like you can taste it.

 

Stepping Out For A Movie ? The Magical Montclair Film Festival

There are plenty of things I’m proud of about Montclair. We have a magnet school system that is held up as a national model of how to provide integrated education in a diverse town. We have a volunteer-run online message board that allows thousands of people to provide  recommendations for services or help find the owner of a lost dog. We have an adult school that makes lessons about everything from interview skills to Qigong available to everyone in the community. This is a town that strives to bring people together, and it's a place where people want to be together. One of my favorite examples of this is the Montclair Film Festival.

For 10 days in May, Montclair turns into Movie Heaven. There are screenings everywhere, practically all the time – films that have been at Sundance as well as home-grown gems. The number of people who turn out to volunteer – as ushers, ticket takers, etc. – is amazing. It makes going to the movies a bigger, funner event.

On opening night, I went with friends to see “Step,” a documentary about teen girls from Baltimore whose step dance classes transformed their lives. This is the type of movie that I love, a story that reminds us how strong we can be when we band together for a common goal. There were live steppers who performed before the film and then afterwards, two people from the movie took the stage and spoke. And even though we were at the Wellmont Theater, probably the largest venue at the festival, it felt very intimate. We were all touched.

Before the show, my friends and I had dinner at one of Montclair’s newest additions: The Crosby on Glenridge Avenue. The place was hopping and it was only a short walk to the theater – another thing I love about this town that I may have mentioned once or twice.

So many of my clients come from the city at a time in their lives when they want a bit more space of their own, or maybe to grab a little privacy. But they come here because they want to feel a part of something too. And I’m so proud that Montclair can provide all of that. I don’t think I’m being overzealous when I give us five stars.

 

Montclair: Activities for Kids

The forecast is for snow this weekend, maybe the last of the season. It doesn’t seem like it's going to amount to much, but if it did, my (big) kids would be spending some time on one of Montclair’s sledding hills. You never seem to outgrow sledding.

I remember as a young mother, feeling so grateful to live in a town that had so many sledding options. Because when it’s cold out, the number of outdoor activities for kids really dwindles. In fact, it’s one of the things that worried me about raising kids here versus in the city, where there’s always something to do.

Over the years, things have changed. Now, if one of my clients with young children has the same concern, I could probably talk for an hour  straight about all the things available for kids here -- even in the cold. Sometimes it seems like Montclair was designed for kids.

There are two indoor skating rinks (plus a pond that sometimes freezes deeply enough to safely skate on), an indoor soccer facility and indoor swimming at the YMCA and Montclair State University. There are art classes galore -- at the Montclair Art Museum, Studio Kids Art, and Fern Bass Studio, to name a few. There are two martial arts dojos in town, and more close by. There are two YMCAs in town, one devoted specifically to children and families; two library branches, each with story times and kids programs; and two locations for the renowned Music Together programs as well as a School of Rock.

One of my favorite additions has been the indoor play spaces, such as Kidville and The Little Gym. Those weren’t around when my kids were small. You can take your kids beading, or make some pottery, or even go on a pizza tasting extravaganza – I like Mr. Dino’s, but that preference is often contested in my house.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to take advantage of all the kid-centric offerings here in town. I’ve barely scratched the surface in this post. Feel free to help me out and leave your favorite kid activity in the comments!

Surgeon General Calls - Montclair Answers

walking-web-buttonI just came upon one of those cute 2-minute videos where a narrator explains some broad concept while a high-speed hand renders an animated line drawing to illustrate the point - in this particular case, the point being:

We All Need To Walk More!

The walking information should come as no surprise to anyone - the health benefits of walking have been written about abundantly. What was surprising (and gratifying) to me was that Step It Up! - the campaign that the Surgeon General launched last week - involves not only a call to action for people to increase the amount of time they spend walking, but also for communities to become safer, more hospitable places to walk.

This means adding sidewalks, taking care of green space, and generally creating a vibe throughout the community that makes walking pleasant and appealing. For me, that often means having interesting destinations - coffee shops, boutiques, bookstores - that I can get to on foot. The good news is, Montclair already does all of that!

This video even included things that are already part of my life - like walking to the train or the bus if I'm going into the city, or structuring some of my social time around walking (I have as many walking dates as I do lunch dates to catch up with friends).

Do I feel proud of my town for being a poster child for the Surgeon General's most recent communique to create more walkable communities? I don't really have to answer that, do I?

ISO Walkable Suburb with Castle!

There are a couple of places in Montclair that feel like happy secrets and when I'm reminded of them I always feel the need to share.

Kips CastleOne such secret is Kip's Castle. Sitting high atop First Mountain, this majestic structure offers an equally majestic view. There are no lords or ladies living there - in fact it's actually part of the county park system - so visitors are welcome to wander up and check out the grounds.

Kip's Castle is not too far from my home and I'm sure readers of this blog will not be surprised that I occasionally take a walk up there. I'm no castle fanatic, but I always like a good turret. That said, I'm usually most taken with the winding road that leads up there, and the stone wall that flanks the road. The whole thing feels very otherworldly, making it even more delightful that it's practically in my backyard.

There are other houses in Montclair that, while not bona fide castles, certainly look like castles. And there are plenty of charming, modest single-family homes. I think the thing that makes Montclair so magical, is that not only do we have dwellings on either end of the spectrum - we have everything in between. And all of us, no matter where we live, have created quite a vibrant and inclusive community together.

Have I piqued your interest? Call me! 973.809.5277

 

I'm a Walkability Advocate!

IMG_5284 2I love this piece in Slate's design blog. It's the story of a guy who felt so strongly about the benefits of walking that he started his own guerrilla campaign to encourage people to walk more.

The Slate bloggers write, "Although 41 percent of all trips made in the United States are 1 mile or less, fewer than 10 percent of all trips are made by walking or biking."

They go on to say that the wayfinding signs that this guy developed - signs that tell people how many minutes it takes to walk or bike to popular local destinations - have become prototypes for pilot programs in other cities, used by community organizations, city planners and "walkability advocates."

Walkability Advocate! I didn't even realize there was a term for someone like me!

Yes, I can tell you how long it takes to walk from anywhere to anywhere else here in Montclair. Because that's why most of us come here... so we have the choice of leaving our cars behind.

But you don't need me with you when you're out and about. Montclair installed its own award-winning pedestrian  wayfinding system downtown a couple of years ago.

Don't worry, we won't look at homes together on foot - there's too much to see. But I promise you, I'll always make sure you have a full grasp of the wonderful walkability that awaits you here.

 

Montclair, NJ Wins Main Street Award!

johari

Montclair Center

Well, this is big news: Montclair Center has been named one of three award-winning "Main Streets" of 2015 by the National Main Street Center! According to its website, "The Great American Main Street Award winners have succeeded in making their towns an exciting place to live, work, play and visit."

Award winners distinguish themselves by their success in preserving the historic nature of the area while still making it vital, vibrant and appealing to the community. I don't think anyone here is surprised that Montclair has been recognized for that particular feat. Whether it's the cobblestone charm of Church Street or the grandeur of a Masonic temple turned day spa, most of us continually marvel at the beauty that surrounds us here. This video, created by Notice Pictures, is a truly lovely tribute to all that is magical about our walkable suburb. If it piques your interest and you'd like to hear me wax poetic about Montclair, I'm always ready to oblige.

 

Baby Boomers and Walkability:Retire to Montclair

Many of my Walkable Suburb posts are aimed at young families or families with school-aged kids, since these are generally the folks interested in backyards and good NJ baby-boomerspublic schools. I recently read a blog post on one of my favorite websites, though, that reminded me that walkable communities are good for all generations.

The post, on Walk Score, discusses the need to create or retrofit communities to accommodate the coming flood of retiring Baby Boomers. Author Jocelyn Milici Ceder points out that senior citizens who live in walkable communities tend to be happier and healthier than those who live in car-dependent ones. Why? First, walking to one's errands or entertainment is an easy way to get some exercise. People who walk as a mode of transportation are also likely to have more social encounters than those who drive everywhere. Having a car is not even necessary in a walkable community, which is a boon for seniors on a fixed income who no longer want to pay for gas and car insurance.

Aging Baby Boomers will naturally want to remain in their homes as long as possible. Since they are the generation that created suburbia, though, this means aging in communities that can be quite isolating. Considering their sheer numbers, it seems to me that walkable communities will be the wave of the future.