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Is reloville back?

Yesterday was bittersweet. I watched as a ten year old little girl tearfully said goodbye to my daughter. They’d spent one last afternoon together at Build-a-Bear making each other a bear. Then they exchanged addresses and promised to write, call and email. Another weepy exchange and she was gone, relocating with her family to suburban Charlotte.

reloville book coverMy daughter’s BFF will be alright as I’m sure she’ll make new friends. But it was sad to watch the exchange. It brought back the topic that inspired the name of this blog, this New York Times article by Peter Kilborn on the rootless relos of Alpharetta. It was published almost exactly ten years ago but is still as relevant as ever. It later became a book. Both are worth a read.

Each member of my family lost a friend recently to reloville. My son’s best friend from school moved to Florida earlier this spring. My wife’s best buddy is moving her family to Dalton in a few weeks. And my good friend and co-worker left our company for a work from home gig. Having no deep ties here and freedom to work anywhere, he’s seriously considering a move back to South Carolina.

Are Alpharetta’s reloville days returning now that the economy is improving? It’s a possibility. New home construction is on the rebound which suggests people are again moving about. Kilborn called them suburban executive nomads, picking up their families every few years to follow the latest professional opportunity. They don’t establish roots in the community and have no hometown.

Alpharetta’s leaders talk of creating a “hometown”. It’s a word thrown out usually when speaking of downtown plans. It’s a worthy goal to create a hometown feel, but overcoming reloville is tough, something they will not be successful in combating. “#1 Reloville” is a moniker Alpharett’s earned over a few generations now. It’s here to stay, unlike many families.

Or maybe it’s just my family’s coincidence, having the reloville bug bite us like this. It’s just been a bummer of a few weeks in the Guy household. Saying goodbye to friends is never easy.

Branding consultant nails it for Alpharetta

The inspiration for my blog’s name came from a 2005 New York Times article on Alpharetta called The Five-Bedroom, Six-Figure Rootless Life. Author Peter Kilborn later turned the idea into a book called Next Stop, Reloville.

The focus of Kilborn’s stores were these nomadic suburban gypsies who would follow jobs around the country, never sinking deep roots in any community. Kilborn also talked about the affluence here in Alpharetta. They are topics I’ve not written about recently. Maybe the economic downturn put the breaks on corporate relocation. Or perhaps I got distracted with other things to write about.

But this topic came crashing back on me recently. Tonight Alpharetta’s Council will receive an update on the city’s branding effort. Their consultant has finished an exhaustive interview process in an attempt to understand this area. And in my opinion, they’ve pretty much nailed it. If you have some time, read their report here (opens to pdf).

The report talks a lot about issues like downtown redevelopment, Avalon, and potential controversial topics like bars and nightlife. It also touches on that topic of reloville. One respondent spoke of Alpharetta’s transient population saying, “You move here to become the boss somewhere else.”

Another spoke of the affluence here, saying “life is not real” in Alpharetta. It was a blast from blogging past for me.

I don’t have time to get into it all today. But there are potentially dozens of tasty blogging morsels in this report. I don’t know where to begin. So I’ll put it to my readers. What in this report stood out to you? Where did they get Alpharetta right, or what did they miss? Do you think this consultant will create a brand that truly captures Alpharetta?

Forbes says Alpharetta is best place to move

There’s an article from Forbes making the rounds on twitter this week. Longtime readers of my blog may recognize the article and its author. I’m still a little puzzled as to why this is trending locally. Nevertheless it is a worthy local topic.

Forbes recognized Alpharetta as the country’s top place to move – also known as America’s number one reloville. Actually the designation was conferred on Alpharetta three years ago in this article by Peter Kilborn.

Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Peter Kilborn is certainly no stranger to Alpharetta. In 2005 he penned a feature for the New York Times on a relo family in Alpharetta. The article chronicles their life in Alpharetta and the career move that took them away. The article left so much of an impression on me that it inspired the name of my blog and much of my early writing.

Kilborn’s work here in Alpharetta lead to a book called Next Stop, Reloville: Life Inside America’s New Rootless Professional Class. It’s an interesting read and very relevant to life here in Alpharetta.

But back to Alpharetta’s #1 reloville designation. Though I’m puzzled as to why this article is trending again, it serves as a great reminder to us all. Even through this economic downturn, Alpharetta remains a great place to relocate. The economy here continues to thrive and unemployment is relatively low. Our schools remain strong, crime is low and quality of life is suburb. Those of us who have been here for a while should not take this for granted. Reading Forbes’ article might help reinforce that reminder.

The Cleaning Ladies and Policemen Don’t Live Here

This is a little sidebar article to my series about Alpharetta’s ten year plan survey.

Woodstock, Lawrenceville, Cumming, Loganville, Johns Creek and Alpharetta. This is where my co-workers live. I took an informal survey of the folks in my department and this is what I found. It is by no means a scientific sample, but based on my ten years of cubicle experience, this is typical.

I’ve seen this topic come up from time to time in several places. It is the issue that people who work here don’t live here. I first saw it in the 2005 New York Times article about Alpharetta that inspired my blog’s title. In that piece, the author points out that only a third of Alpharetta’s city employees lived in the city limits. Only three of the city’s police officers lived here. Keep in mind this was 2005, but you get the idea. The writer goes on to mention how landscapers and cleaning ladies commute 30 miles to work here.

This issue came up again last week in the discussion that ensued after my jobs and infrastructure article. Can people who work here afford to live here? Do we need a living wage ordinance to pay blue collar folks enough to buy homes in town? Or should we build higher-density neighborhoods at a lower price to provide affordable housing options?

I say none of the above. Why? Because of the illustration I gave at the start of this post. My fellow cubicle dwellers could easily afford to live in Alpharetta as I do. Why don’t they? There is probably not a single answer. Maybe they’ve established their family’s roots elsewhere. Maybe some want to buy more home for their money farther up GA-400. Who knows. My point is that these are people who could easily afford to live here and chose not to.

What’s to say that Alpharetta’s policemen, fire fighters, school teachers and others might want to do the same? With a higher wage or cheaper housing, would they want to move here? Perhaps. I’ll bet they make the same decisions my co-workers do. I’ll bet they scatter regardless of the other conditions.

And why is it important? Would my cleaning lady do a better job cleaning my house if she lived in Alpharetta? Would the policeman care more if he lived here? Perhaps. I’ll bet his radar gun will show I’m speeding regardless of where he lays his head at night. If I’m the police chief or school principal, I don’t want to worry about where my employees live, I just want them to do their jobs well.

You could make an argument on traffic. Having more folks living here would ease congestion on roads. Sure, I’m not going to argue that point. Then again, high density developments bring with them their own traffic problems.

It’s nice to think that a suburb could be a happy little cohesive utopia where everyone lives, works and plays in town. The reality is that this rarely happens. As much as I enjoy living and working here, I think enacting public policy to encourage this is fruitless.

Nomadic Hermits of Alpharetta

One of my good friends lives in Gwinnett County. We were roommates in college and for a year after college. I consider him a pretty close, lifelong friend, yet I haven’t seen him in probably seven years.

When I first moved to the Atlanta area I didn’t know anyone here, except one person. I had a cousin who was working on his MBA at Emory at the time. Over the two years he was in Atlanta I got together with him exactly once. That one time was for my wedding.

My wife has a friend who moved to Cherokee County several years ago. They grew up next door to each other for a long portion of their childhood. We have never met up with this friend, even though he has children the same age as ours.

Being a rootless relo is a concept that I try to come back to from time to time. People move to Alpharetta and have no friends, close confidants, no one to watch their kids, etc. But is that really true? I share the three little stories above to illustrate a paradox. There are five million people living in metro Atlanta. The chances are real good that you already knew someone before moving here. At a minimum you’re one or two degrees of Kevin Bacon from knowing someone close by.

So why is it hard to reach out to the people we already know? Is it traffic? Are we just too busy to make time for friends who live 30-45 minutes away? Or are they too far away to be considered close by? Or am I just strange for not getting together with my friends?

Peter Kilborn, the writer who inspired the name of my blog, called the rootless relos of the affluent burbs modern-day executive gypsies. Sometimes I think we’re closer to nomadic hermits.

Ancestral Roots

This post continues a discussion on the Peter Kilborn article on being Rootless in Alpharetta.

There is a place in rural North Carolina where a street bears my surname. There are also a few small family cemeteries with my last name on them. I guess you could say this is where my ancestral roots are located. It really is just a place where my family landed in the middle of the 18th century. My line move away more than 100 years ago. But when I hear someone talk about the word “roots”, I think of this swampy place in eastern North Carolina. If I were to pick up my family and settle there, I would be more rootless than I am here in Alpharetta. Sure, the locals would be better able to pronounce my last name, but I wouldn’t know anyone. And I’m pretty sure they don’t have a Starbucks on every corner there. I’ll stick to Alpharetta for now.

Is this the kind of roots that Peter Kilborn is talking about in his article? Maybe. There are streets in Alpharetta named after the original settlers of Milton County. Maybe your last name is Haynes, McGinnis, Mayfield, Mansell or Kimball. I’m not exactly bumping into people with those last names amongst my fellow cubicle dwellers.

I got to thinking about all this when I read this recent article on the Manning family of Alpharetta. It is one of those feel good articles about a very deeply rooted family in Alpharetta. The article has a lot of stories about the old days, when none of this was here, etc. And sure enough, they have a street and even a school named after them (Manning Oaks Elementary). It is a cool article.

But even this Manning family didn’t completely stay put. The article talks about some living in Duluth and Winder. So where am I going with all this? At some point Alpharetta went from being a sleepy little town to a place with one hundred thousand cubicles. These cubicles need to be filled with skilled technical people with advanced degrees. It is very unrealistic to expect the Manning families of the world to be able to supply all those workers. And plus, I’m sure many of them found reasons to move out of Alpharetta too.

So yeah, there are going to be rootless people that come to Alpharetta and a lot of them. Human beings will always be somewhat nomadic in nature. I don’t think this is a bad thing. I’ve said it before on this blog… this is where I want to be. I’d rather be here than the swamps of eastern North Carolina. That means I’m not gonna get a newspaper article written about five generations of my family staying put. Then again, maybe in seventy years they will interview me talking about how I remember when Windward Parkway was only four lanes and we didn’t have flying cars.

No Deep Connections Here

This post continues a discussion on the Peter Kilborn article on being Rootless in Alpharetta.

This has been a tough topic for me to write about. I’m a bit of an introvert. Talk about making deep friendships in the burbs? I’m hardly an expert. Yet can you truly set roots somewhere without a close, deep friendship to rely upon?

Shortly after moving to Alpharetta, I recall my wife lamenting that she didn’t have any true friends in the area. I was reminded of this while reading Kilborn’s article. She worked on building friendships with our neighbors but nothing really developed beyond mere acquaintances. It really troubled her back then.

Today is a different story. She’s got a pretty close friend a block down the street in whom she can confide. She’s also in a fairly tight knit group of mothers with children the same age. We discussed this the other day, remembering back to our relo days. I believe she’s overall happy with her friendships here in Alpharetta, but hasn’t found that lifelong friendship she’d hoped for.

How do you development deep connections or friendships here in the rootless burbs? The first bit of advice I’d give is to be patient. This stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Thinking back to the Kilborn article, Mrs Link was here for four years, involved in a ton of activities, yet nothing took hold.

Secondly, I believe deep friendships grow when those involved experience something significant together. My closest friends are from my college days. In my wife’s case, her mom’s group buddies were all having their first children only weeks apart.

Here are some ways I think rootless relos in the burbs can get to know folks with common interests.

Volunteer Your Time

Okay, this is the textbook answer on how to meet friends. But before you just show up at a volunteer event, do some research. Find something you are truly passionate about. Immerse yourself into the charity and find others who feel the same way.

Moms Club

I talked about this above. But there are a lot of organizations like this in the burbs. Find one that will pair you up with parents of children the same age. Try to get into a small group if possible. Make the most out of it by attending events as often as possible. Be supportive of the other parents and watch what happens.

Knock on Doors

Yes literally! I don’t know my neighbors nearly as well as I ought to. But if you see them out in the yard, walk over and chat. Or did you notice that the house across the street has empty diaper boxes at the street on trash day? Go over and introduce yourself! Offer to babysit or something.

Happy Hour After Work

Don’t know anyone at work? Organize a happy hour. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Find a place with a good variety of adult beverages and show up. Or better yet, organize a monthly poker night.

Don’t Be a Flake!

I’ve seen this happen so many times. You’re getting to know someone and make plans to get together. The next thing you know, the other person either cancels at the last minute or is a no show. Deep friendship should be more dependable than the weather, that’s for sure. It should be common sense, but do your best to honor your commitments, lest you remain rootless!

Diversity in the Burbs?

This post continues a discussion on the Peter Kilborn article on being Rootless in Alpharetta.

Here is a quote from the Kilborn article that jumped out at me:

“The good thing about it is that it is a very comfortable neighborhood to live in. These are very homogeneous types of groups. You play tennis with them, you have them over to dinner. You go to the same parties. But we’re never challenged to learn much about other economic groups. When you talk about tennis, guess what? Everybody you play against looks and acts and generally feels like you. It doesn’t give you much of a perspective. At work, diversity is one of the biggest things we work on.”

That’s Mr. Link speaking about his neighborhood, but it applies to life in Alpharetta in general. Diversity is a big part about life at work, especially if you’re a manager or in HR. Yet here in the burbs, it is practically non-existent. According to stats from the 2000 census quoted by Wikipedia, Alpharetta is 91% white and 5% African American. Forsyth County only has a 0.7% African American population. There are reasons for this difference in Forsyth, something I’ll write about at a later time. But nevertheless, the entire state of Georgia sits at 65% white and 30% African American.

It is pretty easy to verify these statistics by looking around. The congregation I worship with reflects these numbers, as does the pre-school my children attend. Homogeneous is an understatement! We all look alike and think alike. The workplace is a little different, but the vast majority of my fellow cubicle dwellers don’t live here like I do.

What is important to me, as Mr. Link mentions, is that my children grow up with some perspective. I don’t always want them to be surrounded by other white Anglo Saxons like us. I don’t want them to think everyone lives in a five bedroom home, vacations in Colorado and drives German cars.

But at the same time, I don’t think merely looking at white to black ratios is telling the whole story. My block of the neighborhood happens to be very diverse in terms of nationality. On one side of us is a Chinese family. There are Indians on the other side. Across the street is a Dutch family with children in age real close to our own. Catty corner from us is a family from Africa.

The technology jobs available here in the burbs attract a diverse nationality of people. There are small Indian communities all over the northern burbs, especially in Johns Creek. Duluth has a HUGE Korean community, complete with unique restaurants and Korean churches.

The lack of diversity in the burbs will correct itself over time. I’m encouraged to see places like St. James United Methodist Church on Webb Bridge Road. This is a predominantly African American congregation right near the heart of Alpharetta. They have a deep and rich history as a congregation dating back to 1867. They seem to be a vibrant and growing church, and they’ve certainly been around longer than nearly every other church in town (including my own).

So diversity in the burbs is here in some respects, and isn’t in a lot of respects. I think as a parent I’m going to have to be deliberate to expose my children to more. Just an unfortunate trade-off of living here.

The Five-Bedroom, Six-Figure Rootless Life

I’ve used this New York Times article as inspiration for the name of my blog. Yeah, I know, it is four and a half years old. Even so, writer Peter Kilborn completely nails how life is in Alpharetta. I can remember shortly after this came out, our minister at church made it the topic of a few sermons. And from what I understand, Kilborn has written a book on the subject (something I need to get my hands on).

The article is a little dated now. It followed the Link family, who lived in present day Johns Creek (not yet incorporated in 2005). The family of five moved from burb to burb to follow the executive career of the husband, all the while never really fitting in anywhere.


Are the Links rootless? I’m not so sure. I think Mrs. Link is desperately trying to establish roots, knowing full well that in a few short years (or months) they will be quickly uprooted and planted elsewhere. She willingly goes along with it, accepting all the costs and consequences, in an effort to further her husband’s career. But to call this family completely rootless is a little much, and something I’ll get into in later posts.

Nevertheless, the story covers many interesting themes. It is a study in suburban sociology written by a gifted journalist. He makes some very valid points yet at the same time pokes fun at our standard of living.

So thus my blog’s theme, and thus begins a series on this specific article. It contains so much juicy blog fodder that I just can’t resist! It also gives me the opportunity to create a quasi-fictional (yet real) poster child for the rootless relo family… Mrs Link. Congratulations, ma’am. You’re now a category on my blog!

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