What's left out of the equation

Is it really possible to find the perfect neighborhood by clicking a few boxes on a website? (See story on page 17.) As someone who's moved countless times, I am skeptical.

But beyond that, I'm not sure how I would even define my ideal neighborhood. My housing aspirations and standards have changed through the years, along with my circumstances.

I well recall my father-in-law trying to hide his dismay on seeing the first apartment my husband and I lived in overseas. This dear man saw cramped attic rooms with slanted ceilings and cast-off furniture. But to my husband and me, those drawbacks were overshadowed by a delightfully quirky landlady. She insisted that I learn how to make open-face fruit tarts and instructed us in the correct way to do things in her country.

She - and her apartment - might seem stifling to me now, but long ago, it was "perfect."

I've lived in small towns and big cities, in sparsely populated rural areas and in child-filled suburbia. I can recall many different types of apartments and houses - one with vivid orange carpet sticks in my mind, and another that provided all the closets we could fill.

But mostly what lingers in my memory about the places I've lived is the people who also called those neighborhoods home: the family who loved our dog as much as we did, the elderly couple who loaned out their croquet set to all the kids, the women who welcomed one and all to an annual cookie swap.

In reality, a neighborhood is so much more than can be found in a database of crime statistics and education levels. A neighborhood's character is determined by those who live there. And I doubt any computer can understand that.

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