In mid-April 2019, I loaded myself, my 3 boys, and a few of my things into my minivan, and headed 178 miles to the east of my hometown to land in Harrisburg, PA. It has not been 100% smooth sailing; but what in life is? In the past 6 months I’ve been amazed and impressed almost every day in our new hometown. Here are the top 5 reasons why I have come to absolutely love living in Harrisburg.
1. It is very accessible
There are actually two facets to this. #1 – in Western Pennsylvania…I was beginning to really loathe my daily commute. I spent almost 5 years catching the bus into downtown Pittsburgh…which took about 45 minutes (thanks to the dedicated busway). However when I started working on the North Shore, I needed to drive…which took me about an hour (15 minutes give or take). With my boys in daycare where I used to live, it was tough if I was called to pick them up…or if they had appointments. It also did not help that my ex did not have his own transportation to help out with not only the boys…but running around to do errands even. It is no secret that driving around Pittsburgh is no fun. So all of this got old for me really quickly.
Here in Harrisburg, it takes me about 15 minutes to get the boys from my home to daycare; then another 15 minutes to get from daycare to my office. If the boys aren’t here, then I can get from my house to my office in a mere 12 minutes (thankfully, I go against traffic…since I live in the city…and leave it to go to the West Shore to go to work)!
#2 – Harrisburg is close to so many other cities. Pittsburgh is 3 hours on the PA turnpike to the west. Philadelphia is 2 hours to the east. Baltimore is just over an hour to the south. Allentown is an hour to the northeast. NYC is 3 hours northeast. DC is 2 hours southwest. In fact, about 70% of the US population can be reached within a days drive of Harrisburg!
2. It is diverse
One of the statistics that caught me by surprise before I moved here is that Black people comprise 48% of the population of the City of Harrisburg. Latinos make up another 24%. Yet most outsiders do not think of Harrisburg as a Black/Brown city. While Harrisburg is no Atlanta, I am definitely impressed (already) with the presence of Black professionals, civic leaders and business people that I’ve come across. A bit after moving here, some members of the Harrisburg Young Professionals of Color reached out to network.
I won’t deny that Harrisburg definitely suffers from a ‘White Flight’ syndrome; where far too many non-minority residents of the area equate a high density of Black residents with crime, blight and all around undesirability. However that attitude does not cause the Black community here to buy into this sentiment. I mean there is a reason why really cool things, like the state’s first Black-owned brewery is here…and not in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. It’s because in general, Black people support each other here; being that we live in an island which is surrounded by the sea of Pennsyltucky around us. Which brings me to my next item:
3. It is urban…but the country is all around you
Well, Harrisburg has an ‘urban feel’ to it…even if it is not a big city (with a population just shy of 50K it ranks 10th in terms of PA metro areas in terms of population). However 40K+ people commute into the city for work. So Harrisburg feels quite a bit more populous then it really is.
I live within city limits – but across the bridge from downtown (5 minutes away). While we don’t have much of backyard, I love how close everything is to us. I takes me about 3 minutes to get on I-83.
And yet the city is surrounded by lush woodlands, farms and plenty of outdoor space. The area has a rich agricultural community and there are farmers markets all around. And there are plenty of parks and nature sanctuaries if you want to do explore the great outdoors.
4. The Jewish community and religious life in general
Overall, I like how Central PA embraces religion and faith. While this is a plus for me…it might be a turn off to many people. In general, people are not shy or ashamed about being religious here. Of course the downside to that are the conservative politics that seem to go hand-in-hand with that. But thankfully, the city of Harrisburg is generally progressive politically.
One of the biggest draws for me to the area was Harrisburg’s Jewish community. It is small and modest…but it is amazing how Jews from across the spectrum here, from Orthodox to unaffiliated, band together socially and pool resources. Our synagogue here is also fantastic. It is an Orthodox congregation that is one of the friendliest and open ones that I’ve come across anywhere.
To me, it is refreshing to not have to be ashamed or downplay the fact that you practice religion here. It is common to see Mennonites and Amish around. When getting my boys’ haircut, the barber politely asked if we had found a church yet when he heard we were new to town. Cashier’s in stores think nothing of saying “God bless you” when saying goodbye. In my humble opinion, religious folk in general tend to be hopeful, considerate people and I don’t mind living among them at all.
5. Harrisburg has very affordable real estate
In general, Harrisburg’s cost of living is great. But what I love are the housing costs. The average home here sales for $163K; while the nationwide average is upwards of $225K. Even with $50,000, you can find habitable homes with 3+ bedrooms. To me, if you a millennial who doesn’t care too much about Harrisburg’s lackluster ‘coolness factor’, then it makes perfect sense to come here to get established. You can become self-sufficient and in a decent home much quicker then you can in many other parts of the country.
Where else could you buy a house like this, in the city, for less then $200k? 🙂
So there you have it folks. I thank God and feel blessed every day to wake up and embark on living another day in this wonderful place 🙂