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How to Love Where You Live: Make a City Bucket List

Forget far-flung locales: the most important bucket list you can make is right in your own backyard.

By Melody Warnick on February 21, 2018

City Bucket List
Courtesy of Maica/iStock

Fun fact: New York City residents do not visit the Statue of Liberty every day.

It seems like they should, right? About 60 million people visit NYC every year, and the number #1 thing they want to see is the Statue of Liberty. Don’t the locals who have daily access to her just count their lucky stars? No. No, they don’t. Actually, some people believe that the #1 sign you’re a real New Yorker is your utter disinterest in Lady Liberty. That old thing? Meh. Tourist stuff.

The sad truth is that most of us treat our own city’s most thrilling attractions the same way. We ignore them. Daily life intrudes. Even if you moved to your city precisely because you loved its amenities, eventually the carpools, grocery runs, and late nights at work force everything else into the background. The longer you live in a place, the more you start to ignore the things that drew you to it in the first place.

That’s why you need a City Bucket List.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of bucket lists in general. I’ve kept a life list (Go dog sledding! Learn to play tennis!), a “40 Before 40” list (Visit Acadia National Park! Buy a grown-up piece of furniture!), and currently a “19 before 2019” list (Write a will! Try meditation!). I love sitting down and making the lists, the way it funnels my imagination toward a hoped-for future life. I love how it helps me pinpoint what I really want for myself.

Best, though, is when I manage to tick off the items on my lists. Without my 40 before 40 list, would I have paid the money to go ziplining? Or planned a summer vacation that would get me to the last of the 50 states? (Love you, Connecticut!)

With a City Bucket List, I get that same push toward adventure, except where I live right now.

Right around the time I moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, I started formulating a bucket list for my new town. To get ideas, I looked at blog posts, Instagram (#Blacksburg), TripAdvisor, Yelp, and the website of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. My friend Kristy asked strangers about their local favorites as an icebreaker. “I just moved here,” she’d say. “Where should I shop? Where’s a good place to eat? What should I see if I only have a few days here?”

Then I started writing things down. For instance:

  • Go to a Virginia Tech baseball game
  • See a movie at the Lyric Theater
  • Hike at Pandapas Pond
  • Bike the Huckleberry Trail to Christiansburg
  • Eat at Dude’s Drive Inn
  • Swim at Claytor Lake
  • See Mabry Mill

I’ll never finish — I add things to my Blacksburg Bucket List all the time — and that’s important for a couple reasons. In my book This Is Where You Belong, I explain the concept of place attachment, the positive emotional bond you can develop with your city. That “no place like home” feeling is linked to higher levels of social capital, self-esteem, general well-being and health. When you love where you live, you simply feel better.

Making — and doing — a City Bucket List is the most effective “Love Where You Live” experiment I can think of. Simply brainstorming the list recalibrates your relationship to your community, making you do a mental deep-dive into your city’s assets, strengths, and hidden gems. Basically, you’re zeroing in on all the things that will make your place enjoyable to live in, which creates positive, “I’m happy here” feelings.

Then, by doing the items on your list, you create a trail of meaningful experiences all over your community. Meaning is the kicker here. It’s what differentiates your town from any other town. And a good City Bucket List is all about making meaning — about turning a park into “the park where we picnicked on a warm June afternoon” or a weird back road into “the place where we found the apple orchard that smelled like heaven.” The experiences make your town feel like home.

So make your City Bucket List. Start with the Statues of Liberty in your neck of the wood — all the attractions you never got around to seeing. Then add the trails you’ve meant to hike, the views you’d like to take a selfie with, the restaurants whose dishes your colleagues keep yakking about, the festivals you’ve avoided up until now. It turns out, tourist stuff is pretty amazing sometimes.

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