Living Here Guide

A city for each stage of life

This spring, I fell in love with my neighborhood all over again.

As a mild winter lingered well into April, my husband and I wandered through fragrant paths at Cooper’s Nursery on Parklane Road, making a pact to buy one shrub. One.

In those early days of spring, azaleas were cloaked in blooms. I came home from a plant swap at Rosewood Market with swamp sunflowers. Purple iris, passed along last summer, unfolded.

Evenings, the man next door and his tow-headed third-grader threw a baseball.

A trouble-making family of raccoons moved in across the street.

Mornings, I’d hear roofers hammering or see workmen carting ladders and paint cans.

Most people love their neighborhoods, of course, but this spring I found myself writing notes and pausing to talk.

On a morning walk with my dog, I realized our neighborhood group probably put a lot of effort into advocating for new swings and benches.

The word spread about an entrepreneurial couple down the street who’d opened the Crust bakery.

One Saturday in May, we walked to the Crawfish Festival, where we ran into some people we knew from our Rosewood neighborhood, bobbing heads to loud music and cold beer.

Columbia bills itself “family friendly” and, sure enough, it is.

But this college town and capital city – with its Southern history and a diversity of kindred spirits — appeals just as well to those whose children have grown.

The University of South Carolina and the other local colleges offer lectures, concerts, sports and theater. The historic Horseshoe, a brick enclave encircled by ancient oaks, is the prettiest spot in the city for an evening walk.

Community institutions rooted in a love of blues music, foreign films, historic buildings and drama have endured through the work of volunteers.

More recently, local governments divided by the Congaree succumbed to its charms, building a network of trails and a botanical garden. Companies sprang up to offer lazy floats on inner-tubes when it’s too hot to paddle.

Our chapters include General Sherman’s march and Mary Boykin Chesnut’s entries in her diary, Celia Mann’s midwifery and the Confederate battle flag.

As you settle in, here are just a few tenets of life in Columbia:

You can pretty much write off Friday afternoons. Weekends start along about noon.

Looking for Columbia’s counter-culture? It’s an intimate community found at the UU, the Progressive Network, Drip and the Art Bar.

Richland and Lexington counties are fraternal twins. They’re at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

If you see a woman on the ballot, give her the edge. Generally speaking, we have a lousy record of electing women to public office.

The S.C. State Fair is the best place for people-watching.

Plan everything around USC’s home football schedule. Everything.

Read more: The ABCs of schools

For many families, schools are a key factor in deciding where to put down roots.

In Richland, Lexington and Kershaw counties, there are eight public school districts.

Top of the class: Two districts are rated consistently among top academic performers statewide: Lexington 1 and Lexington-Richland 5. Richland 2 distinguishes itself with its innovative magnet and choice programs.

Where everyone knows your name: Lexington 3 and Lexington 4 are the smallest Midlands districts, where students often grow up together. Others serving some of the area’s small communities include Lexington 2 and Kershaw County Schools.

Rising to the challenge: Among Richland 1’s specialized programs is the Challenger Learning Center, emphasizing math and science. It’s named for the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 -- among them, S.C. native Ron McNair.

Private school options: There are several private schools in the Columbia area. Among the largest, with programs through high school, are Heathwood Hall Episcopal, Hammond, Cardinal Newman and Ben Lippen. Others offer programs for specialized learning, including Sandhills and Hope Christian Academy.