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Neighborhood Charms

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In the Sausalito marina on San Francisco Bay, creative director Mike Shine takes a break from a Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners beach party and walks a few hundred yards to his office for a one-hour phone conference. Five minutes after saying goodbye to the client, he is back at the party just in time for the barbecue.

When it snows in Minneapolis, Kirsten Giese Halloran, an account supervisor at Fallon, leaves her loft and hops on a bus for a five-minute, 50-cent ride to the office. It drops her off at her office building, which contains a giant indoor shopping mall filled with shops and cafés.

What a difference a neighborhood makes.

New York's Madison Avenue, of course, is the original agency neighborhood. When group planning director Christian Barnett needs a boost after hours of meetings, he walks out of Young & Rubicam to the zooming cabs and commotion of the street. Often he makes his way down Madison Avenue to Grand Central to soak in the grandeur and energy of the place. If he has the time, the newly transplanted Brit will stop for a dish of Indian curry.

People often worry more about the city where they work and the design of their offices than their workplace neighborhood. But those who have worked in a variety of districts say neighborhoods matter more than you think. A bite to eat, an informal brainstorming session, an afternoon latte, a quick errand or just a brisk walk—the right kind of area can make your day go easier and your work go smoother.

After spending most of his career in London, which he dubs "more of a creative village," Barnett, 41, is thriving in midtown Manhattan. "I sometimes feel like I'm working in a movie set," he says. "You step out of our building and it's an immediate rush, like being hit by a wave." He says the stimulation helps him think in new ways and put the minutiae of the job in perspective. Peaceful scenery, he says, is for vacation, not work. When he recalls shops he's visited in far-flung places, he often wonders, "How on earth do these people think of anything?"

Leta Baker, a senior writer at Studeo, an agency on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, can answer that. The 29-year-old worked for interactive shops in downtown Dallas before landing in an upscale suburban business park in Utah. Shopping centers and drive-through coffee stands are common in her neighborhood—taxis and independent bookstores are not. Baker says she savors the plentiful parking spots and the yoga studio a short walk away. Her work, she says, is inspired by "the panorama and sense of space" afforded by the mountain range nearby.

"Things are calm and easy-going," she says. "The cool, organic feeling helps me work better." Recently, on a co-worker's birthday, Baker and friends piled into an old Cadillac convertible for a quick lunch at a skiers' hangout. They took a hike in the mountains and were back in 15 minutes. "In Dallas, it would take me an hour just to drive across town," Baker says. While parking is easy, the bar situation is more complicated. Utah's alcohol laws are such that Baker has to pay a membership fee of $50 a year to order after-work drinks in the wine bar in her office building.

By contrast, Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners names conference rooms after bars in its hip neighborhood—New York's SoHo district—and hosts Thursday happy hours at area watering holes. Bill Chamness, 30, an account supervisor, says it's a far cry from the quiet industrial district of KB+P's San Francisco office, where he worked for seven years. "Your work neighborhood can stimulate you or isolate you," he says.

Shine's shop is in neither an urban hub nor the 'burbs. In a modest marina area not far from the touristy waterfront, it's a short drive or ferry ride to downtown San Francisco. "Our hangout is Smitty's, a dive bar where we are surrounded by contractors and boat workers drinking Miller Lite," Shine says. The agency has a bicycle that employees sign out at lunch. People can take their dogs to the nearby park, and the sandy beach is always a big draw.

"The beauty and energy of our area matters to me as a creative," says Shine. "It's just nicer to work in a great area."