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The city or the suburbs: which is better for kids?

Jun20

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As readers of Finslippy probably know, Scott and I once lived in Brooklyn, where we wrestled with the nagging question: now that we’re a family, are we ethically and morally bound to live in the suburbs? It seemed to be a question that most people answered in the affirmative. Children need space, they said, and yards, and stoops that are maybe a little less peed-on than your average city stoop. Both sets of our parents echoed this sentiment. We had grown up in the suburbs, after all, and while we remembered the soul-crushing boredom that characterized our teenage years, we looked around us and saw disaffected teens in Brooklyn, too. Maybe, we thought, maybe it wasn’t the suburbs but our teenagey hormones that caused all that ennui. Maybe the suburbs would reward us in untold ways. And think of all the space we’d get.
We looked in the suburbs. And decided we couldn’t do it. A year later we looked again, and decided we could. And we did.
And now, dear readers, after having experienced suburban splendor for two years, we are asking ourselves: did we make the right choice? We’re not convinced that we did. I’m not going to argue that the suburbs are terrible and a cultural wasteland. We’ve made excellent friends, and we’ve found plenty of culture, when we went looking for it. There’s plenty here to recommend the lifestyle—it’s just not one that seems to fit us.
The driving lifestyle, primarily, is what bothers me. It significantly changes the rhythm and flow of everyday life. Driving everywhere, there’s little opportunity for the unexpected delight, the street fair you didn’t know about or the puppet show spontaneously being put on in the park. (Note: I never actually came across spontaneous park puppetry, in all my years in Brooklyn, but it seems like the sort of thing that could happen.) Being able to (or having to) walk everywhere changes the course of your day. When you’re walking with your child, you discover things. When you’re driving, you tune out until you reach your destination. When you’re bored in Brooklyn, you can head outside and see what’s going on. But in a driving culture, you see the people you plan to see, and do what you plan to do. No more, no less.
For Scott, it’s the house maintenance that he can’t handle. Everyone around us seems to enjoy tending to their homes. We resent it–and then carp at each other because the house doesn’t respond to our carping. Every little repair becomes a reason to bemoan our poor decision-making. Maybe our stoop was urine-scented, but at least we didn’t have to worry about our crumbling soffits. And I don’t think my son is benefiting from listening to our shouting and grumbling every weekend when another item needs fixing.
Then we think about the future, and those teenage years looming in the distant horizon. Frankly, we’re feeling right now that suburban ennui that we remembered from our teenagedom. Why would we put our son through that, when we could all be happier in what seems to be our natural environment?
On the other hand! (There’s always another hand.) There’s no question that the quality of our day-to-day home existence has improved. Henry has a playroom, which would have been unthinkable in the city. He can have multiple friends over and they can tear ass around the place without bothering the downstairs neighbors (or me). If we move back we’d have to sacrifice a lot of space—precious, precious space.
For most people there’s the big issue of schools. The suburban public schools, for the most part, are considered superior to the city’s. In this town, at least, we’re just not seeing that. The local school is fine, but doesn’t have the resources that our neighboring schools in Brooklyn did. (And next year we have to deal with a half-day kindergarten, which is a whole other topic that you don’t want me to go into because then I will write in ALL CAPS.) For preschool, however, we would have been driven into penury by the Brooklyn private schools, whereas here we had our pick of wonderful programs that, while not free, were far cheaper than anything we would have found in the city. For that reason alone, I don’t regret living here for these two years.
Schools aside, living in the city versus the suburbs is essentially a trade-off between public and private space. And we’re more public-space-seekers—preferring a park over a yard we have to maintain. Our feeling is that the best environment for our child is the place where we’d all be happy—that it’s not wrong to seek out our own happiness in addition to Henry’s.
What’s your take on the subject? Is the city better for a kid, or the suburbs? Where did you grow up, and how did you fare?

About the author

Alice Bradley

http://www.finslippy.com
Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


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54 Responses to “The city or the suburbs: which is better for kids?”

  1. A Jun 20 at 10:41 am Reply Reply

    I grew up in the city and I love the city. I love cities, in general. Having lived in the city, I expect the same thing everywhere I go. As a 10 year old child I remember finding it hard to believe that other places didn’t have a subway system! Naive, yes, but that’s what I understood life to be.
    However, I grew up (and still live) in a Canadian city, Toronto, which, no offence, is safer than most, if not all, major American cities, including Brooklyn. We have our degenerate teenagers, and our shootings, stabbings whathave you, but that is of no surprise I’m sure. I absolutely love the city – it’s accessibility, it’s charm, it’s ever changing culture and look. I love how sectioned things are, and how everything changes as you go through it – architecture, people, places. It’s better to move now, while your son is still young and can adapt far better to a change in lifestyle than an older child can, especially one already in school. If you guide him and show him how much you love the city, he will learn to see it’s merits and may even begin to forget (due to his young age) the life of the ‘burbs.
    It’s a major decision to make, but your son will be happy if you are happy. Like you said, he may be affected by your continuous moments of irritation and arguing between yourself and your hubby. Take him for a visit, see how he feels about the buzz of the big city…see how YOU feel about it with him there, too.
    Good luck!

  2. Anonymous Jun 20 at 10:45 am Reply Reply

    Thank you for putting into words what I struggle with articulating to my midwestern neighbors when asked what I miss about Brooklyn. “I miss not having to drive,” doesn’t explain what you’ve said so eloquently here. As for me, we would be on the fence, too, about whether our suburban life is better than Brooklyn, except for the big trump card: our kids’ grandparents are all here. If only we could convince them all to move to NYC – we’d be back in Brooklyn in a heartbeat.

  3. Lilana Jun 20 at 11:12 am Reply Reply

    Why not try Philadelphia? It’s imminently more affordable than NY, less scary (in center city), you can get a pretty big single-family townhome (mine is 3,000 sq ft) and still have the benefit of the public transportation, culture, gorgeous parks, etc.
    I grew up in the suburbs, and not only was there nothing to do, what little there was, I wasn’t allowed to do. Sure enough, I love the accessibility of the city, and wouldn’t give it up too easily for the suburbs anytime soon!

  4. Mandee Jun 20 at 11:36 am Reply Reply

    I grew up in the country–the county in Georgia with the largest agricultural production in the state. Country, people. Ironically enough, that experience combines aspects of both city and suburban life. Because of it’s small size, we only had one high school in the entire county. Therefore, I was exposed to a much wider variety of people than if I had grown up in the suburbs. I definitely consider that one of the best things about growing up where I did–much more important than the space and the yards that we had.

  5. cagey Jun 20 at 12:10 pm Reply Reply

    I grew up in neither the city nor the suburbs. I grew up within small Kansas towns near enough to Lawrence (the University of Kansas) and Kansas City to be able to enjoy the amenities both had to offer. Throughout my childhood, we actually lived IN the town, or just outside of town in the country on 20 acres (no mules, though!)
    We now live in the suburbs and I do like it. I like having my own yard to roll around it. I refuse to have a swingset though, because we have several parks within walking distance and TONS within a 5-10 minute driving distance (even the children’s farmstead here is 10 minutes away from us). We do go into the city for things fairly often. You couldn’t PAY me to live in the city, but to be fair, the Kansas City schools are not even accredited – why WOULD anyone live there unless you could pay for private school?
    I have mixed feelings on the driving – economy and environment notwithstanding *sigh* It would be nice to be able to walk to a coffee shop that isn’t Starbucks. On the other hand, driving with the kids is fine. We talk about things we see as we go about. Sometimes, we just have quiet time with no radio. Other times, we play music (both adult and kid) and sing along. Other times, we sing nursery rhymes or work on our ABCs and numbers.
    Of course, to state the obvious, I don’t believe it is a simple matter of “better or worse”, it really has to do with your own situation. In this area, it does not work for us to live in the city. Should we need to move to the Bay Area or Boston (our two most likely contenders for venture capital funding for my husband’s business), we would maybe rethink the suburbs. I would kill to live in Boston, truthfully.
    Okay, maybe not KILL. Perhaps, merely injure.

  6. braine Jun 20 at 1:06 pm Reply Reply

    I write a whole blog about this, so how long a comment do you want? There are suburbs, and there are suburbs – and I prefer the right kind of suburb over the city. Our first suburban home was in a 1960s subdivision on a hill with no sidewalks, but with bravery and ten minutes to spare you could walk to a convenience store and a bus stop to New York. Our second (smaller, less expensive) home is on the edge of an exurban village within walking distance of a great pub, several excellent restaurants, two convenience stores, yoga place, two hip coffee shops, the public library, a park with ballfields, the town pool, two police and fire departments, and a hospital. The larger grocery store is about a mile away, as is the large kleen drugstore. Our small house sits on a third of an acre. There’s a nature museum, a kayak place, the riverfront, a giant nature reserve, and a movie theater about ten minutes’ drive away. Every Thursday in the summer there’s a concert down at the bandshell (walk), and Sunday evenings there’s one in the park (walk). The schools are good (walk). Train to the city is a 15-minute drive, although it’s followed by a two-hour trip with one transfer. A more frequent train without transfer is about 25 minutes away. As my kids get older, I’ll feel safer about them venturing off to explore their surroundings and to develop their own independence, knowing that “home” extends beyond the borders of our house to encompass the town. To me, that’s the right kind of suburb, and they do exist.
    In short, you might add to your options a middle ground: move to a suburban center still close to the city (Maplewood, Montclair, others I don’t know about), where you’ll get to keep some of your money and a large measure of space and still be able to walk to a larger variety of necessities and culture. And still no urine on the front steps, no subway travel, a little less exhaust fumes, crime, and frozen phlegm on the sidewalks.
    That doesn’t solve the repairs conundrum, but what does is this: in your new compact-suburban home, you will a) have more neighbors nearby whom you know better, many of whom will be handy and b) with the money you save on gas, you can hire people to do those jobs. And those people will have offices just up the street, and they can be called back to tweak something you don’t like, etc. AND if you consider maintenance to be protecting your investment (which, I know, is ugly sounding when all you want is to HAVE A PLACE TO LIVE), it helps a bit when you have to call for a repair.
    All that said, Brooklyn has been a great place to live for 300 years, too, and if your ceiling leaks, you can usually make someone else come fix it. Whatever you do (or don’t do), it’ll be the right thing for your family.

  7. suburbancorrespondent Jun 20 at 4:31 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a middle-ground option person myself. I can’t stand living surrounded by concrete, yet I despise the suburbs where you absolutely have to drive everywhere. We live in a suburb about 35 miles outside a major metropolitan area, in a fantastic townhouse with lots of common area where the kids can play outside with each other; yet we’re on a bus line that allows my teens to get into the city (or other places). They can also bike to Starbucks or a bookstore or whereever. It’s an excellent compromise. Most places I need to get to are 10 minutes or less by car, and there are many places I can walk to with the younger kids.
    Of course, if you absolutely love the city, then there is no reason not to live there (aside from cost). My cousin raised both her girls in Manhattan. There’s good stuff no matter where you live. Go with where you and your husband are happy. Teens will be bored no matter what.

  8. amanda Jun 20 at 4:39 pm Reply Reply

    Go with your gut. Neither the city nor the suburbs is inherently better for kids. You just have to live where your hearts are happy.
    Best wishes.

  9. lamech Jun 20 at 5:07 pm Reply Reply

    Definitely definitely do what’s right for you. But, thanks for articulating what my partner and I find hard to describe to our suburb-loving friends and family. We’ve just bought a house downtown after talking and dreaming about it together for almost 10 years, and we can’t get ourselves and our kids down there fast enough. The suburbs just aren’t the right place for us–we know that for sure, having lived there for quite a while now–and that’s gotta be ok.

  10. C in MN Jun 20 at 6:12 pm Reply Reply

    Definitely depends on your unique preferences and situation, but also on the region (in my opinion.) Here in the midwest, living in the city can still mean single family home/yard/a little space. Suburbs (other than the very old, established, closest-in ones) tend to be beige, boring, lacking in sidewalks yet replete with big box retail. Minneapolis is a spectacularly livable city with great parks within walking distance to virtually any home, coffee shops and cafes just a stroll down the street. Many “safe” neighborhoods… decent schools. Lakes. Etc. I would argue that Minneapolis proper is better for kids because it contains diversity (racial, religious, economic) to a much greater degree than the ‘burbs. And the quality of life – for parents who love to walk, know the neighbors, get good coffee, have less than a 15-minute commute, and such – is much, much better.
    However, I grew up on the east coast near a very crowded city that was going thru rough busing issues (desegregation) during my childhood. So a 300 year old “suburb” was where we landed and it was good. Plenty of sidewalks, quirky neighborhoods, economic (though not racial) diversity, cute restaurants, etc. I often wonder if I would have the money, patience, etc. to live in Boston if I moved back.

  11. Fairly Odd Mother Jun 20 at 10:41 pm Reply Reply

    It drives me crazy that sidewalks disappeared in our suburb. We live within walking distance to an ice cream shop, a supermarket, 3 drugstores, post office, etc. But, walking to them is dangerous alone, stupid with kids who tend to wander as they walk.
    That said, I do love our home and our space. The kids can go outside and play, without me having to take them anywhere and then watch them like a hawk. They have room for privacy in our house. It’s quiet and, someday, I may even get chickens (yes, this is something I aspire to).
    But. . .I love cities too and think they can be great for kids. We make the effort often, but I can see how it’d be lovely to just step out into it every morning. But, with three kids and my burning chicken desire, I doubt that it’d be a practical move for us.

  12. Mauigirl Jun 21 at 3:20 pm Reply Reply

    I hear you – there are definitely tradeoffs for each. I actually did not grow up in a normal “suburb” for 5 of the most important years of my youth (age 9 to 14). I lived in upstate New York in a more rural area and I loved the woods and the outdoors. Suburbs are kind of the worst of both worlds – not outdoorsy enough to equal “woods” and all the fun they can provide, but not citified enough to have those interesting experiences and adventures that city dwellers have.
    And by the way, if you think you’re the only ones in the neighborhood who don’t love tending your yard, you must not have heard me whining to my Dear Husband today “Why? Why do I have to HELP? I don’t WANT to help trim the bushes!” Poor DH. But sometimes I just want to sit, relax, and read blogs instead…

  13. Mauigirl Jun 22 at 12:51 am Reply Reply

    Just want to also say I didn’t mean to sound so negative about the suburbs – obviously since we’ve lived in one for 21 years it does have much to offer and we enjoy it. And at least there are sidewalks and a few stores we can walk to, and being near the city helps. The main thing is the great friends we’ve made in our town and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

  14. P&P Jun 22 at 7:07 am Reply Reply

    I’m a reluctant suburbanite; the cost of housing in my East Coast city is so astronomical, that I wouldn’t be able to afford to eat if I lived in the city.
    However, what bothers me about urban living is re-gentrification. Once upon a time, I lived in a blue-collar city neighborhood where there were no street fairs or puppet shows, but there was a grocery store within walking distance, elderly lifetime residents who thought nothing of signing for a package and roller blading teens dressed as glow in the dark skeletons on Halloween. Alas, upscale families with small children moved to my cozy neighborhood to avoid living in the suburbs.
    What happened? The grocery store became a Whole Paycheck, er, Whole Foods, the elders sold for huge amounts of money and the new residents complained about the roller blading teens (they were disturbing nap time). The same folks who claimed to be avoiding the suburbs were now trying to move in cozy boutiques in place of the hardware store, a donut shop became a paint your own pottery studio and they formed coalitions complaining about the gas station owned by a middle eastern family because it stayed open “too late” (11 pm).
    They might not have wanted to live in a suburb, but they were trying to re-create the suburban experience in the city.
    Am I bitter? Yep. I was priced out of urban living and banished to the suburbs. I have lower housing costs, but a longer commute. Then again, I now live in a community with seniors that hang out in the the town center coffee shop, teens who roller blade in front of the library, a good library and farm stands that are far cheaper than the chi chi farmer’s market that’s held every Saturday in my old neighborhood.
    Like you said, it’s all about trade-offs. I just wish the yuppie families had adapted to my old neighborhood, rather than change it to suit their needs.

  15. No Refills Left Jun 22 at 1:31 pm Reply Reply

    In Detroit, we have one of the worst suburban sprawl epidemics in the country. Though close to 5 million people live here in southeastern Michigan, less than 1 million of those actually live in Detroit, and the numbers are falling.
    We live in the city in a neighborhood built just before WWII. Lots of bungalos. Lots of trees. Lots of kids.
    Most of the OTHER 4 million Michiganians living in the tricounty area (suburbanites) think that our biggest struggle here in the city is crime. Problem #1 is actually transportation. Living in the motorcity S-U-C-K-S during this current oil crisis. We want to walk or bike to work or take a rail line of some sort, but the auto industry has just been too powerful, so are the suburbs (wanting as little as possible actually connecting them to the city). Added to that, I still live 25 minutes by car away from work. I can take a bus, but I’d have to get up at 4am hoping that buses are running on time…
    That’s all very different from Brooklyn, I realize. What you might want to consider – my parents live in the suburbs and my younger sister is a product of a suburban upbringing. Having nothing to do and no freedom to go anywhere has gotten her into serious trouble (idle hands, etc). In addition, their high school has one of the worst drug-abuse problems in the state, and nobody is doing anything about it. Denial, denial, denial…

  16. Mom101 Jun 22 at 9:16 pm Reply Reply

    Hm, if I defend Brooklyn that’s a problem for you. If I defend the suburbs that’s a prlbem for me.
    I think the answer is to be really rich and have a place in the city and a summer house in the Berkshires.

  17. Heather Jun 23 at 10:42 am Reply Reply

    I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and my husband and I have lived in the city for the last several years. We’re expecting a baby in November, and we intend to stay put. Childcare is INSANE (it’s like taking on a second mortgage), and we obviously don’t have a yard, but it’s great to live right by a park, and we feel like one of the major benefits to our child will be growing up around different kinds of people. Our suburban hometown had great schools, but it also only came with one kind of person- white, upper middle class. I knew one Jewish kid and one black kid growing up, and no one living without their own car at 16. I want my child to understand differences in race, culture, religion, and economic status. And frankly, my husband and I feel confident that we can make up for any differences in the schools. Since he works for the public schools here, he knows exactly what we’ll need to be on the lookout for, which is helpful.
    I may be being incredibly naive, and we’re obviously not parents yet, but I can see us sticking with the city. And every once in a while we’ll take the kid to the burbs to play in the garden with grandpa.

  18. Rainey Jun 23 at 1:03 pm Reply Reply

    Hey…this is a great post! Living in a small-ish town in Virginia, the suburbs are steadily encroaching on our life here but haven’t made enough of an impact to cause any real lifestyle dilemmas.
    Have you seen the Canadian documentary “Radiant City?” It is all about the suburb/city split. Sounds up your alley!

  19. Sonja Jun 23 at 1:23 pm Reply Reply

    I grew up in the suburbs, but it was a fairly closed community (not elite, but little townhouses on a dead end street), so I could go outside and find people, and it had somewhat of a city feel in that sense. Now I live in a big city, in a little “rowhome” and I absolutely love it, especially for my kids, and especially for being able to go out front and see our neighbors and the other kids, and we all hang out all the time, and it’s great. I think I’d go crazy in the suburbs. There’s so much here, so many opportunities to learn and explore. We love where we live. Granted, it’s Philadelphia, not Brooklyn, so it’s possible to have a little house with a little yard (like we do). Although we’d have more yard space and a bigger house in the suburbs, it’s just not worth it. To us.

  20. Kristin Jun 23 at 1:49 pm Reply Reply

    I live near downtown Raleigh, NC, and I think I have the best of both worlds. The entire city of Raleigh is a suburb compared to NYC, but I do live in a neighborhood with sidewalks and parks where I can walk to a grocery store, a library, an elementary school, a college campus and a whole bunch of stores and restaurants. We have great city pools, public parks and museums, within a few miles of our house. We still have to drive many places (although if I could get more motivated, I could definitely bike to many of them) and we don’t have anywhere close to the amazing culture and crush of humanity you have in Brooklyn. But we get a little bit of the city life without the astronomical prices, tiny apartments, inner-city schools and all the other issues that send people running to the suburbs.

  21. Rebecca Jun 23 at 2:10 pm Reply Reply

    I hear you loud and clear. We were suburban through-and-through — both raised in the burbs and well on our way to a lifetime of better living through barbecues and carpools. Then we got transfered to London for 2 years with our young children and got to live the urban dream. No car… no home repairs… I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been fabulous.
    We’re due to return to our suburban NJ life next month and I find myself increasingly concerned that it’s just not going to work for me any more. I must admit, I’ve been casually browsing the Brooklyn real estate market. Unfortunately, my other half can’t wait to return to his deck and his attached garage. At least you and Scott are on the same page. For what it’s worth, I do believe that the place where you’re happiest is the place where you’ll raise the happiest kids. I’ll be jealous if you make the move!

  22. gman Jun 23 at 3:37 pm Reply Reply

    I live in the suburbs and always have. And I love it. I like having my own space to do anything I want to do.
    Last year I lived in town (still in a suburb) and could walk to the schools, grocery store, and shopping, as all were within a mile. But I hated being so close to neighbors and the house was too small.
    So we built a new home on 3/4 of an acre in what will one day be a large neighborhood but is currently only half complete. But we are further from everything. It is about a 5 minute drive to the nearest grocery store and most the malls and stores are about 15 minutes away. But that is fine with me.
    I love it. I hate taking care of the yard but I love it none the less. that sounds confusing I know but it is true. I hate cutting the grass more than anything but I love the yard and want it to be as green as possible.
    I do think about what it would be like to live in a city and have everything right out my front door but then I think about this:
    I have over 2000 sq ft and my mortgage is UNDER $1000 a month!! There is noway I would ever give that up. I love the space and I love the price!

  23. Chaotic Joy Jun 23 at 8:27 pm Reply Reply

    I have always thought myself a city person trapped in a suburban life. I do not care for yard work or want a bigger home. I want easy access and restaurants and parks I can walk to. I find the driving lifestyle and 2 car garages of the suburbs isolating. And competitive in ways I would never want to compete. But I have four children, something I love and chose and could not manage (or maybe just afford to manage) in the city. And so while other families are dreaming of a home in the country or at the lake when their children grow up, I secretly long for a home in the city, too small for much stuff and smack dab in the middle of everything. But alas, where would the grandchildren sleep?
    I don’t think there is a clear winner in this and I agree that you should do what makes you happy. IMHO there is no bigger factor in the happiness of a child than the happiness of their parents.

  24. Inzaburbs Jun 23 at 9:29 pm Reply Reply

    We were city people, although we actually both grew up in small towns. But with three children we wanted the space only the suburbs could provide. I have to say that although we live in the exburbs, our subdivision is very established and close to shopping. Not walking distance, but we still have a great choice of commerce within 5 minutes drive in all directions. So we manage to keep driving to a minimum. We were also very careful to choose a subdivision where we can walk safely. People walk around the neighborhood all the time and kids pass constantly on foot, on rollerblades, on bikes. It helps if you are in a suburb with a community feeling.
    I have no doubt that our kids are happier now than they were when we lived in the city. They are very active and love having the room to run around, inside and out. However, I don’t prescribe to the theory that kids are always happier in the suburbs. I have a friend raising her two boys in a two bedroom apartment and they are fine with it. My cousin never knew anything but inner city life and grew up happy and well balanced.
    We often talk about those teenage years and suburban ennui. We decided to leave it open and see where we are as a family when our kids reach that age. I have to admit it does disturb me when I see teens hanging out in front of their houses here, too young to drive and with no public transport they have nothing to do and nowhere to go.

  25. Elizabeth Jun 23 at 9:50 pm Reply Reply

    Rather than “suburb” we prefer “village.” They may not be the same thing. I have a 1/4 acre and since my house was built in 1868 right on the edge of the street, the yard is maximized. I have three large dogs and two children. I could stand to have fewer dogs (life happens), but at least one feels like a necessity to me. The yard is completely fenced and when the kids go out the door (5 and 3) I don’t have to panic (immediately, anyway). I can walk to a commuter rail train, the local grocery store, two convenience stores, a pet supply store, the place I get my hair done, the hardware store, the variety store, the drug store, the laundromat, several restaurants, the library, the post office AND, believe it or not, my job for the last 14 years. While we long for a smidge more land (we’d love to use wind and solar power and have more space for the dogs), we love living in a village. But when I drive through Boston, I can really see the joy that would go with living in an old brick townhouse right in the middle of everything… Knowing how to navigate the subway, playing along the Charles River, knowing great places to eat on every block, knowing what cool cultural opportunity will be available this weekend, and buying your food fresh every day or every other day (even at Whole Foods) because you can’t CARRY a week’s worth of groceries back to your apartment. You’d walk, you’d get exercise, your DOG would get exercise, your KIDS would get exercise, and you’d be surrounded by such beautiful architecture… And you’d own a vespa. It would be SO cool. Living in a cookie cutter neighborhood that’s just a place to have four walls and a postage-stamp yard? THAT isn’t interesting at all. A village is interesting and a city is very interesting.

  26. Jennifer Jun 24 at 3:00 am Reply Reply

    We go back and forth on this, and back and forth again. We are currently in a very good place right now, technically in a medium-sized European town, but just at the edge, so there is green. We can walk or ride our bikes to beautiful public parks, but I still have to drive more than I’d like. That said, we are seriously considering moving back to the big city (Milan) where we lived before our son was born, mainly for my husband’s job. I am freelance, and the move wouldn’t change much for me except that I wouldn’t have MY OWN OFFICE ANYMORE, sniff sniff. And also, most of my clients are based there and would be thrilled to have me around so they can pester me into coming in and kissing some ass. Again with the sniff, sniff.
    Nothing is perfect, you do what you can and hope it all works out in the end.

  27. Amy Jun 24 at 6:34 am Reply Reply

    Oh my. I’ve been thinking about all this recently — and I’m not even in the “suburbs” — I’m in Queens, NY. But we’re thinking of moving into Manhattan. I’m worried that we’re going to lose the diversity… and that Manhattan is becoming a city of the very rich and the very poor… And I love the idea of a yard.

  28. This is such a good question. We live in the city, but a much smaller city than NYC (where we moved from) and plan on buying at least 20 acres in the middle of nowhere. I want my children to know what it is like to be alone in the woods.
    No matter what decision you make-it will never be perfect. All we can do is try.

  29. superblondgirl Jun 24 at 9:48 am Reply Reply

    I grew up in suburbia/the country, but I love the city and wish I could afford to live in one. I do see benefits to growing up with a big yard and all that, but the museums and the culture and stuff also tempt me so! I’m really torn between which I’d prefer. When I see my son wandering around in a stream at a campsite, or out swinging by our garden in the yard, or when we drive 2 minutes to the beach, I feel like suburbia is the obvious choice for kids. But then we go to Boston or New Haven and walk around and go to museums and lunch and the park and I wonder why we don’t just live there already. Ugh. Can I just have both, a lake house and a Boston apartment?

  30. miep Jun 24 at 9:55 am Reply Reply

    My partner and I had a lot of qualms about buying our house in the first ring suburbs of Minneapolis. I had lived in Mpls since graduating from an arty-farty college on the east coast, and my partner moved here from Fargo after a childhood spent in western PA and Long Island and Texas. Moving to the suburbs meant a loss of diversity and increased fear of homophobia. But. But we are a five minute drive (or a 20 minute bike ride) from the neighborhood we used to live in, and our neighborhood here has some other gay people, a diverse range of ages and salaries, and at least a little ethnic diversity. Kids bike around the circle, people are constantly out walking their dogs…
    I miss being in the city, but really, living where i have in Minneapolis, I didn’t do a whole lot of walking there, either, since I work out in the far suburbs and have to drive back and forth every day, since the only bus would arrive there three hours before I work, and return three hours after work is done.
    we are expecting our first child this winter, and we plan to go into the cities as often as possible.

  31. Kat Jun 24 at 1:43 pm Reply Reply

    I live in Chicago with my one-year-old. He went from crawling to running in a heartbeat. Suddenly, I’m looking around my condo, thinking “how am I going to CONTAIN him?” He’s loud. He’s active. I would love to have the luxury of being able to open the back door and shoo him outside without having to load up the stroller and lug it down three flights of stairs.
    However, besides the space issue, it’s really crime that is making me think about moving to the suburbs. These days, most of the safe neighborhoods in the city are more expensive than the suburbs. My neighborhood now has a lot of violent crime. Kids are being killed in the cross fire. I love the city, but I just don’t hear about drive-bys in the suburbs as frequently as I hear about them in my neighborhood.

  32. jdg Jun 24 at 7:22 pm Reply Reply

    jesus alice your readers here are awesome.
    the post by P&P above brought up the whole gentrification issue that I think that rarely gets discussed in the whole city versus suburb debate.
    for whatever reason, huge swaths of several generations of Americans have been raised outside of cities, though their family’s roots were in cities and not rural environments. sometimes when I talk about culture I don’t mean museums or galleries or coffee shops with folksingers or spoken word artists, etc. I mean culture as a sort of conservative rootedness and passing down of tradition. we cultural elites love the idea of neighborhoods with old school ethnic delis and mom & pop hardware stores, partly because these things are so different from what we had growing up. but so much of that kind of culture was built by the socioeconomic forces that made it difficult for people to escape those neighborhoods. once people were able to escape those neighborhoods for their personal picket fence fiefdoms in the suburbs, that culture became lost and something else replaced it that seems almost like the absence of culture: anonymous chain restaurants; national chain stores; reliance on modes of transportation that discourage contact with our neighbors; coronas in backyards instead of corner bars. afterculture.
    so then there are we elites: those who yearn for an urban existence even without roots in it. I think it’s true as someone suggested above that the urbanism we desire is some weird fantasy of an urban environment that’s safe and prosperous like the suburbs but still gritty and “authentic” and diverse, even those those last few things must necessarily die by virtue of our presence in these neighborhoods. I mean, park slope: Jesus.
    but then what about our kids? what is the culture we want to expose them to? museums and french lessons? ethnic grocers that will always belong to other ethnicities? TGI McStarbuckbee’s?
    I brooded over this stuff endlessly before we decided to leave urban san francisco for urban detroit. it was a nicer place, no doubt. SF was hipster cultural-elite disneyland. but ultimately it came down to what kind of culture I wanted my kids to grow up in. And downtown detroit offered something that more resembled the culture I grew up in. and I selfishly didn’t want them to grow up in a culture I didn’t really admire, even as deeply caught in its muck as I’d found myself.

  33. sara Jun 24 at 8:55 pm Reply Reply

    These comments sound like they came right from Stuff White People Like.

  34. Laura Jun 25 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    I think one problem while looking at this, um, problem is we’re comparing THE CITY to THE SUBURBS. What about a town like Princeton, NJ? (I’m not too familiar with New Jersey, but I’ve driven through Princeton.) You could probably afford a house with a small yard, half-a-mile/a-mile from the town center. Then you could walk to shops, the playground, etc.
    I grew up in Schenectady – a small city near Albany, NY. I loved it. My family lived on the outskirts of the city, right near the suburban (Niskayuna) border, but also right near Schenectady’s Central Park, right near the library, and right near a little shopping district. And! Bonus! Schenectady is an old, dying industrial town, so the real estate is ridiculously (low) priced.
    The school system as a whole wasn’t great, but they had an amazing (recognized by the world-renowned International Baccalaureate program) Honors program. And the city – and therefore the school system – was very multiculturally diverse, which is an education in itself.
    So that’s my two cents. I know what you mean, though. I sort of want to live on a farm when I have a family, but it would be such a pain to load the kids all up in the car to go ANYWHERE.

  35. Loona Jun 26 at 9:31 am Reply Reply

    We moved from Manhattan to suburban NJ last summer, just before the birth of our twins. Our suburb (Passaic) is very walking-oriented. I own a car but go nearly everywhere on foot. It allows for the more spontaneous encounters and interactions you described.

  36. dorothy Jun 27 at 10:41 am Reply Reply

    Dear Alice:
    I will now be an assvicey commenter, because I know how you love that.
    Henry’s school-age now. Go back to Brooklyn. You did the right thing for preschool – but you can always change your mind. Life’s an adventure. Seize the day! Damn the space!
    We ended up moving to the suburbs because a) as Cagey said, KCMO’s school district is BAD and b) I’ve always wanted to live by a lake so I can take my little 1974 AMF Puffer sailboat out and twee around on the water on the weekends. The rest of the suburb stuff is sort of annoying, but I love my little corner of the world, with its pretty water and marinas and herons and fishies. Plus, not having to send the little angel to private school may mean I can achieve my dream of freelancing or consulting when she goes to kindergarten, since we’ll have an extra grand taken out of the monthly budget.
    I moved to the suburbs to escape the economic constraints of the city. My husband moved to the suburbs to flee the neighbors who drunk-drove through our hedges and set off fireworks in the direction of our house. But we totally did all that for selfish personal reasons, school for the little angel being important, but not *the* only reason. We don’t care if she’s disaffected when she’s a teenager – she is disaffected sometimes at four. In the end, when Henry goes to school, you’ll still be whereever you are – and your needs are important, too.
    /assvice
    Rita

  37. qwyneth Jul 01 at 9:28 am Reply Reply

    Honestly, it’s about what you prefer. There are good and bad points of both.
    My husband and I found this wonderful area just outside the city but right next to a small state park. It’s also a nice walk outside of a lovely little 18th century town. Even crazier, it’s economically and racially diverse. We would love to live in the city, but we love nature more. We love seeing deer and foxes in our backyard, and we love that our son can safely explore in the woods for hours on end. When we eventually buy a house (we’re renting now, waiting for the right house and the right time) we plan on having a victory garden and raising a few chickens. The one downside is the lack of public transportation, of course–I lived in the city for years so that hits me particularly hard. The nearest bus stop is a long walk away…although that is a major reason why our neighborhood is as safe as it is. But we can bike to the grocery store and walk to a little neighborhood country store, so at least we have the ability to avoid the car if we have a little more time to spare.

  38. Beth Jul 05 at 8:53 pm Reply Reply

    Hmmm. I grew up in a student slum, neither the suburbs nor the city, but it was good to be near a college campus.
    Now I’m in a sleepy neighborhood in San Francisco — my partner bought before it gentrified. Even though the real estate is “hot,” it’s so hilly that many people don’t bother with it, so it feels like an actual community. But I have to drive everywhere anyway and we can’t afford to eat out anywhere nearby. Bummer. But then again I’m spared both the competitive suburban soccer mom thing AND, thank god, the competitive hipster mom thing, at least so far. The schools suck, though, so who knows if we can stay here. But then AGAIN, again, my kid needs to be not the only one in school with two moms.
    So you see, it’s all about on the other hand, and on the other other hand, and so on. No perfect answers.

  39. Crystal Jul 06 at 4:28 pm Reply Reply

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told how lucky I was to grow up in such a cool city as Austin, Tx. Austin is essentially one long, linear, suburb with suburbs. Sorry, Austin, I conceed you have some great hang outs and food. But when my brother and I both reached 16, we had 5 cars in our driveway! Yep, one for each memeber of the family and one extra in case one broke down – because life stopped if you didn’t have a car. That’s how I thought life had to be…essentially anywhere in the United States except NYC. Then I discovered Boston and San Diego and now my beloved Washington, DC where I have called home for 8 years. Once, I thought having children would isolate me in a home a quarter acre away from other homes mostly empty while those inhabitants commuted into cities or “urban centers”, dropping their kids off at day care by 7am and returning home at 7pm, only to throw something unimaginative from the crockpot on the table and ready for bed to start the whole sad routine over again, saving weekends for driving errands to Costco, dry cleaners, and Barnes and Nobles. But living and working in the city with different kinds of people is a joy (that doesn’t come without sacrifices). Most neighbors pour down the street to the subway on their way to work in the morning and return from work, but we have a great mix of retirees, stay at home fill-in-the-blanks (moms, authors, dog walkers, engineers). The neighborhood is vibrant even in the middle of the day! Though the house is smaller than what I could have in Austin, I have found that there is an abundance of life – with interactions with my children, my husband (who bikes to work), my neighbors (in row houses, condos, and apartments), and even strangers. Life in closer quarters and closer commutes allows just for that – life. We don’t have a room (family or basement) where the kids can quarintine themselves to serfing the net alone or watching movies without someone else being around. Though it is more expensive, we think it evens out with savings in car payments (we have one car), less energy costs (smaller house to cool and heat, less driving – fill up is once every 5 weeks), and proximity to free cultural events. For a long time I debated if this was a good decision for our children because of what is questionably sound truth that suburban public schools are better than city public schools. It is a decision that is personal and is based on your own circumstances and the options available to you. So far, with great public 3 year old – 6th grade programs, I feel there is no need to even think of moving. And with time, we may have to weigh the cost of private school verses less time with the kids and commuting. But for now and for the forseeable future, we have found much contentment in quality of life over quantity of house and yard. Good luck in your decision, I enjoyed reading your blog (I don’t read many), and come visit the vibrant, family friendly neighborhoods of Washington, DC.

  40. otrgirl Jul 06 at 8:23 pm Reply Reply

    We grew up in inner-city Cincinnati and loved it. As a child I had times of embarrassment or frustration with living there, but it had more to do with being in a poverty community than being in the city. Cincinnati has great alternative public schools, so I had a wonderful public Montessori elementary school and the best school in the city for 7-12. My husband grew up in Staten Island, but went to Stuyvesant for high school.
    We’re now living in the burbs on the peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose. It’s confirmed for both of us that we’re city people. We like the energy, the walking, the drama, the food and the culture of city life. I know from personal experience that playing in a park and pool that someone else maintains is FAR better than the work of a yard. I never mowed a lawn until our house in Baltimore (when I was 29 years old).

  41. Denise Jul 14 at 9:28 pm Reply Reply

    I think the city is definitely better for me, but we can’t afford the space we want in any of the cities we are near. We have compromised by living in a very small town (technically a city, but with a very small-town feel) near the coast. We live in the center of town and walk most places, and we also got a house without a yard because, like you, we just take no pleasure in it at all. So we walk to the library, restaurants, coffee shops, schools, stores, etc. I still feel absolutely bereft, because despite growing up in PA Dutch country, I am a city girl.

  42. Phebe Jul 14 at 9:33 pm Reply Reply

    I just had to add that we once *did*come upon a puppet show in a park in Brooklyn and my daughter loved it. So it can happen.

  43. twennytwo Jul 18 at 10:15 am Reply Reply

    @OTRgirl: Go Eagles! Are you a ‘Nut, too?
    I too grew up in Cincinnati, (truly great public magnet programs- I was in the language and switched to the best HS in the region for 9-12) but I’ve lived in a small Alabama town as well as in East Coast and Caribbean cities and towns. I struggled with this question because of the frustrations I faced as a kid- Cincinnati may be a city, but the public transport is NOT up to par. It’s improving, but it’s no DC or NYC. Not all cities are alike.
    I can say that I personally loved living in the small college town that I could walk around in, but only because everyone knew us as so-and-so’s child/niece/grandchild/cousin. That place was instant community and I felt safe to explore the town and rural area around us. However, living in the small town where everything was (relatively) convenient felt stifling when I had no car to get to the city. It’s all about the situation.
    I also like to have space for my books inside the house. I can walk to a park (and prefer them), but then again, I like having my private space be truly private (as in, I hate sharing walls or ceiling/floors). I suppose when I am actually married with children my husband may throw my view one way or the other.
    Yeah, I know, that was helpful, right?

  44. Rachel Jul 23 at 11:50 am Reply Reply

    i grew up in nyc, on the lower east side, and still live in nyc, just in morningside heights. while i’d love more space, for us its no question – we would hate the burbs. i don’t even drive! the house maintenance thing also terrifies us. and i think the school issues are way overblown – we absolutely intend to send our daughters (now 3 and 6mos) to public school. do what feels right for you.

  45. niko Jul 25 at 10:51 am Reply Reply

    I think living in the suburbs is better cause the city life is so disturbing with all those crowded places and enrmous traffic jam.Actually, I was born in city and raised there till my first grade. When I were six,I had to moved to the suburbs and that’s when i fell in love with country life.Then, i came back to the city and still living here, but I always wanted to live in the country life which is a real heaven for me.

  46. beth Jul 27 at 8:57 am Reply Reply

    I grew up about 4 blocks outside of Chicago, and my husband grew up on a very small island. We just made an offer on our very first place – right in the middle of the city, directly across from a park and next to a subway stop. Wouldn’t change our minds for the world (or a bigger apartment).

  47. Jennifer Aug 06 at 12:01 am Reply Reply

    Fascinating blog; fascinating comments.
    I grew up in Portland, Oregon, an idyllic city-town which – ask anyone who knows Portland – is the “perfect place to grow up” (if you discount the sore lack of minorities and annoying smugness!). The job market there is terrible, though, and due to the nature of my husband’s job we’ve been transferred twice since my son was born.
    Now, we’re living in what at first seemed to be another “idyllic” small town only 15 miles from a major Canadian metropolis while my husband works up here for a couple of years. It seemed idyllic: Victorian homes (ours has three stories and a huge yard); giant sidewalks with kids roller blading, etc.; everyone knows everyone and says hello; you can walk to the small town center, which has yet to be gentrified (as it’s Canada, there are tons of Chinese people and African people, which makes for lots of diversity).
    But now, I cannot wait to leave. I don’t even like taking my kid to the park anymore. I dread running into the “Stepford Wives.”
    Nothing is perfect, but this especially. From day one, we had neighbors talking to us constantly; at first I thought it was quaint, if a bit creepy; now, I know it’s just creepy. But I don’t have that problem anymore: they avoid us like the plague.
    When they saw that we didn’t want to “play the game” and didn’t respond correctly to the barrage of questions I regularly encountered – “Why isn’t your son taking hockey yet? (Uh, he’s three!)/Why didn’t you camp out overnight to get him into The Best Preschool in Town? Why are you taking him to the next town for preschool? Why aren’t you donating to our yard sale? (We really didn’t have a thing to donate but they wouldn’t take this as an answer)” – etc. etc. – they started to turn nasty. Now, most of them won’t even bother to say hello or return my friendly “hello.” They won’t even let their kids play with mine.
    I don’t want to use my particular experience as an American in a small Canadian town (albeit one VERY close to an urban center) to generalize, but despite the yard and the parks and great friends I’ve met here (mostly in other parts of town) – I don’t think I want to settle permanently in a town like this. Like the woman who didn’t want to be the only lesbian couple in the neighborhood, I don’t want to be the only “different” person in mine. I do not want to be a “token” anything.
    Vive les freaks. When everyone around you is white and affluent, and looks like #1-100 on stuffwhitepeoplelike.com apply to them (although I admit, due to my upbringing I’m not far off) – it’s time for me to blow that joint. Our next (and last!) destination is as close to a large metropolis as we can get – space be damned!

  48. Henri Sep 25 at 6:38 pm Reply Reply

    I’m telling you, the city beats the suburbs any day. How well can a child grow to be a good adult when they live in an area full of houses and malls? Schools in the suburbs get better scores, but schools in the city bring up children better.

  49. Mira Jun 07 at 10:31 am Reply Reply

    I loved reading your blog and comments. Have you moved to the city yet?
    We are going back and forth ALL the time. We are in tge suburbs now. Unfortunately, my husband job is in the suburbs and unless he changes it, we wouldn’t move to the city. However, I would move to the city in a heartbeat even with two small kids. I don’t need much space(I hate cleaning) and I love walking!

  50. michele Aug 15 at 2:30 pm Reply Reply

    My husband and I live in the suburbs with our three young children, and we HATE it. We hate it for many of the same reasons you do: car dependence, yard/house work (that is expensive and endless, by the way),isolation and plain boredom.

    The schools aren’t the amazing mythical ones that are constantly talked about as selling points on leaving the city either. The kids are bored in the backyard–they’d rather go to the park anyway, and so would I.

    My hus

  51. michele Aug 15 at 2:35 pm Reply Reply

    Sorry–I’m on my phone and my comment posted too soon.

    My husband and I were city people before having kids, and we’re going to be city people again. Just like you we made the mistake of thinking the suburbs are better and kids “need” them.

    We’re moving to Brooklyn as soon as possible, and cannot wait to leave this sad way of life behind.

  52. Intercontinental Oct 13 at 8:24 am Reply Reply

    I want to start telling you, that once your kids have lived in a big city, it will be hard for them to get used to living amongst other suburban kids or youngsters. Now i am not saying it’s impossible to get along in the suburbs. But my experience as a child in both the “city” and suburbs, was deffinetly two separate experiences that i can easily distinguish. The good thing about people in big city is, that they are generally for some reason, more tollerant than in the suburbs, probably because there is more culture mix-up in the Big City than in the suburbia. This way, your kids have more probability of “fitting in” with other children or adolescents, and in return also getting mentally happier in many cases. But ofcourse they can also cope well in the suburbs, but it’s just not the same as the city. I hope that you listen to your kids about their concerns, and hear out from them what they want the most.
    Best regards from me, the youngster

  53. momof5 Jul 21 at 2:04 pm Reply Reply

    This was a great read for me. My family seems to be creeping closer to the city for affordability as time goes on. My kids have great memories of living in a rural environment, building forts, collecting frogs and snakes and getting bored and coming up with awesome games. Now in the suburbs, I feel that they are boxed in by houses, but still come up with imaginative indoor games. Im bothered that my youngest is afraid of anything flying around outside because he was born in the suburbs. Now we’re considering apartment life. This article helped me see that nothing is perfect, just different. I could see the joy of getting out in the city now and my kids will have experienced almost everything.

  54. Kelly Sep 22 at 10:18 pm Reply Reply

    I came across this while googleing “How to beat the boredom of suburbia”
    I’m Fucking DYING HERE. I grew up in the  country. I found it endlessly boring, and I couldn’t wait to escape, but that was adventure compared to the monotony of this hell hole. I moved to the city, and enjoyed the convenience and life and adventure. Then the hublet wanted a kid and we relocated to the suburbs….not quite enough open space to hop on a dirt bike and see how high you jump, and yet…..you still have to drive to EVERYTHING!!!!!! It is like the worst of both worlds. 

    For the life of me, I cannot figure out why ANYONE would want to live in this God forsaken wasteland of parking lots and too narrow sidewalks, and WAY WAY WAY too much CRAP crammed into WAY WAY WAT too much house……yet, I’m married to a man who loves it here. He’s tried to explain. I’ve tried to understand. I can’t. I hate it. I’m beginning to hate it all.

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