It’s September 11th, so of course, the great New York City is on my mind. And I thought it might be a good day to have a city-related conversation. Last month, I shared a home tour featuring a city apartment in Chicago, and in response, received several requests to start a discussion about how and why people choose to live in a city, versus a suburb, versus a rural area. I love that idea! Especially because this is a topic that comes up frequently among my friends and siblings.
Our year and a half in Colorado, when we lived in a suburb of Denver called Centennial, was our most true suburban experience. The house we rented had a two car garage. The streets in our community were wide and easy to navigate. Everything we could possibly need or want — schools, pediatrician and dentist, movie theaters, the mall, Target, restaurants (both sit down and take out), hardware stores, rec centers — was only a few minutes away by car. We never had to think about parking. Ever. Or pay for it. It was always easy to park. There was a ton of green space, yard space and park space. The kids in our neighborhood could play outside freely and safely. Ben Blair and I would often comment how life was designed to be easy there, and we truly enjoyed living there.
That said, our entire time in Colorado, we were constantly house hunting in downtown Denver! And in its closest neighborhoods as well. Turns out I like the action of a city. I like access to the restaurants, the museums, the instant variety of people, places and things. I was drawn to housing converted from old warehouses and factory buildings. I liked the walking district in Denver and the downtown festivals and events. I liked that public transportation is plentiful.
And I found I had some sort of emotional resistance to settling down in true suburbs. But I could never really pin point what the resistance was. Because I could honestly see how convenient life was in the suburbs, especially for a family of our size. And conversely, how inconvenient it might be in the city — the lack of parking, the tiny + expensive grocery stores, the smaller living spaces. It seems like the suburbs should have been a no brainer, but they weren’t.
Then we moved to France, and we got a taste of rural life. Our house was surrounded by fields, far outside the little town. Knowing my fondness for cities, I had no idea I would like it so much. But I did. Life moved slower. Because it was inconvenient, we ran fewer errands. And when we did run errands, we went as a whole family because it was practically an event. It was quiet in the countryside. We could see the stars. We ate most of our meals at home. The kids interacted with their peers at school, but at home (and we were home a lot) their friends were their siblings. Our family grew closer than we’ve probably ever been, which was a completely unexpected perk.
And as you know, now we live in the city of Oakland. Our neighborhood is somewhere between an urban and suburban classification. You can walk to most of what you need, or you can just as easily drive. You do have to think about, or search, for parking, and generally pay for it, but it’s not as hard as dealing with parking downtown, or in San Francisco. It’s definitely not as easy living as suburbia, but it’s also closer to the city center and all the perks a city offers. It’s very easy for us to get to any happenings in Oakland or San Francisco. For us, it feels like a good compromise. And it reminds me of the neighborhood we lived in in New York, called Tuckahoe — it also always felt somewhere between city living and suburbia to me.
Speaking of New York, I’ve heard it’s a popular place to retire. Apparently, it’s ideal for an older couple. Everything can be delivered, and you never to have to drive!
Obviously, not everyone gets to choose. Work location and housing prices determine these decisions for many, if not most people. But let’s pretend. If you did get to choose, if you could get to work conveniently from an urban, suburban, or rural location, where would you live? Where would you raise your family? And have you ever surprised yourself — maybe tried city living, thinking you’d love it, and didn’t? Or moved to a sprawling rural farmhouse and then missed your tiny city apartment? I’d love to hear your stories.
I’d also love to hear how you made your decisions — I know some people have a ton of angst about moving from the big city to the suburbs. And others are terrified about moving from the suburbs or countryside to the big city.
Lastly, as I alluded to above, my personal classification for true suburbia is never having to think about parking. How about you? What are the earmarks of suburban life in your mind? Or urban life, or rural life?
P.S. — My dad’s birthday was on September 11th. We had a little discussion about that last year. Images from the New York Wooden Postcard DIY.
111 thoughts on “Do You Prefer City Living or Suburb Living?”
You hit on the best topics. This one is something I think about a lot. We live in suburbia and are thinking of relocating now that the kids have left home, but where to move to??? I like your definition of suburbia, because it always annoys me when people go on and on about the evils of suburbia (which is where we live) and they themselves live in the suburbia of 75 or 100 years ago which has now been incorporated into the “city”.
There is as much ethnic diversity in the suburbs as the city (at least here in Toronto) as our neighbourhoods are filled with people from asia so to see someone in a turban or salwar kameez walking down the street is not out of the ordinary. The big difference in my mind is the parking, like you mentioned, and the proximity to cultural events. We make the trek into the city to visit the museum and art gallery fairly often, but I know that we aren’t typical.
Thanks for the interesting convo! I’m looking forward to reading what others find.
I’ve only been to Toronto once, but I was so impressed. It’s really a beautiful city.
Hah! I live in Toronto and never think of the city as “beautiful.” (Possibly because I have lived in Paris and Montreal, two truly beautiful cities!) But dynamic, diverse and creative – for sure.
There are so many perks to downtown city life that I can’t imagine forgoing. I bike commute to work. My office is in a converted loft building with a green roof and an independent coffee shop. I have a terrific independent grocery store a block from my house. Tonight I am heading with friends to see a Japanese film at TIFF (the Toronto Int’l Film Fest). I feel so lucky to live in Toronto :)
That said, in an ideal world, I would also have a cottage somewhere green and quiet…
Loving this post! When we purchased our current home we were deciding between city or suburbs and being that we have 3 small children we decided to do suburbs for the yard space and the house space for that matter! BUT I always day dream of what our lives would be like if we had chosen the city and we could ride our bikes everywhere and take public transportation, maybe in another life? We still fully plan on exposing our kids to city life as well so they can have the best of both worlds…..
I’ve felt that “maybe in another life” feeling. When we first moved to New York, I thought we would live right in the city, but we were about to have our 3rd baby and couldn’t figure out an apartment that would work. So we ended up a few minutes north of the Bronx in lower Westchester County.
I did get to work in the city every day. My commute was 30 mins direct to Grand Central on Metro North (the train). So that felt like the best of both worlds. But we ended up staying in New York for 8 years, and I sometimes regret we didn’t try harder to make it work right in the city — at least for a year or two.
Love this topic!
I grew up in the country. And I mean COUNTRY. The north shore of Nova Scotia. Beautiful, wild, safe, surrounded by trees and farmlands. It gave me a great love of nature and a realization of the importance of being connected to the land and to people. My siblings and I grew up very close.
But. I am such a city girl at heart, too. I had no trouble adjusting when I moved to Toronto. I love the vibrancy of the city, the diversity, the culture it fosters. Not all cities are equal, and to me, a great one has distinct neighborhoods, where basic necessities are walkable; and where museums, restaurants, parks, and places that foster an exchange of ideas and talents are easily accessible. I love the energy of cities, and the messiness and all the amazing stuff that is created there.
I have never lived in suburbia. I think I could, but I’m so resistant. I totally understand the convenience and why families would choose it, but I find it kind of soul-sucking. At least, from my brief forays into it :-)
Big city life can be expensive and rushed, which I’m not so into anymore, so I’m wondering if a small, hip little town not far from a big city would be more my speed. And sometimes I question whether a stint in the country might be good for my family. I currently live in a city and with two kids now, I long to come home to a driveway (even if it’s not paved)!
I really like your description of distinct neighborhoods, and I agree that not all cities are equal. The difference between America’s two largest cities (LA and NYC) is remarkable.
I moved from Munich, Germany to Nova Scotia and love it. It is definitely wild and beautiful and the people are friendly beyond belief. The outdoor options for our kids are so plentiful.
Living in the suburbs is all I’ve ever known…born and raised there and now raising my own family there. While I love it for so many things – the convenience and ease, the fact that my kids live in a neighborhood where they can be outside safely, growing up and going to school with the same group of friends, having wonderful neighbors to interact with, etc., I will always have a part of me that longed to live in an urban city. That is something I wish I would’ve done before getting married and starting a family. I’ve never truly lived on my own. I went from a comfortable home with my parents to a comfortable home with my husband. I think I missed out on the adventure of city-living on my own.
“I will always have a part of me that longed to live in an urban city.”
Oh. I hope an opportunity that takes you to a city — even for a short time — comes your way!
I feel that I may not be quite justified in writing in on this topic because I don’t have children. But, after living in the city for over 10 years and also having a home in the country, here it is: I hate being in a car for short jaunts, especially. If given the choice to walk 10 minutes or drive 10 minutes, I’d much prefer to walk or bike, even in brutal NorthEast winters. Even if easy parking both at home and out is an option, getting in and out of the car, getting the bags in the car and out of the car, having 5 or 10 “passive” minutes in a car (no phone calls, texts, exercise, or fresh air) to do an errand drives me a little nuts. With regards to errands, at this point there are so many services that make city living more manageable from grocery and dry cleaning delivery to services like Blue Apron (if you have the resources, which is a big if…those services add up!!!).
Commute. A full day of work (call it 8 hours) almost feels part time when you aren’t commuting an hour or more each way. If you work longer hours (say, 10 hours, which is common in my world), you can still manage being home for important meal times, etc. if you only have to walk/bike/take the subway 15 minutes and get home.
Schools. Unfortunately, this is where many urban landscapes get tricky. In our neighborhood there are a couple of excellent public schools that are great options, but, in some neighborhoods, to get in, you need to enter the lottery system. I would love to see more young families staying in the city so that they can be a part of the improvement in urban schools and make more diverse and rich communities.
Also, this may be snobbish, as these aren’t a reality for many urbanites, but I think 4 things make a huge difference in “easy” city living: a dishwasher, washer/dryer “in unit”, off street parking (the urban dream), and central air conditioning (a summer of leaving your windows open leaves your apartment covered in grime, and after schlepping around the city in the summer, walking into cool A/C is a life saver).
Zoe, I can relate to your list of 4 in the last paragraph. I feel like even with 6 kids, I could handle city life quite well with those four!
Ha! Zoe, I think you’re right about your 4 thing that make a huge difference for city dwellers. I have 2 of them – dishwasher and off-street parking. The parking I would cut my right arm off to keep!
What about small towns? I always hate when I have to choose between rural, suburban and urban classifications, because where I live is none of those.
I live in an old, small town that is not a suburb of a large city. It’s surrounded by woods and mountains and agricultural land and other small towns. We can walk to school, the grocery store, the park, the Y, and to work. Downtown, a 10 minute walk away, consists of lovely 100+year old buildings housing stores, offices, the library, coffee shops and restaurants, and factory buildings that have been converted into apartments.
We live in a neighborhood of 100 year old houses, close together, and we know all of our neighbors. Our kids go outside to play freely. I think it’s the perfect place to raise a family.
That sounds *fantastic*, Sara. I wish!
First, any houses for sale? Because your town sounds terrific.
Second, good point. For sure there are communities and places to live that fall outside the simplistic categories of urban, suburban and rural.
I’m trying to imagine every day life in your town, and I find myself curious: How far is the nearest “city”? Do you have movie theaters in town? Is there a Target? Or other big box stores? Or are you able to find everything you need in smaller shops around town?
If you have time for a follow up comment, I’d love to hear more!
This sounds like a wonderful place to live, Sara!
We are about 200 miles from two major cities and about 50 miles from a medium-sized city. A few people do commute, but it is not the norm.
Around the perimeter of our small city (13,000 people) is what I guess would be considered a “suburb”, with Target, a small mall, fast food, chain restaurants, and a movie theater. There is a small symphony and a small theater company. We drive to the larger cities for major purchases, and we have to drive a half-hour south for lessons for my daughter.
I know I made it sound idealistic in the original post – it’s definitely not perfect and like many small cities in the northeast, it is struggling as population and employers move south and west. It is not at all culturally diverse and taxes are high. But I love that we can have some of the suburban ease of life while still being able to walk just about everywhere we need to, enjoy historic architecture, and be very close to wonderful recreational opportunities.
This is a great topic! Thanks for posting it. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.
I live in a small town too. It is perfect. We are are nestled in the southwestern corner of Alberta, Canada. Close to the Rocky mountains, a beautiful national park, and fantastic skiing. We have a theatre and all the stores you need. We have great schools and a safe community for kids to grow and play. We are on hour from a small city ( it has a university, lots of cultural events, and great sports teams ). We are two hours from a large city with an international airport and many more amenities. I love to visit large cities and explore them for awhile but it is always nice to come home to our small town.
I grew up in a small town and would chose small town now, if I could. I love small towns for all the reasons Sara described, but I loved growing up in an East Coast small town (I grew up in the quintessential small town of Gettysburg, PA) because it meant that big cities were still accessible. DC and Baltimore were 1 1/2 hours away, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia not much further and NYC was do-able in a weekend. The things I love about big cities are the museums and the symphonies and growing up where I did, I got to do those things quite frequently.
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of the suburbs (I’ve lived in Atlanta and now St Louis ones), because it seems like they lack character. It’s the same strip mall in every one, with out the old time charm of 100+ year old buildings, quirky streets and mom and pop shops where when you walk in someone knows your name. I love that when I go home to visit I can still walk in to some stores in town and someone says “You’re Eddie’s girl” (referring to my dad).
Gettysburg is wonderful! My dad went to college there. I’m a little jealous!
I live in the suburbs now and there are things I love and hate about it. Love: The convenience, good schools (even the “bad” schools are still pretty good). Hate: Fairly boring, no great cultural institutions or organizations, lack of diversity, have to drive everywhere. I’m really appalled that I live in the largest city in my state (by population) and there is so little to do. I’m from Brooklyn though, so I think my bar is set *a lot* higher than most others as far as the amount of stimulation and activity I want in a place to live.
That said, rural living also appeals to me. Quiet, enough space for me to have a huge garden, and hopefully, no one asking where my kids go to school as suburban code for perceived socioeconomic status (PTA culture drives me nuts, too). We are plotting our escape from suburban limbo to the city or the country in the next few years. Until then, I *run* to every new museum exhibit and check out new restaurants whenever I can.
Brooklyn to the suburbs is major change. And I’m with you on the asking about where your kids go to school. I continue to get odd responses sometimes when new acquaintances here find out we send our kids to the Oakland public schools.
“no one asking where my kids go to school as suburban code for perceived socioeconomic status”. This is SO true about where I live. It has always bothered me about how people ask that question and their reactions to it, but I have never been able to articulate why. You just nailed it for me though. We are actually in the process of moving from the US to Hamburg, Germany. It will be my first experience with a more urban area although we will be a little north of the city center. Everything we need (restaurants, schools, shops, parks, etc) will be walkable or bikeable though and the city center is just a 20 minute train ride from our house. I am excited for this new adventure!
Meredith, that *is* exciting! I hope you love it there!
I grew up in a rural area and loved it. We have lived in a suburb of a large city for the past 13 years. I have longed to raise my children in a rural area, the way I was raised. Because of my husband’s work, we do not have a choice as to where we live. However, we have grown so accustomed to the perks of living in the suburbs–close shopping (and many choices of where to shop), great cultural opportunities, choices in schools, etc. While I still dream of living somewhere more rural (I wish we didn’t have so many neighbors), I have grown to love where we live now.
Loving where you live is the best feeling!
What a great post! I can’t wait to read the comments.
While I live in NYC, I’m in an outer borough and my neighborhood is more an urban/suburban hybrid like you experienced in Tuckahoe. I live in an apartment building, but there are also single- and two-family homes on my block. While almost everything my family and I might need is walkable, it’s also easy to jump in the car and head to the suburbs for shopping.
I grew up in a small town – not urban, not suburban, not rural – and I loved visiting my grandmother in Chicago because there was a little market at the end of her street. I thought it was incredible that you could walk down the block and buy milk or bread. Revolutionary!
As lots of city dwellers will attest, my neighborhood is like a small town and I frequently run into people I know if I’m out running errands. I never worry about my daughter at the park or walking around with her friends after school and on the weekends. For us it offers the best of everything – we have easy access to urban, suburban, and rural areas.
That said, I love the *idea* of living in a rural area or very small town. Sometimes I dream of a little farm. However, I’m comforted by the proximity of other people I have in the city. I find houses can be lonely and sometimes even scary (I remind myself that loads of people live in houses fearlessly, but I still get freaked out).
Overall, I’m probably in the perfect place for me.
“I thought it was incredible that you could walk down the block and buy milk or bread. Revolutionary!”
So cute! That made me laugh.
I agree with Sara above that there are in-betweens and I actually think we have it in our midsized city (120 000 people). We are in a subdivision from the 60s so have big yards but we are only a 20 minute walk from the downtown which is an even shorter bike ride and if we want we can drive there and parking downtown is still easy and free and we have a lot of festivals. And there are lots of jobs here too. And if I want a long country bike ride it takes me 15 minutes of biking to get into the serious country, like the kind of country where people have unmanned farmstands at the ends of their driveways where you put the money in a jar. So that’s what’s important to me. We definitely don’t have world class museums but that will never be a priority to me personally.
Now I want to go on a country bike ride, and buy fruit from an unmanned stand.
I work in public policy which essentially requires I work in a state capital or DC. But if commuting were no obstacle I would choose to live in the quiet country. City by day, country by night and weekends. As it is we are very torn between the awesome suburb we live in and my long train commute and living in the city where there are fewer kids and green space (we have a 4 year old and plentiful playmates and parks are such a perk in the suburbs!)
Trying to figure our your personal equation for length of commute versus neighborhood or green space is one of the hardest things!
I grew up in the city and enjoyed it. My mom allowed me to start taking public transportation at age 11, and I felt so much freedom because of that. I could just hop on a bus and go shopping, or go to a movie if I wanted. Later on I moved to a small town in New Mexico. I suppose it would be considered rural, but didn’t 100 per cent fit the mold because a university is there as well as a nearby air force base. Still, it was quiet, and I could see all the stars at night. That was when I fell in love with the country.
Later, I divorced and moved back to my hometown. I was a single mom and commuted from the city to my job in the suburbs. The commute was a bear, however. I had a baby at the time, and there were nights that I got very little sleep. I would work all day, and then have to make the long commute home. It wasn’t easy! And then this happened: I actually fell asleep in the Wendy’s drive-through and hit the car in front of me! Yes, this really happened. Nobody was hurt, and neither car was damaged (we weren’t exactly speeding), but that was a literal wake up call! That’s exactly when we moved to the suburbs.
Yes. Definitely a literal wakeup call. So glad you were okay!
My husband grew up on an acreage in South Dakota, and I grew up in a small town that would be classified as a suburb of SD’s largest city, Sioux Falls, which was under 200,000 people at the time. When it came time for us to look for our first home in the summer of 2013, we narrowed our search to a suburb of Sioux Falls that is on the smaller side, but is growing at a crazy amount, based on the FIVE elementary schools and TWO middle schools in our town (which is A LOT for South Dakota!). I loved the small town, suburban lifestyle of my upbringing, and my husband liked the fact that our town is growing at a rapid pace, which means that we’re about five minutes away from a grocery store, two minutes away from a gas station, anywhere from 10-25 minutes away from a variety of restaurants, a Target, and the shopping mall, and five minutes away from a soccer field (we have one son and one more son on the way, and our oldest loves soccer!). It’s really the perfect solution for us: “city” life is close by, yet our boy plays outside freely, and our 1500-square-foot home is an ideal size for our growing family.
My husband and I live in a sort of urban/suburban hybrid – close enough that we can get away without owning a car, but far enough out of the city that I think we’re on the only people on our block who don’t! Ideally, we’d live much closer to the city, but we live as close as we could get and still afford to buy. I’m a big believer in cities, and I thought it would be depressing to live as far out as we do – in a 2-family home – but I do find that I love our little yard (something we never could have dreamed of if we truly lived downtown).
This discussion is so fascinating, and I have to recommend the absolutely wonderful book Redesigning the American Dream (Dolores Hayden). As a big believer in cities, this book really cemented for more that community isn’t tied to suburban living, and, in fact, our insistence on more space and more privacy has made us more isolated.
Thank you so much for the book recommendation. It sounds like something I would enjoy. Related, I also enjoy picking the brain of any who works in or studied urban planning. I find it really interesting.
We live in a city on the East Coast that sounds a lot like Oakland, a suburban/urban hybrid. We have fireflies at night but I can walk to accomplish 95% of my errands and to the subway.
I am sure you’ve read this, but Jane Jacob’s Death and Life of Great American Cities is a seminal text for urban planning. I read it in college and it really influenced the way I chose where I live. In short, she used her own neighborhood (Greenwhich Village) to illustrate what makes a neighborhood rich in texture (and safe as well).
We started our family in the chaos of NYC, moved to the suburbs of DC and lived there for seven years. Last year we moved to Seattle and chose a city neighborhood. We chose the DC suburbs for our boys, thinking it would be better for them to grow up with some space. But I’ve reversed my position…..Seattle has been such a great move for us! We all love being back in the city and all it has to offer (and Seattle has a lot to offer – an amazing park system, great restaurants and museums, water everywhere!) My husband bikes or buses to work in 10 minutes. One unexpected thing I miss about the suburbs of DC? The racial and economic diversity. The the little urban public school where my kids attend is majority white, upper class. You have to go to the suburbs to find diversity! It seems to be an upsetting trend in cities these days….
I’ve lived in rural and urban Canada, and in cities and small towns in Germany. Different places fit my life at different stages. Now, with 2 children, I live in a small town where we can walk to schools, shopping, doctors etc and there is a train to the city. There are a lot of horses here but we miss the excitement of the city. I’ve also lived in Singapore, which was exciting but you had to take a boat (or plane) to get out of the city and I missed being in nature. My husband and I are totally unreasonable – we want nice restaurants, stars at night, entertainment, peace and quiet, good schools, safety, good air, public transportation . . . We’re considering moving to a small city nearby and getting a weekend place in the country. Best of both worlds?
“Different places fit my life at different stages.”
That’s so true.
I know the perfect place for you…Norway!
I actually do not like city living. I lived in Chicago for a month and after having a bug problem in my apt., I moved out and never moved back. Though I do love the city (Chicago) and all the amenities that it provides, I do not want to live in it, which is the opposite of what I originally thought. When the time came, my husband and I decided instead to buy a house in Oak Park (which depending on who you talk to will either deem it the city or suburbia). It’s perfect for us because we have a house that works for our family, a small yard, close connections with neighbors, parks, conservatory, libraries (3 in just our small village!), access to three train lines plus a main highway that leads directly to the city. The list truly goes on as we love where we live. I also like having the convenience of trying out the recommended taco place in the city. We go into the city frequently but prefer our more suburbian surroundings.
I remember my friend Cynthia moving from Brooklyn to Westchester. She told me that in Brooklyn she would go get a drink of water in the night and see cockroaches on the table. Apparently in some buildings, it’s just an issue.
She is an immaculate housekeeper, and dealing with the bugs must have been so frustrating.
I can see why a bug problem would drive you away from the city. I’m sure you’re not the only one.
This reminds me of living in Sydney. No matter how clean your home was there were always cockroaches due to Sydney being very humid!
It freaked me out when I discovered the huge numbers of cockroaches living in my first apartment in Sydney. I’d come from a very dry city where your house pretty much had to be a pigsty before cockroaches appeared and suddenly I was surrounded by the horrible little things! I once house sat my bosses’ $15 million condo and cockroaches even appeared there at night! It did make me feel a little better about my own apartment though ;)
That said, living in country Australia there are way more creepy crawlies to deal with. Spiders, milipedes, ants, snakes, flies… Oh man, the flies! That is one thing I definitely do NOT miss about Australia!
This post is amazing and timely. We are debating about leaving the city we love (a popular NYC borough). We are currently selling our apartment as our family is growing (you would not believe the reactions I get to having a third child in the city). I grew up in suburbia and hated that you had to get in a car to do anything. I’ve been in NYC for 12+ years now, met my husband here and is all my two sons (3.5 & 1.5) have known.
The biggest debate is *ease* of the suburbs vs. the *culture, diversity, resources* of the city. I think of the city in some ways is easy because I can walk to the corner store at 10pm for an ingredient I forgot (getting in a car is so cumbersome); however, simple tasks can be so difficult: alternate side parking, grocery shopping, lugging children and said groceries up four flights of stairs, not to mention school applications.
I love that my sons are exposed to diversity and a variety of people and have amazing museums, parks and experiences at our finger tips. My sons are playground experts as there are five options within walking distance. My eldest walks about 3 miles per day around the neighborhood. A big concern is whether they would lose some of that autonomy in the suburbs. But schools in the suburbs seem a much easier task. The overcrowding and application process to NYC public schools is daunting. People hire consultants to get their kids into the *right* public kindergarten. I am not kidding.
So its the grand debate about about the city being hard but also enticing – do we hold out till they are 11 and can ride the train by themselves, or do we *sell-out*?
Although, we might be priced out at this point (real-estate wise) which would make the decision for us.
I think New York can be especially hard to move away from. There such an I’m-a- New-Yorker identity. It’s the current capitol of the world.
Wonderful topic–I’ve had so much fun reading all the responses! This has been (and continues to be) something I think about a LOT. We currently live in a wonderful neighborhood that is within the city limits, but that feels very suburban. We drive everywhere, and everything we need is conveniently located within a short driving distance. As you mentioned, parking is easy and free. I adore our little community–there’s an association that plans events throughout the year, lots of kids, and the neighbors all say hi.
HOWEVER, I really really miss the walkability and vibrance of a more urban or centrally-located neighborhood. I want to be able to walk to a market, walk to a restaurant, or walk to a park (none of which I can do in our current neighborhood). I’d love to be able to more easily explore our city with my kids, without having to drive 30 minutes and worry about finding a spot for our car.
Finally, I’ve never thought of myself as a rural or country person, but now that I have 2 kids I’m really drawn to the notion of wide open spaces for my little ones to freely explore. The idea of drawing together our family and connecting even more than we already have sounds lovely. Oh, and big gardens, chickens, and goats sound fun too :)
For now I think I’m happy to be where we are, and am working on being content with what we have, in all aspects of life. Maybe in a couple of years the next chapter of our lives will draw us to someplace completely different…
Chickens and goats! That’s exactly what I’m after too in my dream of a little farm. :)
Our plan is to really rethink our life plan once our daughter graduates from high school (five years from now). That shift in our family life may allow for some new adventures.
I loooooooooove this post (and ALL the comments!). I grew up in a small town, not a suburb, but not exactly rural (we had neighbors and a nearby WalMart ;) ). The closest Target and Red Lobster type places were over an hour away, and that was in another non-suburb town. The nearest city was 2 hours.
This made me crave, CRAVE city life. I love no one knowing everyone’s business (I mean, the gossip in small towns is something else). While my parents I’m sure fretted (and still do) about my safety, there’s something to be said for safety in numbers. I’ve lived in inner city since college (which was i suppose in a suburb), and loved it! Even in the inner city I live in, there’s plenty of all”4 easy city living” points made above (and most parking is free). However….
Now I’m in my 30’s and the thought (JUST the thought) that I might want kids one day has me thinking differently. Also….I think I just kind of crave space! There are some decent school districts in the city and close neighboring suburbs, but the houses are still older (and pricier than further out, of course). I currently live in an older place (oh yeah, and there’s low cost of living, so I was able to purchase my first home by myself at 26 *in the city.* which I still think is mind-blowing). But now I kind of want new. And clean. And a proper garage. And space. And friendly Target workers.
It’s funny you talked about being surprised at things you choose. I had always wanted to move to NYC when I was younger (around college), but thought i’d get started here first to build a profession first. After the NIGHTMARE that was building a life (job, friends) in this new city at the time made me never want to leave. I do sometimes wonder what if, but I’m sure it would have worked out regardless. Quite frankly, I also am afraid NYC would have eaten me alive at 21 – so green and naive. Anyway, I do still like to visit. Well, my boyfriend and I were talking and he was like, “Moneys no object and you have to move. New York or Chicago.” I CHOSE CHICAGO! What?! Who am I?! (I could still not handle the winters of either area though, so it’s not going to happen.) Chicago’s just so nice, and damn if Midwesterners aren’t just the nicest people ever. I once read that NYC is for the really young or really rich. I can totally see that.
Anyway, that was way more than I was planning to type! Haha. Thanks for the fun topic!
Your comment about small town gossip made me laugh. I know that’s a stereotype, but I thought it was mostly pretend.
I don’t know about the US, but in Australia it certainly wasn’t a stereotype when I was growing up (1980s and 1990s) – in my small (pop. 2,000) town, everyone knew what you were doing… and had an opinion on it! I dearly wish my kids, who are growing up in suburbia, could experience the peace and quiet, and the connection to the landscape and family history, that I grew up with – but, as they are bookish types like their mum, I wouldn’t wish the anti-intellectual, judgemental culture of my hometown on them! Hopefully things have changed since I was in school, but for academic types things were pretty tough back then. At my own children’s school in boring suburbia my kids are surrounded by other bright sparks, and they certainly don’t feel weird or out of place. When my son wishes aloud that we could move to the country I just smile and say he would miss his school friends :-)
I love this comment so much. I live in suburbia near a tech center where over 50% of our neighbors are newly arrived from around the world. My bookish children feel right at home and they can’t comprehend having to discuss diversity, because nothing else exists in their minds but co-existing in every way with friends from around the world. I would much much prefer to live in a city, but see my kids flourishing and know that this is the right thing for now.
Love this discussion. Put me firmly in the city column. I live in Boston in a neighborhood very close to downtown. I rarely drive anywhere which totally suits me. I can bike, walk or T (public transit) most anywhere I need to go. My almost 12 year old started taking the T herself this summer. Her level of independence compared to her older suburban cousins is so apparent. Like others have said it’s those short car trips that are the worst for me. My husband and I joke all the time about folks that commute and hour plus to work for a better “quality of life.” For us 2 hours a day in the car is not a quality life.
It is a trade off for sure. We live in a small place with not much yard but we have a dozen parks/playgrounds etc in walking distance. And when we get there there are other kids. I think playing in your backyard can be isolating. Also the schools aren’t great here and it’s hard to get into the few that are decent so we spend a lot of money on private education. I guess it’s the money we don’t spend on car repair, upkeep, insurance and gas!
We bought a house a year ago in a suburb. While house hunting, in my mind I wanted something from the Wonder Years. And that is pretty much where we are. Most of the houses in our neighborhood were even built in that era, and while we’re in Massachusetts, the look of our neighborhood with all the ranch houses is very similar! I do like this kind of neighborhood vs. the newer developments with mcmansions. I feel like our neighbors are a good mix and really down to earth and friendly.
We were a bit torn about wanting something more rural, but I wanted my kids to be able to ride their bikes around a neighborhood safely (not on some side country road with cars going 40 mph) and have friends nearby they could play with. I’ve never lived anywhere where I couldn’t buy milk within a 5 minute car ride too, and I have to admit, I like that convenience. We looked at one house that was on more land, but it was older, and my husband was working nights at the time, and I just knew in my heart I would be too spooked to be there on my own at night with my young boys. My imagination would get to me! So I really do like suburbia.
I do wish I could walk to more things though. I think that is the one part of urban living I would enjoy. And I do sometimes wish we had more land. But for right now, we’re living in the area that I feel is perfect for our family.
We actually live in the Wonder Years neighborhood and my daughter goes to the high school where they filmed the show (which is the same school I went to and my husband and my parents and even my grandma). I love my suburb! Everything is so convenient, lots of parking, not a lot of traffic, great libraries, awesome schools – and Hollywood is only 5 miles away.
THAT IS SO COOL!
Yes, I shouted. It’s that cool!
We spent 2 years living in a rural town. We initially loved the idea of living in the country; trees, nature, wildlife, and freedom for the kids to play without worrying about cars etc. The town had 1 elementary, 1 middle, 1 high schools, 1 grocery and a walmart. However the school, grocery and walmart was 30 minutes away. The closest target, costco, movie theater, mall, and airport was 2 hours away. The daily commute to town for school drop off/pick up and general errands was the death of rural life for us. I’m sure we could have adjusted better. We are now living in a different city, the schools and grocery are within walking distance! Still miss the quietness of rural life but not the driving.
I hear that. When we lived in France, and I needed to fly for work, it meant a two hour train ride to Paris, then a 1 hour taxi from the Montparnasse train station to Charles de Gaulle airport.
It added 3 hours each way (and not a small expense between the train and taxi) to an already long travel day.
Of course, it was Paris. So it was hard to feel too bad!
If cost wasn’t a consideration, I’d like a sprawling apartment in the middle of an immensely lush city park. I’m single though with no kids so I’m sure my thinking would change if my situation did.
“I’d like a sprawling apartment in the middle of an immensely lush city park.”
Yes, please. Pick one up for me, too!
This is such a debate in our house because each of us change our minds so often. We want a house with acreage to run and maybe a creek to play in, with a two car garage, and a 15 minute drive to a Target. It is super hard to find and super pricey here in the Seattle area.
I grew up in a small town (3,000 in the village, 5,000 in the town), and currently attend college in a small city (about 30,000). While we don’t live in the country (our house is in the village), it’s definitely a rural area. The nearest Walmart is 40 minutes away and to get to an actual mall, it’s an hour. We do have a decent-sized grocery store, CVS, Mcdonalds, Dollar General, and Ace Hardware store, though most of those are fairly new (the last 20 years or so). We have a movie theatre (not a cinema), but it only shows movies Fridays and Saturday nights and Sunday and Wednesday afternoons (the benefit of this is that it is much cheaper than many cinemas)- one movie per week and they are usually a few weeks behind the bigger cinemas. I can’t imagine ever living in the suburbs or in a city. Here, we can see the stars clearly, even in the village and everyone knows everybody. Although it’s a pain to drive 40-60 minutes for groceries and shopping, it really doesn’t bother us so much. The nearest large city (New York) is about 3 hours away.
This is something I think about a lot, because we move often (we are currently living abroad). We like a bit of an ‘urban’ mix – suburbs just on the outskirts of the city, where you are close to the city for work and museums/bars/diversity, but your home is more in a suburban area where the streets are quieter and you can walk to local cafes for weekend brunch, and take your kids to the playground.
The biggest concern for us is being close to work – neither my husband or I like a long commute, so any home that would take us longer than 40 minutes to get to work in the morning is out. We prefer to live in small homes/apartments for this reason (we only have the one daughter, which also makes it easier), it gives us more options to live wherever we want.
I hear you. I wouldn’t do well with a long commute. Though if I had to have a long one, I would prefer a train to a car. If I’m not driving, I can at least read.
Love your post today. I moved from Phoenix, Az – which is truly one big suburb when I was 20. Phoenix was great as a small kid, in those times (the 50s). Free to run wild with other kids. It was horrible as a teenager. We had moved to a slightly more upscale neighborhood by then, and the closed store of any kind was 7/11, which was almost two miles away. Forget sidewalks, no one walked. This meant not only could you not go anywhere before you could drive and borrow your mom’s car, you also never saw people walking around. It was very isolating, lonely, boring. In a nutshell, I hated it. I vowed to move to a city when I could, and chose San Francisco. Have been here 47 years now, and never regretted it. It’s been a culturally rich and people filled place to be. Funny Gabrielle, I also never particularly wanted to live in the country, but when I found your blog, you were in the middle of living in the French countryside, and I just fell in love with your living experience. It’s clear you did too, and you conveyed it really well to all of us, who had the vicarious thrill of being there by reading what you wrote, seeing the pics, and looking at Olive Us. As a single woman I don’t think I would move to the countryside in France or in the US, but I surely loved living it through you. I also felt vicariously depressed when you moved back here. I can’t wait for you guys to start spending some time in your cottage in Normandy. ps. older people are also moving from the suburbs to San Francisco, because of easy access to everything. Prices are SO high here. But it’s not just the dot.com-ers who can afford to live here; it’s also the well-to-do elders — the 20 somethings and the 60-70-somethings. Interesting demographics.
Suburbia, to me, is being surrounded by houses and yards. You can live in an apartment and still be in suburbia. I’m surrounded by houses and yards and schools–there are four schools within walking distance–and somehow, that feels MORE like suburbia to me.
Why? Because schools, to a kid who doesn’t attend any of them, mean park areas that small kids can walk and run and shout in. We live right behind a high school with a stadium and a track, and we often go to run around the track and climb up and down the bleachers and talk about the geese that like to feed there in the winter. Cars, which surround us, especially in suburbia, have to go slower through school zones just like they do in residential neighborhoods.
Of course, those cars are even more ever-present when I can’t drive them. We walk and ride the city bus, and we bought our house because, even though it’s in suburbia, it’s also near several bus stops. Because I’m either a pedestrian or a passenger, sidewalks through my suburbia are very important, especially with kids. It’s easier on the nerves to say to kids, “Stay on the sidewalk,” than to say, “Stay on this side of the white line.” It’s easier, visually, for kids to tell themselves, “I can explore these yards and the curb and the gutter and the sidewalk, but I can’t go where the dark asphalt is.” But sidewalks make a suburbia more city and less country.
I would love to live nearer to the city. When house-hunting, my husband definitely prefers suburbia– he wants a yard for kids to play in and room in the living room to lay down and spread out. He wants a garage. Because I depend on the city bus, I would love to live on a busy street. But we have many more houses to live in; this one is definitely NOT our forever house. I can just feel it.
You always have the most fantastic topics! I love this. And all the comments.
Over the last ten years we find ourselves moving further and further out. We started in a tiny downtown apartment. Then moved to another state for work/grad school and bought a tiny old house in the downtown neighborhoods that have houses. Then sold it and moved for work and rented a house that was right in between where suburbia begins and urban life ends (probably similar to where you live now Gaby). Then got a different job and had kids and moved to suburbia for space and a yard. And as we are about to add another kid, probably about to embark on living out in the country while the kids are in lower elementary school grades. Then I imagine we will slowly move back in to town. Closer to stuff as they get more into malls and shopping as pre-teens, and movies as teenagers, and eventually moving back to downtown as they are older teens and are into events and then start moving out of the house and we don’t need much space at all. In the meantime, we are such an outdoorsy family that while we have now lived in 5 different states in the last 10 years, we would never take a job or live in a place that wasn’t at most 30-45 minutes to nature. Certainly each place has its perks. We’ve realized, like you, suburbia has suited us the least. Just too…vanilla or something. I’m not sure what it is.
My husband and I both had stints growing up overseas as well. Perhaps we will try that at some point too!
Thanks for the fun discussion!
I’m voting for an overseas stint!
Having grown up in, and now living in the suburbs, I occasionally think it would be fun to live in a big city for a short time. We live in a suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area so we can get to museums and culture, etc. in a short 30 min. drive! My town also has over 40 wineries so there is plenty to do on the weekends. What I love about the ‘burbs is the friendliness of the people. Whenever I am in San Francisco it seems much more impersonal. No eye contact on the streets, that sort of thing. Living in and visiting are two very different experiences though. Oakland is just as you explained, Gabrielle. Kind of in between. My husband and I love visiting Oakland and Berkeley for dinner. I’ve also been wanting to go to the Fox Theatre there in Oakland. I’ve heard it’s a great venue for concerts!
Embarrassingly, we have yet to see a concert at the Fox Theatre, but it’s definitely on my list!
Great topic. I like small towns best (and especially small towns with a university – San Luis Obispo, CA and Bozeman, MT are my two favorite places I’ve lived). Both places I could walk or ride my bike around (well at least in the summer in MT!) I grew up on 20 acres in a rural environment and while I loved running free in the woods as a child, it was more lonely and car-centric. We just moved to the suburbs for my husband’s job and its definitely been an adjustment. We looked into city living, but it just didn’t make sense with his commute.
My husband received both of his degrees from Montana State University and loved living in Bozeman. We were in Billings for 9 years and tried make a move to Bozeman but it never worked out.
Oh Golly! What a subject!
We live in a suburb of Minneapolis. We are 1/2 of a block outside of the city. When my husband (who grew up in the city) was a kid he wrote and essay in school called “I will never live in Edina.” Edina is known as the suburb of privileged snotty rich people. I grew up working class so I had a definite negative opinion of the place. We, in Edina, are known as “cake eaters”. When we were looking for our first home we found a house we loved- and didn’t realize it was in Edina instead of the south MPLS neighborhood we were searching in. Reluctantly we bit the bullet and joined the ranks of the cake eaters. My husband never lived it down with his family. But here is what we have found. Edina is a tale of two cities. West Edina has no sidewalks. They have to drive everywhere to get to anything. People stay to themselves more. Our neighborhood is a 5-10 minute walk (on sidewalks) to a co-op grocery, cleaners, small shops, pizza place, pub, lovely restaurants, public transportation, a lake with a bandshell etc.etc. The houses are all different and older (mine is over 100). We have a babysitting coop, a women’s club, an athletic club for men and women, a thriving neighborhood association, block parties etc. Everyone knows each other. The latest thing that is shaking up the neighborhood is that the old houses are getting torn down and million dollar homes (that look like they are from the outer suburbs) are being built. The old trees are coming down with the houses. It is causing a lot of friction in our little part of town. Lovely people moving in but it is changing the character of the place. It is also pricing out people looking for starter homes and wider variety of types of people. Change is hard. So- we live in the suburbs (and we thought we were city people) and have a strong, vibrant community. Never would have expected it. Life is lived in the grey. Never say never.
I really, really like Minneapolis, though I’ve never been there in the winter, so don’t know if I could actually handle it. : )
I really like the way you describe your neighborhood, and I like how you talk about the changes happening without vilifying the new residents. I bet you’re such a good neighbor!
Since my husband and I have been together we have lived on properties with 1-2 acres and having space in the sense of not having your neighbor’s house wedged right up against yours is what we prefer. We currently live in a suburb of Houston which used to be a small town but is now part of the metro area. Our house is at the end of a cul-de-sac so our boys can play outside without worries of traffic. I have never lived in an urban environment but the thought of having to go somewhere to let your kids play instead of booting them out the back door seems annoying.
Yes my husband’s commute is close to an hour but for us it is worth it to be a in a good school district and have a larger house and yard. Housing prices “inside the loop” are nearly double to what you pay in the suburbs. Once the kids are grown I can see us potentially moving somewhere with a smaller house but maybe more property.
Until I had a made a good friend who lived in Houston, I had no idea it was the 4th largest city in the U.S. (after NYC, LA & Chicago). I don’t know much about the neighborhoods there, but I sure love the restaurant scene!
Like you I’ve lived in a wide variety of environments: city, suburbs, small country town… And also like you I’m a city girl at heart.
I grew up in a small country town and while I loved it as a kid I would never want to bring my own kids up in such a place. Sure, there was plenty of space for running around, my siblings and I spent most of our time outside, and we knew pretty much everyone in town. But that’s where the positives end. As we got older it was clear that there were no opportunities for us there. There was absolutely no diversity. No cultural experiences. No afterschool activities. No cafes, restaurants or take out places. If we needed anything that wasn’t available in our town’s supermarket we had to jump in the car and drive for two hours to the city. While we could walk pretty much everywhere in town there wasn’t much to walk to and we were completely reliant on cars for everything else. There were no jobs. In fact, for that very last reason my family packed up and moved to the suburbs of our nearest city when I was in my last year of high school. While it was a major disruption to my schooling and I was hesitant to leave my friends I am so glad that we moved.
Since then I’ve lived in a mix of inner-city (in Zurich, Sydney and my “hometown” Adelaide) and suburbia (again in Sydney and Adelaide). Right now living in Berkeley I feel we’re right in the middle. Not quite big city but not suburban either. Actually, my friends back home in Australia think that Berkeley is a suburb of San Francisco! Oakland too. Of course, anyone living in Oakland or Berkeley takes major offence to that!
We currently live in the Downtown area (which I guess does make it “city”) and I love how convenient everything is. We don’t have a car but there is absolutely no need for one either. That’s definitely my favourite thing about where we live. We can walk or bike pretty much everywhere, and it’s so easy to catch buses or BART if we need to go a little further (my husband works on the Peninsula so BART definitely comes in handy for that!). There are so many wonderful experiences here for my kids, there’s diversity, and despite what many people think about city living, there’s a real sense of community here. I see the same people every day on my travels. Walking everywhere is great for that! And we’ve met so many wonderful families at the park because, like us they don’t have a backyard for the kids to play in. We are out and about so much more than if we had a large home in the suburbs.
In my experience you really don’t get that sense of community in the suburbs. Everyone drives everywhere. Everyone goes to big box stores or shopping malls. When I think of suburbia the opening credits for “Weeds” springs to mind. Everyone going about their day in exactly the same way, leaving their homes in their cars at the same time but never interacting with each other. I once had a next door neighbour in the suburbs who I never met in 5 years because they always left their house via their car which was parked in their attached garage. They even stopped their car at their mail box to collect their mail rather than walking out their front door! Ok, so admittedly that neighbour was weird – but you get my point ;)
We’ve thought about moving a little further out into a more suburban area to save money (and potentially be closer to my husband’s work) but it never gets any further than just a thought. I just hate the idea of having to be completely reliant on a car. I would feel trapped. I need to be where the action is – or where the action can be easily reached on foot!
Oh man, these are the questions that plague my mind, day in and day out! I can’t wait for the day when my husband and I can figure out where we want to settle so we can buy a place and actually decorate the way we want. But it seems every time we settle somewhere, we do it with the mindset that it’s only temporary (never necessarily for the same reasons – currently, it’s because we have a 3 year visa to be living in Canada, but that could be renewed…). He’s from a decent-sized city in France, I’m from a small town in TN. We last lived in Brooklyn, NY and now live in Toronto (this has been a bigger adjustment than I anticipated. Toronto is nice, but Brooklyn is really, really nice). We had our daughter not long before leaving NYC and I really struggle with where we should raise her. I loved my upbringing – safe, great schools, lots of time outside and I like that it was exciting to discover the thrills of a big city later in life, instead of those thrills being seen as second-nature. But then I think, “Wow! What would I be doing if I was exposed to such-and-such amazing cultural thing at a younger age?!” To add to the confusion, we need to pick between the USA, France and Canada. And that’s a whole other debate beyond city vs. suburb/small town. For me personally, I love for where I live to have everything within walking distance and a cool creative scene. Sometimes I daydream about Portland, Maine: small, but liberal and pretty. Anyway, I have a few more years until my daughter goes to school. Thinking cap is on.
Living in a city (London) with kids is a challenge. That said, I’ve never lived in a suburb with children as I’ve had my children here, so sometimes I tell myself it’s just the job of parenting that makes life more challenging and that it would be tough (albeit wonderful) job anywhere you live. Money no object, I’d choose a city because it suits us best and we love what a city has to offer.
However, money is an object and the reality of being in a very confined space with growing kids is setting in! I’d be very happy to make a move to a really rural area about now. I wouldn’t really choose a suburb though. I grew up in suburbs and that doesn’t have any appeal for me.
I think that’s a wise observation, Melissa. My toughest years were definitely the years when no one was old enough to go to school yet.
i’ve lived them all. and in very, very diverse places!
the suburbs in the desert(tucson, az), a post-communist city(prague, czech republic) and now on the outskirts of a village in the mountains(czech republic). and i’m the happiest where i am now! with today’s technology(being able to get everything you need/want with the help of the internet) i barely miss the city, but i like to visit the city every once in a while – to go to a concert, shopping or do some sight seeing. but there’s nothing like being able to open my front door and see, hear and smell the wilderness around me. and there’s no better playground for my boys! living out here, i have also learned to appreciate everything so much more. you learn to do-things-yourself more and i am also more involved in helping out in my community, than i probably would be if i lived in the city.
I totally agree with you that technology changes everything! I doubt I would have enjoyed living in the countryside so much if I hadn’t had internet.
Oh, and for me what sort of defines a suburb is needing a car to go anywhere you might need to go in an average day. When I have to leave a city, the one thing I’ll miss the most is my walking lifestyle!
Wonderful post! I grew up in suburban central New Jersey and loved it. I went to the same high school my parents met at and was attended by all of my aunts, uncles and some of my cousins. It was nice to go into a store and have someone recognize my last name and ask how my dad/uncle/grandmother were doing.
I did live in Manhattan with a good friend for almost 3 months and prior to the experience thought I’d love it. I didn’t. The pace, pollution and cost of living were too much for me at the time (age 25) so I moved back home.
Now I live in a suburb less than 5 minutes from Princeton and love it. Our home is on almost an acre of land so lots of room for my 3 girls, we’re close to Princeton and while it’s not a city it does have it’s share of cultural events and some great restaurants. We’re also not far at all from some wonderful parks & farms to explore and only 40 minutes from my parents who now live on 7 acres of woods near the Pennsylvania border. There is a good deal of diversity in our area and the schools my girls attend are great. There is some of the “where does your child go to school” thing that goes on here but I’m connected with enough people who don’t get sucked into “keeping up with the Jones'” that it really doesn’t get to me. AND we have virtually no commute. My husband’s full time job and our joint private therapy practice are both in Princeton. Lucky!
It is truly a blessing to love where you live.
Everyone I know who has lived in the Princeton area has loved it. I think it must be a really special place.
I love reading all of the responses to this!
I have lived in: a small university town, a rural town, a big suburb, and urban. But I have also lived in a beach/resort town which is it’s own animal. Lots of turnover, lots of tourists. It was a wonderful place to live.
Currently I live very close to a downtown area but not close enough to walk to it. It’s not a suburb, but we have a yard. We could walk to a lot of amenities but we don’t have sidewalks and it’s too hot about 6 months out of the year (curse you, Texas summers!) We love that we are super-close to downtown/central amenities with little commute. Short commute time was one of our top priorities when house-hunting.
Love this topic! Thanks, Gabbby!
We just moved from a close-in DC suburb to Portland, Oregon. I know you didn’t ask this specifically, but I have been surprised by how much (most) fellow Mormons have been put off when we chose to buy a house in an inner neighborhood (probably similar to yours. Walkable and a cross between downtown/suburb). Everyone moves to the suburbs, and “good schools” are the most frequent reason cited. That and you “can’t raise kids in the city.” Which I think simply isn’t true. We love the school. No bus. No car drop off line. You walk or you bike. We chose a smaller, more expensive house in exchange for a short bike commute. Anyway. I really liked this post. Always fascinated by why people choose to live where they live.
I think the fear of a “bad” school has a huge influence of where people move. Though sometimes (often?) it seems to be an unfounded fear.
I think about this topic a LOT, so I loved this post! I grew up in a legit suburb (Valencia, CA…totally built for raising a family!), which was a great place to be a kid and even a teenager. But for most of my twenties I lived in Pasadena, CA, within walking distance of their charming Old Town. I loved Pasadena because to me it felt like a “training wheels city”–we had the diversity, events, festivals, amazing restaurants…but it was super walkable and easy to navigate (and even usually park, if we drove). But a few months ago, we moved to Colorado. We were a bit tired of the hustle and bustle of the city, so we chose an apartment in Arvada, a suburb northwest of Denver. And I’m jumping out of my skin! As much as I love the wide open spaces and easy parking, I do feel that angst you wrote about…it’s mainly that I feel like I’m living the life of a soccer mom–but I don’t have kids! My husband and I now want to move back into the city, into one of the beautiful neighborhoods in Denver…I want to still enjoy our lives as childless professionals! But I think once we had school-aged kids, I really wouldn’t mind being back in the burbs…even my old hometown of Valencia!
We live in the country and love it. We spend a lot of time outdoors so living close to lakes, bike paths, hiking trails and state parks is perfect for our family. I love the fresh air and being surrounded by nature. The downside is that going to town is like an event so when you forget that ever important ingredient, its a 40 minute trip to the grocery store. I love being able to walk to restaurants and shops when I visit big cities so I think it might be fun to try living in one someday.
I so know what you mean about going downtown being an event!
This topic is so relevant to me right now! We just moved from New York City to a small college town in Utah so my husband could go back to school. When I moved to NYC 11 years ago, I was single and I loved it! It was so exciting and loved being able to experience so many things the city had to offer. But after I got married and had one, then two, children, my feelings changed. I was frustrated with how small our apartment was and even more frustrated that we could not afford anything bigger because of the ridiculous prices. Even though there were small playgrounds close by (which is wonderful) the closest green space was far away. I did really appreciate the subway, but the commute for both my husband and I to work was over an hour each way. I could list so many other reasons why the city was not for me any more. Now we still live in an apartment, but it is much bigger (and less money) and we have a balcony. We also have a washer and dryer in our apartment and parking (oh the hours of my life I will never get back looking for parking in NYC!). We are also walking distance to downtown and the buses here are free, so I don’t have to rely on the car all the time. And best of all, I can see the mountains and the great outdoors is only a few minutes drive away.
No place is perfect and there will always be pros and cons to anywhere one lives, but I think in the end it’s what your priorities are and what is most important to you at the stage of life you are in.
Being a Bay Area native and having always lived in the burbs with easy access to SF and environs I realize I’m spoiled. We now live in a small east bay community that is AMAZING for raising kids, there’s a million of them here – but there is NO LAND and I find myself checking the sales listings for lots of land further out. I loved your description of your time in France – I long for that quiet, for the trees, for less errands and more staying put……
As you know we just moved to Boise, which is the third largest city in the PNW. I had never been here or even really thought about it as any sort of possibility. The housing is affordable, it has conveniences and stores I need for my freelance photography and food writing work, and it has an airport close by. So we gave it a try. For a long time I thought I would only be happy in the city. I sort of like the rural life (because we did live somewhere rural a few years ago), but I hate, hate, hate commuting to the city. And I need to commute often enough that it didn’t make sense anymore. Boise is like the perfect combination of city, small town and farming communities. It is truly the best of both worlds and I LOVE IT. Never thought that would happen! However, traveling to big cities once or twice a year is awfully nice and I start to feel that familiar tug again…haha.
Even though it’s the third largest, it’s not really *that* big. Hence my need for a big city fix. :)
I am SO HAPPY that Boise has turned out to be such a fantastic fit for your family. Hooray! Hooray!
My husband and I retired to a 15,500 acre ranch in southeastern Arizona in 2003, after our children had graduated from college and were on their own. We knew the nearest small town or 5,000 would not be particularly interesting for us, and we have found that to be true. We purchased a second home in Tucson, about 2 hours from the ranch, so we can make grocery runs, go to doctor appointments, and enjoy concerts and museums. Everything in the nearest small town is more expensive than anyplace else, from gas to food. The schools are poor at best and the locals are generally not well educated. We haven’t made any real friends, except our ranch manager’s family, after many attempts and invitations to people we’ve met. The differences between us are significant.
On the positive side, we have incredible views of nine different mountain ranges from our living room. We are closer to nature’s cycles than ever before in our lives. Our ranch is a working ranch and we have gotten to know a way of life that we never knew before. My husband has horses that he rides regularly. We hike often. We travel several weeks of the year and we are always grateful to come home to the ranch. Life brings many trade offs!
I like how plainly you spell out the pros and cons of your situation, Louise. And I especially like the reminder in the last line of your comment!
We’re semi-city dwellers, preferring midsized towns.
I love living near Lake Merritt in Oakland. Everything is in walking distance and their is lots of options for public transportation. We live in a quiet neighborhood but can easily walk to amazing restaurants and choices for shopping. My two year old loves Fairyland and the gardens. When we visit the playgrounds we see familiar faces. And in twenty minutes we can be in San Francisco and get that electric city energy. Oakland has a nice diverse community that I could not live without and feeks like home. I am surprised how happy I am living here and would not trade it for any other place right now.