There comes a time in many of our adult lives when we must make a conscious choice between living in the suburbs and living in the city. While both have their pros and cons, the ideal situation will depend on each individual's personality. The following points might help you decide.
Commute has a strong influence on quality of life. It dictates what time you must wake up in the morning, what time you (should) go to bed at night, how much free time you have in the evenings after work and how much frustration you experience each day, if you have to sit in traffic. If you have a family waiting for you at home, your commute also affects how much time you can spend with them. (For related reading, see Extreme Commuting: Is It For You?)
It's also possible for children to have long commutes to school. If this is the case, not only will they have less free time, they're also less likely to live near their school friends. To get across town, they'll have to spend hours on the bus, or you'll have to find the time to drive them yourself.
It often costs more to live near employment centers, so if you want to maximize your free time and minimize your frustration, you might think that living in the city is the logical choice. However, sometimes commutes from the suburbs to the city can be surprisingly quick, and some suburbs have plenty of good jobs, eliminating the need to commute. Before you assume anything about a particular commute, test your hypothesis by asking around, using the traffic feature on Google Maps and even testing out the drive (or public transit option).
Other transportation-related factors to consider when choosing between the city and the suburbs include the ability to get around easily, park at your destination and have a garage or some type of guaranteed parking space at home. You're more likely to find these in the suburbs than in the city. (For more, see Commuters' University: On-The-Road Learning.)
Job and Educational Opportunities
Your choice between the city and suburbs can affect the number and type of job opportunities available to you, if you need to find a job now or want to change jobs someday. Your home address, of course, will also determine which public school your children are assigned to, which might determine whether you send them to public school, decide to pay extra for private school or home school.
House Size, Lot Size and Privacy
How much house you can afford will be a function of where it's located. A willingness to live in a distant suburb often translates into a larger house on a larger lot. This extra space can be especially important for parents and dog owners, who want plenty of space to raise a family and a yard for the kids and/or dog. But anyone who likes peace and quiet and privacy is more likely to get it when they aren't sharing walls with neighbors, and there is plenty of land between one house and the next. A home's price per square foot can also be lower in the suburbs than in the city. That being said, if you want a living space that's trendy and/or unique, it may be easier to come by in the city.
Age of Housing
Homes are often newer in the suburbs, unless you want to live in a recently renovated downtown loft. Old homes can be great if you want to tackle a bunch of home improvement projects or if the previous owner has recently upgraded everything. And new homes aren't a guarantee of low maintenance - they can be shoddily constructed and have plenty of unexpected problems. On the whole, however, there is a reason why newer homes are appealing - they do generally have fewer maintenance problem,s and they contain all the modern amenities that we've come to expect, like large closets, spacious bathrooms and kitchens designed for entertaining. So when considering a home in the city versus a home in the suburbs, think about whether an older home or a newer home is likely to suit you best. (For related reading, see Commute Smart: Save Time, Money And The Earth.)
Social Life and Cultural Amenities
It's almost always true that big cities have a better variety of things to do and more highly sought-after cultural activities. The Bulls don't play in Carbondale, Beyonce's last tour didn't stop in Wilkes-Barre and the HoustonBalletAcademy isn't located in El Paso. If you want easy access to major sporting events, popular concerts, cutting-edge restaurants, trendy night clubs and the best symphonies, ballets, museums and operas, you're better off living in the city or a short drive away. Suburbs may have perfectly good restaurants and their own performing arts centers, but you're not likely to live near the biggest or the best of anything. That being said, you might prefer the less-crowded, less-expensive, scaled-down versions of the big-name activities, or you might be willing to travel to do the things that are most important to you.
Most people don't put a lot of thought into the quality of local government when deciding where to move to, but they should. An inefficient, corrupt bureaucracy can waste hundreds of hours of your time, and thousands of your dollars in burdensome regulations and taxes. Live somewhere with a well-run, minimalist government and you won't even notice it's there (except when your property tax bill is due). If you're going to be a property owner, you should pay special attention to tax rates and the government's attitude toward private property rights. Is there a regime of high or unstable property taxes that could force you to move one day because you can no longer afford them? How difficult will it be to make modifications to your home under local housing codes and environmental regulations? Are you allowed to run a business out of your home or rent out the spare bedroom? These are important questions to ask ahead of time.
Overall Quality of Life
There are plenty of stereotypes about the city and the suburbs, but they aren't always accurate. You really have to look carefully at the specific places you're considering living, and evaluate what they have to offer and whether that place is the right fit for you. Decide carefully: where you choose to live will ultimately be one of the biggest factors in determining your overall quality of life. (Maybe you trade a longer commute for more space, for more see Buying A Home: New Or Previously Used?)
When my children were young and we had just moved to a house in the suburbs, friends would come up and visit from the city. They would sit on the porch, or push their children on our swing set, and they’d explain how they had thought of moving to greener spaces — but they could never leave the museums and the theater, and they would lose their minds driving a carpool.
Then my husband and I would explain that we had thought about staying in the city — but couldn’t handle the pressure of the Manhattan school scramble or the anxiety of taking a stroller on the subway.
Space vs. commute, more sophisticated kids vs. more sheltered ones, culture vs. cost, traffic noise vs. traffic jams. Fill in your own blanks.
Each of us had made a choice we weren’t certain was the right one, because when it comes down to it, you can scare yourself raising children anywhere.
In her guest blog this week, author Beth Harpaz writes about the rites of passage for suburban and urban kids. The title of her newest book. “”13 Is the New 18 … And Other Things My Children Taught Me — While I was Having a Nervous Breakdown Being their Mother,” sums up the constant state of unease that comes with being a parent.
By BETH HARPAZ
First shave, first concert, first kiss, first smoke — they’re all teenage rites of passage, right up there with bar mitzvahs, quinceanaras and Sweet 16 parties.
But when you raise your kids in the city, there’s another to add to the list: First mugging.
Unless you chauffeur your kids door to door in the five boroughs the way parents do in the “burbs,” chances are, before they’re old enough to vote, they’ll be mugged. Now obviously you hope and pray that if and when your kid is mugged, it’s nothing more than a quick shakedown for an iPod or a big kid grabbing a cell phone from a smaller kid. Unfortunately, plenty of kids also get slugged or have weapons pulled on them — even in neighborhoods like Park Slope, where I live. Yes, it’s not all fusion restaurants and designer dogs. We got thugs, too.
You tell your kids to be careful, as they wander around the neighborhood, hanging out in playgrounds after dark with their friends, or going back and forth to school. But like teenagers everywhere, they believe they are invincible. One night a few years ago, after a kid was mugged at knifepoint near our house I warned my son to watch out. He told me I didn’t have to worry because he was “unjumpable.”
I had never heard this word before. I realized that he literally meant to suggest that he could not be jumped. It was the urban teenager’s view of himself as invulnerable. Kids in the suburbs who drive fast never dream they’ll crash; kids who walk around city streets at night never dream they’ll be mugged.
He then pulled the hoodie of his oversize sweatshirt over his head, obscuring half his face (reminding me of another word, hoodlum), and headed out the door with some buddies, all of them wearing the same get-up. I had to admit, they did look unjumpable. If I saw those guys walking along, cursing at each other and laughing the way they do, I’d cross the street to avoid them.
But even unjumpable kids get mugged. Mine was 14 when it happened, getting off a city bus with a couple of other boys in Midwood on a Saturday evening. Their attackers — older and bigger — didn’t appear to be after anything, other than the thrill of it. None of the boys was seriously hurt, though mine did have an impressive black eye.
When my son got home, I offered him an ice pack and a Tylenol, but I restrained myself from hysterically weeping or threatening to move to Great Neck. As a mother, you want to be sympathetic when your child is victimized. But as a New Yorker, you also want them to hang tough.
So I told him that hardly anyone lives in New York for very long without eventually becoming the victim of some type of crime, whether it’s having your car window smashed or your pocket picked.
And I shared with him one of my very favorite New York experiences: Showing up for jury duty, having the judge ask whether anybody in the pool of prospective jurors has ever been a victim of a crime, and raising my hand along with every other person in the room. It’s one of those rare moments when you feel complete solidarity with your fellow New Yorkers. Ordinarily you couldn’t expect to agree on anything — not where to get the best pizza or bagels, not how to get from Carnegie Hall to the Lower East Side by subway, and especially not on who was the best mayor of the last 40 years.
I thought about all these things the night my son was mugged — a sort of mental checklist to reassure myself that I hadn’t done some terrible disservice by raising my children in Brooklyn instead of Montclair.
My son certainly seemed to take it all in stride. I told him to wake me up if his black eye hurt him in the night, or if he started freaking out. He said he would, but I knew he wouldn’t, and he didn’t. Get jumped, go home, go to sleep, wake up and carry on. It’s what New Yorkers have always done.
Of course, when I mention these things to my friends from the suburbs, they are utterly horrified and immediately call their spouses to say how glad they are to be living in Scarsdale or Westport.
What I don’t tell them is that I am actually more afraid of visiting them than they are of visiting me. For one thing, I have an irrational fear of suburban basements; I can get myself quite worked up imagining all the Stephen King-like things that go on down there. Teenage drivers freak me out too. Some parents say a teen’s first fender-bender is the suburban equivalent of the city kid’s first mugging, but at least in a mugging, my kid isn’t the perp.
Finally, there are four little words that instill pure terror in my soul when I’m visiting friends in Rockland or Suffolk:
“Check yourself for ticks.”
Honestly, I’m less afraid of muggers.