City vs. Suburbs: Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

2 Mar
Image: Lower Manhattan, Lori Rochino.

Image: Lower Manhattan, Lori Rochino.

Can’t decide whether or not to stay in the city or move to the suburbs? Join the club. Most people start out in the cities because of a job or school. While it’s all well and good when you’re a student, single or in a DINK (Dual Income No Kids) household, it may not be the best case scenario if you decide to start a family. The first step is to consider your own goals and your own reasons for moving. While the grass almost always seems greener on the other side, like anything else in life, there are almost always tradeoffs.

Here are some questions to consider before making the choice:

Kids & School
Where will your kids (or potential kids) have space to roam around and play?
What’s the quality of the school districts? Will you have to enroll your child in private school because the school districts in the city by where you live suck?
How’s the competition for admission to those urban private schools?
How’s the school district in the suburb you’re consider moving too? How much are taxes?
If you did opt for private school outside the city what are the costs there?

Home Improvement, Exercise & Transit
Would buying a real house with yard space in the suburbs or country work better for your situation? Instead of walking or taking public transit everywhere you will need a car and you will need to drive everywhere. Can you imagine yourself carpooling your kids (and/or) pets in a minivan?

You will probably gain weight because you don’t walk everywhere like you do in the city.
Can you discipline yourself to workout at home with the distractions of a busy family life? If not, would you pay for a gym membership and if so will you actually use it?

You will no longer be a renter but a homeowner. Problems with leaks, plumbing, wiring, housing structure, etc. will become YOUR problem. Are you prepared to become a home improver and take care of DIY projects yourself or hire a professional to take care of home improvement or maintenance matters? What about snow days? Will you be okay with shoveling your driveway when you get a couple feet of snow? Will you be willing to invest in a snow blower for those mega snowstorms to keep your driveway clear?

What Worked for Us
When my husband and I got married, we decided that once we had a family we would definitely move out of the city. Cost was a big factor. Space was another. While the Boston area was a great place to live we knew it wouldn’t work for us once we decided to have children or pets. First off, it’s expensive, even in the surrounding Boston metro area. Second, you don’t a lot of space for the money. Third, we also factored in having family near by. That was important. We had both sets of family within a one and a half hour radius of Philadelphia PA so we decided to move to a suburban bordering on rural town in eastern Pennsylvania. That made a huge difference in terms of cost and proximity to family.

What We Gained & Miss
While we miss the cultural diversity like the best museums, events, a huge selection of restaurants to choose from, our set of friends, we decided that leaving the city worked for us. While we’re still figuring things out here, we’ve learned how to embrace the tradeoffs of one situation for another. It was certainly a big adjustment leaving the city but we’ve gained a lot.

Advantages: We’ve made a home for ourselves here, we’ve made a lot of new friends along the way, we see family more often than before when we were a lot further away from each other and we’ve made the best of it. We haven’t abandoned the city completely. If we want to do cultural things and have more dining options other than chain restaurants we make the plans to visit our friends in the city. When we see how cramped their situation is in their apartment living space, we appreciate the space we do have and invite them to visit us whenever they’re in our neck of the woods. We see how they shop and how they take the elevator down with their empty cart bags with wheels to the nearest Whole Foods while their children walk along side with them and wonder if that would have been our life if we had lived in the city with the families.

Making the City Work
There are some diehards that make it work. I met a lady in New York who lived on the Upper West Side in New York City and she had three children. She and her husband had a two bedroom where the three kids shared one bedroom and she and her husband shared another. She agreed yes they have no space. But the city is basically an extension of their living space. The Natural History Museum is just steps away from their apartment. Central Park is right there. They all get to walk everywhere and not worry about cars. Their doorman knows their children by name and high five each other. They’re like an extension of their family.

What Works for You
Whatever situation you imagine yourself in you can make it work for you. It just depends on what tradeoffs you’re willing to live with, what’s important to you and what you’re willing to sacrifice. Most of all, it’s really your attitude, approach and willingness to embrace change or to adapt to where ever you are that will make urban, suburban or rural lifestyle successful for you. There’s no perfect answer except the one that you consider after weighing all your options and talking to people in the situation you want to eventually be in.

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