It’s been almost 3 1/2 years since I wrote this post debating whether to raise kids in the city vs. the suburbs, because I’ve always felt like I was a suburb mouse at heart. But now that I’ve been living in the city with two kids for 5 1/2 years, I’m firmly on team city for now. You can be happy wherever you live, of course, and it all depends on what is most important to you. We moved to our neighborhood because of the good school district, one of the main reasons people move to the suburbs, so that was one thing we didn’t have to worry about. This is my personal experience, and 10 reasons why I love raising kids in the city:
1) We know all our neighbors and we help each other out. Since everyone walks, we know all our neighbors — an experience I’d never had before living in New York! I can’t go on a short walk without running into at least one person I know… and usually it’s more like 3 or 4! Knowing our neighbors also helps us as parents because we don’t have family nearby who can help with the kids. We help each other out with things like school pick-ups and drop-offs because we all live so close to one another, and play dates are often as simple as going upstairs!
2) There is a real sense of community. Besides knowing all our neighbors, we know the local shopkeepers, and there are tons of community events both big and small. For instance each block holds their own yearly block party where the street is closed off to traffic for an entire day, and everyone cooks and hangs out together on the street. The fire department usually comes out and opens the fire hydrant, a bouncy castle is rented, we bbq, there are arts and crafts for the kids, and just a great time for everyone young and old. As bustling as it is living in the city, it still feels like we’re part of a close-knit community.
3) It’s easy to make friends. There was a great New York Times article a couple years ago on how it’s so much harder to make friends in your 30’s. It mentions that sociologists have long considered three factors necessary to make friends: “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.” I’m an introvert and probably wouldn’t have many opportunities to make new friends if we didn’t live in the city because I wouldn’t make the effort. Here we run into many of the same people over and over again at the playground, at school, and at local events, and have many opportunities to become friends. We’ve made some of our closest friends this way, and it’s a bonus having kids the same age so we play while the kids play.
4) Diversity. People in New York are from so many different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and occupations, and I love that the kids are exposed to so much diversity. Having been surrounded by so many Asians my entire life, it was easy to make friends that were just like me. But as I got older, I always wished that I was able to experience much more diversity than I did. This is something that is very important to me, and one of the biggest reasons I want to live in the city, especially given that Charlie and Olive are 3 ethnicities, like many of their peers!
5) Less space promotes family bonding. My family lived in a small apartment in the city before we moved to a big house in the suburbs. When we lived in a small apartment, we had no choice but to interact with each other all the time. Once we moved to a house with my parents’ bedroom and the kids’ bedrooms on different floors, we interacted much less as a family. Everyone just stayed in their own room and did their own thing. So I’ve never wanted a big home! Aren’t we always trying to recreate the things we loved or missed in our childhoods and make it better for our own kids?
6) Less space forces you to be more of a minimalist. Having less storage space forces you to be ruthless about everything you bring into and keep in your home. I’m constantly thinking about what else we can get rid of, and regularly sell, donate, and give away. I get the kids involved too, and they’re used to having a smaller amount of toys at any given time and getting rid of ones they’ve outgrown. It isn’t always easy, but I definitely see the joy in having less and living a more simple life.
7) The city is our backyard. Before having kids I always thought that a backyard was essential because I grew up with one. We’ve lived in apartments with and without backyards (currently without), and we’re fine without one. Our average weekend is probably a lot busier than if we had a backyard because we have to do a bit more planning and have to get out no matter what. But we have over 10 playgrounds within 15 minute walking distance, and literally hundreds if we travel farther. We have incredible public parks that my mom has called “an oasis in the city,” and really try to take advantage of them.
8) You can walk everywhere. For some people this is a con. I understand — when I lived in the suburbs, I used to drive to the market a block away! But having kids has definitely made me less of a homebody, and I love that we have everything we need within a few blocks. We regularly come across cool events and things in our neighborhood like a community garden we never knew existed. Just walking around is an adventure!
9) There is so much to do. Arts, culture, food… I don’t think I have to say much about this one. We could do something different every single weekend of the year here and we’d never run out of new things to do. I love that the kids are being exposed to such a wide range of experiences from museums to music and so much more.
10) Living here toughens you up. It’s not always easy living in New York. It’s busy, we don’t have a car, it’s ridiculously expensive, we live in a small apartment, and the weather sucks for most of the year (but we truly appreciate each and every beautiful day). I’m a nature-loving introvert at heart, but living in the city pushes me out of my comfort zone, and I think that’s a good thing for me as a parent. I love the energy and drive of the city, and I think it’s made both me and the kids tougher and more resilient. After living here 11 years, you could say that I’m officially a New Yorker.
For all these reasons and more, I prefer the childhood I’m able to give them in the city than I would be able to in the suburbs, and the trade-offs we have to make for that are worth it for me. I do love the suburbs and it’s quite possible I would be happier there. Maybe we will move there one day, but for now, we love the city.
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What say you — city vs. suburbs for raising kids and why?