The City vs. Suburbs Debate
April 26, 2010
Growing up, my father was in politics – he was a State Representative for 14 years, for the 9th district of Illinois, and that meant we had to live in Rogers Park, a neighborhood of Chicago. All of my parents' friends lived in the northern suburbs, roughly a 30-minute drive from our house in the city. I attended a private Jewish day school growing up, which was in the suburb of Skokie, about 15-20 minutes away from where we lived. And the summer camps I attended were mostly made up of kids that hailed from the northern suburbs as well. So, although I grew up in the city of Chicago, I spent most of my time in the suburbs, hanging out with my suburban friends. So, when it came time for high school, I decided to commute 30 minutes to Highland Park, a northern suburb (aka the North Shore), where many of my good friends lived -- I took the Metra to get there each day – the train left at 6:52 a.m. every morning, I'll never forget it; I was only 15 years old.
Obviously, commuting to a high school that was 30 minutes away was not ideal; my life revolved around the train schedule. I used to dream about what it would be like to live in the suburbs, in a house with a big backyard, on a safe tree-lined street that I could ride my bike on, with neighbors whose houses I could wander in and out of for glasses of lemonade or milk or whatever it is you wander into neighbor's houses for.
Not that I lived in a bad neighborhood, but until I was in the 5th grade we lived in a modest apartment on a non-descript street – our back alley was where we played with the neighborhood kids. We moved into a house with a staircase and small backyard when I was around 10, in the same neighborhood; it was the closest thing to suburban living I experienced in my youth.
My parents finally moved to the suburbs when my dad became a judge while I was in college, and I only lived with them for about six months after I graduated before I got my own apartment in the city with my best friend. Back to the city I went… And I still live in the city. But now that I have a family of my own I'm considering whether or not we should move to the suburbs (if and when we can ever sell our place in this market).
My friends and I have regular City vs. Suburbs debates – most of my married, city-dwelling friends are in the same pro-city camp as I am. But ask my brother, and he'll tell you it's only a matter of time until we give in: He even has a bet going with my father, that's how certain he is that I'll give up my urban identity and become a suburbanite with a minivan.
If you had asked me 5-10 years ago if I thought I'd live in the suburbs when I got married, I would've laughed in your face for even asking me such a question. The answer was obviously no. But now that I have a family, I can see the benefits. Even those friends of ours who used to swear they were never moving to the suburbs – god forbid! -- have recently come around to the idea. But the next big question is: Which suburb? And how do we plan it so we all live in the same area so our kids go to the same schools? It's hard to imagine the homogeny of suburban life, especially for me since I've never lived it before (most of my friends, like I mentioned, hail from suburbia). As a kid, I fantasized about it, but now that I can make my own decisions about where to live, I can't picture myself selling out to suburban life – I'm a city gal, and proud of it.
But the truth is, I'm torn. I believe you live in the city for yourself, but you move to the suburbs for your kids, and I can't shake the feeling that my growing family would be better off in the ‘burbs.
A few months after we got married, we moved into a three bedroom condo in Chicago's West Loop – I live blocks away from the United Center (where the Bulls play) and in the same neighborhood as Harpo Studios (where Oprah is taped). We can see the beautiful Chicago skyline from our rooftop deck. Our neighborhood is still developing as a residential area, but it's already rife with young families, and we live across the street from a huge dog park, playground and a newly built magnet school that gives priority to the neighborhood. Technically speaking, we could stay here for a while – after all, we have three bedrooms -- but, the modern amenities of our cool, urban condo don't exactly compare to the practical comforts of a single family home in the suburbs (as in, we don't have a backyard, basement, or any storage space).
There's a part of me that wants to give my kids the comforts of suburban life that I never had – but there's another part of me that finally appreciates the fact that I grew up in the city, and how it's shaped who I am. The pros of suburbia: Both our families live in the northern suburbs, which means built-in babysitting! And you get so much more for your money in the ‘burbs in terms of real estate; it sickens me to think what size house we could have for the price of our condo. Plus, backyards, no traffic, free parking and, most importantly, great schools.
But, frankly, the suburbs kind of scare me – everyone seems to live the same life. I like the edginess of the city, the endless entertainment options, and the interesting and different people you encounter that you don't find in suburbia. And the commute during rush hour, from the suburbs to the city (where I work), is killer – I'd be spending up to three hours a day in my car, at least. But if we stayed in the city, would my kids be spending most of their time in the suburbs seeing family and friends, and grow up wishing they lived there?
Where do you live, and did you ever consider raising your family in a big city? Am I crazy to even consider it? I'm well aware the city is more expensive, which is an obvious consideration for not living here, but there are plenty of people who find a way to do it – maybe we can too.