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Update: The City vs. Suburbs Debate Settled

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

Remember when I posed this question, almost exactly a year ago? I was just re-reading all the comments—very insightful anti-suburbs comments, definitely worth a read. Before I started re-reading them, however, I’d already come to the shocking revelation that the suburbs are probably where we’ll end up. Yes, you read that right: I actually want to live in the suburbs one day, in the not-too-distant future. [Pause for loud collective gasp from my friends and family reading this right now.]

At dinner on Saturday night with my best friend from high school, the subject came up. She and her husband have been house hunting in the ‘burbs for months now; we haven’t even begun our search, nor have we put our condo on the market yet (waiting till the summer). But she was asking me which suburb we thought we’d end up in, because in an ideal world we’d put down roots in the same suburb so our kids can grow up together. The thing is, I have absolutely no idea where we’re going to live—mostly because we haven’t started looking yet, but also because I’m secretly kind of waiting to see where all of my friends end up before making our decision.

When I wrote about this last April, I mentioned that even though I grew up in Rogers Park, a neighborhood of Chicago, I attended Highland Park High School (a north suburban public school, which I had to commute to, and pay to attend). To my mostly skeptical-about-the-suburbs post, one commenter had this to say: “The North Shore is representative of a small fraction of Chicagoland. Why don't you take a look around—how about Oak Park? Talk about diversity of people, ethnicities, backgrounds. Oak Park is a suburb, but with all the flavor of Chicago and easily commutable. Don't judge the suburbs solely based on your own limited experiences of the North Shore.”

WorkingMomOf3 makes a very valid point. My perspective of suburban life is limited to what I know, and what I know is the North Shore—albeit from the distance of someone who never actually lived there save for a short stint in Wilmette where my parents moved while I was in college. 

In all honesty, as much as I can’t really picture myself in any one suburb, I’ll probably end up in the North Shore, despite my reservations. Why? Because both of our families live there, and that’s where most of my friends who grew up in the north suburbs will end up, which are two of the main things even drawing me there in the first place. Highland Park, Deerfield, Glencoe, Northfield, Northbrook, Wilmette…if I had to guess, I'd bet we’ll end up in one of these suburbs.

Un-ironically, this is exactly the reason I chose to go to high school in Highland Park, because it’s where the majority of my friends lived at the time.

I know it’s not likely we’ll all end up in the same suburb, my friends and I; so far only one of my close girlfriends has moved, and she lives in Northbrook. But I hope it works out that I live close enough to a friend or family member that we can walk or ride bikes to each other's houses. After all, most of my friends have kids around the same age—within months or a just a year or two of each other. It’s very possible they could grow up going to the same schools, or my friends and I could spend the rest of our lives raising our kids together. New friends will surely come and go, but I have a tight circle of old friends with whom I’d love to live at least as close to as I do now.

Living in close proximity, even in a neighboring suburb if not the same one, makes it a little easier to keep in close touch. These friendships aren’t going anywhere, regardless of where we live—some have withstood the test of 20 or more years’ time—but what’s so wrong with wanting to be close to your friends and family? The closer we live to family, especially, the easier life will be—I learned that this winter, during our week from hell. And our families happen to live in the north suburbs of Chicago.

There were a lot of good arguments made for the pro-city debate, arguments that almost made me waiver on my decision when I re-read them this weekend, but in the past few months it’s become even clearer to me that city living is not what I see for us in the long-term. The city, at least this city, is not designed for kids—just last night, my husband and I were trying to figure out where to take Preston for dinner. We wanted something kid-friendly and stimulating for him, and couldn’t think of a single place other than Chuck E. Cheese! Yes, we made our first trip to Chuck E. Cheese on Sunday, and didn’t even stay for dinner. (Preston was mesmerized by the chaos but the place was too dirty for us to eat there. Filthy.)

It’s all relative to what’s important to you, obviously. We spend every weekend in the suburbs these days, with my parents and my brother, sister-in-law and Preston’s three cousins. Sometimes we're commuting there Saturdays and Sundays, sitting in traffic both ways, which is a total pain for us—Preston often falls asleep on the way home, which throws his nap off. Lately I've been thinking about how much more convenient it would be if we lived closer to them. And I’m sure that feeling will only be compounded when all of my friends start moving north.

As one commenter pointed out, having a huge park across the street is a great perk of the city (we don’t have to mow the lawn!), but with summer approaching we are feeling the itch for our own backyard, a driveway with a basketball hoop, a basement with all of Preston’s toys vs. a cluttered one-floor condo with his toys jockeying for position in every room. And the idea of having a backyard for our dog Barkley, a two-car garage, storage space for all his toys—city living, at least where we are—doesn't offer that. We do have a great school across the street, recently rated by Chicago magazine as the 5th best magnet school in Chicago—so technically, we can stay here for a little while. 

The reality is, we probably won’t be moving to the ‘burbs for at least another year, so we’ve decided to finish our rooftop deck to make it a place we can hang out with Preston and friends this summer, in lieu of a backyard. We have 300 square feet up there, with a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline. We want to make it kid-friendly and weather-proof but we don’t want to spend a fortune, since we know this isn’t our permanent home. Any ideas other than a baby pool and/or a mini-sandbox and some outdoor lounge chairs? Know of any good kid-friendly outdoor stores/products online where I can find ideas?

Our suburban life isn't going to commence for a while, until we either sell or rent our place out, so in the meantime I plan to embrace city-living as much as I can. Chicagoans, I'm taking suggestions for kid-friendly restaurants, too, because yesterday was probably our last trip to Chuck E. Cheese.

P.S. Watch today’s Oprah Show with the President and First Lady, I was lucky enough to be in the audience for it. It was taped before Bin Laden was killed obviously. Despite the odd timing of the airing, it's a great show—I love how much pride they take in their hometown, but Michelle’s philosophy as a mom is what really impresses me. You’ll love what she has to say about how she's parenting their daughters Sasha and Malia inside the bubble of the White House. 

I've been blogging again over at Or you can follow me on Twitter @thecosmomom, and Facebook at Sarah Preston Gorenstein.