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September 25, 2006

City Or Country? Discuss.

Cathy Arnst

I've been holding a raging debate with myself of late about which is a better place to raise kids, or at least my kid: the heart of the city or the leafy suburbs. Right now I live in an apartment in a small building in Brooklyn. It's a lovely brownstone community with friendly families and an excellent public elementary school with a very diverse student body, right around the corner. We take regular advantage of all the city has to offer. My daughter's been to Broadway shows, ballet, art museums, concerts of all kinds, even Coney Island (a different sort of culture). In the last few months we've been to a West Indies festival, Chinese festival and an African festival--sometimes I feel you can experience the world without ever leaving New York. It takes me a half hour to get to work by subway and if I'm feeling posh, I can take a cab. When I'm home, everything we want--friends, restaurants, stores, movie theaters--is in walking distance.

What's the downside, you ask? Well, we live in an apartment--a two bedroom, one bath apartment. Lovely place, but not a lot of room. There's no outside space, other than the parks and playgrounds in the neighborhood and the front stoop. That got to be a real problem during the heat wave this summer, when my daughter seemed trapped in the apartment. I am always hustling to get her enrolled in day camps, swim lessons, dance classes or whatever before they are filled with all the other thousands of childrens who want the same. She is in a great elementary school, yes, but middle school and high school will be another story. In New York, you must apply to the top public schools at those levels, and the application process is as competitive as college. Private school is out of the financial question.

So this summer, I started dreaming about a yard, and space, and a good school district. I thought about my daughter being able to run outside and play whenever she wanted, to ride her bike whenever she wanted, to run in the woods, to laze about on the grass. It would probably be a lot less expensive to live outside the city--if for no other reason than that we'd stop going out to dinner so often. I even looked at houses in New Jersey, all within walking distance to a town and a train station.

Of course, I'd be facing a much longer commute, and my daughter could end up being one of the few children of color in her suburban school (she is Chinese). Cultural outings would dwindle to...nothing, most likely. And let's face it, I'd miss all those restaurants within walking distance. The ultimate indignity: When she gets to be a teenager she could be bored, bored, bored. Meanwhile, I would, I assume, live the life of a socially isolated single parent.

Oh dear. What do people out there think? City? Suburbs? Give it all up and move to Montana? I'd love to hear other perspectives, especially from those who have tried both.

04:41 PM

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I'd say that raising a kid in the city is more work for the parents, because they generally need more supervision. And getting them exercise is a chore. We had our kids for four years in an apartment in Paris. A lot of the same advantages that you mention in New York, and by the time they were 12 or so they could go on the subway by themselves. Still, exercise was a problem.

That said, kids in the suburbs now seem to require much more planned activity than they did in the 60s. There's less pick-up play and much more getting carted around by parents to scheduled, supervised (and paid) activities. And parents don't seem to encourage kids to ride bikes to get around. I think it's because when the kid gets on a bike, even with a helmet on, they lose control.

Posted by: steve baker at September 27, 2006 09:23 AM

It's interesting that you ask this--do you feel differently now that your daughter is older?

We left NY about 18 months ago, but often consider returning. And when we talk about it, we have the same debate. But it comes down to a trade-off that seems lose-lose. Move to the city/Brooklyn and pay ridiculous rent for a small apartment and very high day care costs, basically be broke and maybe in debt, but see more of your child (the 30-minute-or-less commute) and enjoy the wonders of the world outside your door. Or, get a larger apartment, a yard, maybe a small house, less expensive day care, more pocket money (those pesky city taxes), but spend 45 minutes to an hour commuting and see less of your child... and have a more suburban life.

We have that suburban life now, and frankly, it's great. Kids in tow are the norm, my son just started walking and he can do it without shoes in the grassy backyard, we can drive or take a stroller ride to a nearby park or beach, there's a kids musuem and science musuem we can quickly drive to... Being a parent in the city does seem like it would be much harder. But there's also something appealing about it.

For us, though, the bottom line of the debate (if we move back in the next year or two) is being broke vs. spending an extra 60 to 90 minutes a day with our son. There's no easy answer (being broke is difficult and adds stress to life; I'd rather spend that hour with my boy than on a train...)

Posted by: JEnnifer at October 2, 2006 11:59 AM

The answer is obvious: Give it all up and move to Montana.

Posted by: david at October 25, 2006 01:09 PM


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