I think one of the great pastimes of being a New Yorker is debating on whether or not to stay in the city or move. You can pretty much overhear or give your 2 cents on this conversation anywhere you are – at a dinner party, a playdate, the playground, online. I think the answer is clear cut for people who make the decision early on that they don’t want to raise their kids in this city, but for the rest of us, the debate can be endless. Usually the argument for moving out is more space, better schools, not having to navigate the ridiculous NYC school system, cheaper housing stock, the desire for a backyard, a quieter life, or not putting up with some of the more tiresome crap of city living.
The pros are generally what you’d expect, but the cons are little more slippery and subjective: less diversity, less culture, possible feelings of isolation, starting over, a big lifestyle change, no takeout options (we rarely takeout, but seriously, this is a huge loss for some people). Even if you were to make the decision to move, the question of WHERE is a big enough deterrent that might make you stay put for years.
But for us? There’s never really been a debate. We’re staying (unless we win the lottery. Then we’d be bi-coastal in Seattle, the only other US city that truly has my heart, with a vacation house in Hawaii). I’ve never been lured by the suburbs and while I sometimes fantasize about small town living (something like what you’d see on the Gilmore Girls), I’m not confident that I’d be very happy living somewhere so quiet. I’m also one of the few people I know who doesn’t pine for a house and yard (is that weird?). It’s not because I grew up in this city. I did, in fact, grow up in the latter part of my childhood in a house with a yard in a relatively suburban-like setting in Queens (you will see later this week!) and I’ve lived in plenty of houses during my time in the Northwest. It’s just that I think I prefer the lower maintenance and “security”, false or not, of living in a higher floor apartment. Aside from wanting maybe another room or a bigger closet, I don’t crave more space. I’d like to think that we have all the space that we need, and the coziness of a one floor layout, apartment living is just fine for us. Besides, the thought of having that much more house to clean makes my head spin.
Just out of curiosity, however, I did punch in some numbers one day to see how a life in the NYC suburbs would stack up against our life in the city, and surprisingly it didn’t come out cheaper because of property taxes. We’d get more room for sure, and a driveway to park our car (if you’re not familiar with the rather ridiculous urban ritual of alternate side of the street parking for street cleaning, then you might not understand how huge a perk a driveway is), but that’s about it. For whatever reason, we lucked out with the universe and made some right decisions in the mid 2000s when we bought our apartment with a long term tax abatement in a good public school district. There is now an awesome park and playground right across the street that has been fully renovated since we first moved in, and we have a network of close-knit neighbors who have each other’s back. I realize that all these things are huge and have made our decision to stay much easier. It may not even sound fair to those who are still on the fence and struggling with their decisions as sometimes luck and timing is everything in NY, but the reasons for staying is more than all this stuff. It’s recognizing that I need the energy of the city to motivate me. That the diversity here is important to our family. It’s a commitment to raising our kids in the city and making it work, realizing that there will be some sacrifices, but knowing that we are giving them certain experiences that they may not get anywhere else. Plus, I hate to drive.
I sometimes bristle at comments from people who say (to my face, even) that they would never raise their kids in the city. As if the rest of us who are, are torturing our kids and neglecting their needs just so that we can indulge in some fantasy idea of city living. But in the end, it’s whatever you’re comfortable with. City, suburb, small town, country…we make the choice to live where we live. I don’t buy into the notion that our kids are missing out on somebody’s picture of an ideal childhood just because they aren’t digging in dirt and making mud pies in the backyard. They’re making their own memories playing in the sidewalk sprinklers with our neighbors, going on field trips to museums and making friends at any of the half dozen playgrounds in the neighborhood. But most of all, they’re just being kids, like any other kids living anywhere else in this country.