May 19, 2004

Against Suburbia

Megan McArdle (aka "Jane Galt") and Matthew Yglesias grew up in the city (New York, as it happens) and are sticking up for cities as places to raise kids. Conventional wisdom says the suburbs are better, but Megan and Matt say they turned out just fine (Iím sure they both did), that they lost the "muddy creek" in exchange for urban hang-outs instead.

I grew up in the suburbs and I wonít defend them as places to raise kids. I would much rather have grown up in the inner-city where I live now. ("Inner-city" is not synonymous with Cabrini Green except in the heads of people who donít live in cities or who live in Cabrini Green. "Inner-city" simply refers to the dense urban core, not all of which is a slum. In the case of Portland, Oregon, none of which is a slum - at least not any longer.)

The way I see it, the suburbs combine the worst of the city with the worst of the countryside. In the suburbs youíre stranded as if you were way out in the sticks, but you also get traffic. You have no choice but to get in a car to go anywhere, just as if you lived in the middle of nowhere. But you get none of the peace, quiet, and expansiveness of the woods, or prairie, or desert, depending on where you live. (Around here we have farmland and forest, but mostly forest.)

I live in inner-city Portland. I can see the skyline from my front yard. I can walk there in forty-five minutes if I feel like getting some exercise. More important, I have lord only knows how many restaurants, bookstores, cafes, movie theaters, urban parks, corner stores and practically everything else within five minutes walking distance from my front porch. Now that I donít have an office job and do all my work from home (or, just as often, in a coffeeshop) I almost never have to get in my car. I can do or get anything in less time on foot than it takes a suburbanite in a car.

I grew up in Salem, Oregon, which is forty-five miles south. Itís not a small town, itís a suburb without a city attached. Itís just barely too far from Portland to be a part of the metro area, especially from the point of view of a kid who canít drive. Portland might as well have been in Canada for all its ďclosenessĒ was worth. Salem was (and still is) a dead moon in a long-shot orbit.

I was perfectly happy with Salem when I was six. I didnít know it from Manhattan or Palookaville. When I was sixteen it was awful - truly a thundering bore. Now that Iím 33, my detestation for that town is at its peak. Not only is it a dreary smear of strip malls and burger joints, itís a cultural black hole. You want museums, live music, bookstore readings, the theater? Forget it. Drive an hour to Portland. Worst of all, the place is an utter dead-end. Anyone who grows up in Salem absolutely must leave. There is little opportunity there outside the low-wage service sector and the state bureaucracy. Several people I grew up with never left, and every person I know who stayed is less successful than every person I know who got out. The place is a trap that must be escaped. I'm surprised how many don't make it. Supposedly itís a great place to raise kids, but I donít know a single person who grew up there and left who agrees.

I know itís harder to find good schools and enough space to raise kids in Manhattan, as Megan McArdle explains in her post. But not every city is like Manhattan. Most cities arenít.

In Portland (as well as in other cities of a similar size, such as Minneapolis and Seattle) itís easy. Some of our best schools are in the city, and the nicest neighborhoods are definitely in the city. Nothing in the Ďburbs can compare to our heavily wooded Victorian neighborhoods and the top-notch schools nestled inside them. The pre-automobile urban design is far easier on the eyes, and you can get anywhere without a car. Thatís a bonus for bored kids and also for parents who otherwise have to cart them around.

There isnít a right or wrong answer in the city versus suburb debate. Salem may have had some (well-hidden) advantages for me, at least when I was small, even though it didnít as I got older. There probably are drawbacks to growing up in the city, disadvantages that I'm not aware of since I didn't have that experience.

My real point is this: Conventional wisdom says suburbs are better for kids, and that any kid who grew up in the suburbs agrees. Iím saying thatís false. You can find people who were happily raised in the suburbs, and you can find others who were glad to grow up in a city. But you can also find people who grew up in the suburbs and hated it.

Every single one of my childhood friends who made it out, either to Portland or to a city someplace else, are glad they got out and wish they didnít start out in that town in the first place. None of us like to go back. Itís boring, itís ugly, and worst of all itís depressing.

Not everyone agrees. My parents love Salem and think Iím totally full of it. Either way, it doesnít matter whoís ďright,Ē since much of this is a matter of personality, taste, and opinion. But donít go thinking itís a no-brainer that your kids will be glad you reared Ďem up in the Ďburbs. You might be surprised what they say when they get a bit older.

Maybe itís worth asking where they want to live. If you prefer to live in a city, donít torture yourself in the suburbs just for your kids. If my parents asked me if I'd rather live in a city I would have said yes.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2004 10:10 PM
Comments

I agree 100%. I grew up in a suburb of Sacramento, where the only way to get around was by bicycle, but there was too much traffic to really get outside the neighborhood (and ANYTHING worth going to was outside the neighborhood).
I plan to bring up my kids in the city. You make Portland sound very appealing.

Posted by: John T at May 19, 2004 10:23 PM

Ditto. I grew up in Dallas, one vast suburb. "There is no there there," as Gertrude Stein famously said about Oakland, CA.
I agree with everything you said, especially making the distinction between suburb and country. Urban life has the density of variation that country life has. Both are fractal. Suburbs are Newtonian, too manicured and identical to be interesting.

I lived 20 years in downtown Philadelphia, and now Manhattan, with 10 years in between in Austin, which is pretty sprawling and suburban, but has other charms. But! The last few years before I left the new rage was building loft apartments in downtown Austin, and doing the whole Urban Design thing. Everyone who bought one of these apts (and they had waiting lists for them) crowed in news articles about how great it was to not have to use their car, to be walking distance from work and theater, etc. This downtown-loft phenomenon has been noted in many suburban sprawl cities (Dallas too), and they are always highly sought after, so many people want to live an urban life.

As for raising kids - NYC kids get mature and street smart fast, and pride themselves on that. I always see schoolkids on the subways and buses by themselves. I wish I was raised that way. And of course this is normal in Europe.

Posted by: Yehudit at May 19, 2004 10:40 PM

I live in a Buffalo suburb, and I know exactly why I live here. The schools are better. The taxes are lower. The crime rate is lower.

(And despite what you say about bookstores and cafes, we've got those too. Hell, even the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra plays at the SUNY Buffalo campus ten minutes from where I live -- in the suburbs.)

My son may grow up to hate the suburbs as you do. But he's not the one paying for everything, is he? Truth is, if we lived downtown on what I make my son would be getting an inferior education; and we'd live in a high crime area, since I don't have the bucks for the better city neighborhoods.

It's simple: crime, taxes, schools. Those three things trump museums and cafes for folks like me. Things may be different in Portland, but in Buffalo, there's no better place to raise a kid on a modest income.

Posted by: Seneca Dad at May 19, 2004 11:14 PM

Maybe it's just me, but I think every kid should have a yard to play in. My best memories from childhood are of shimmying up trees, playing in the woods and catching butterflies. Yes, in suburbia. It gets boring when you get older but at the same time part of this is the excitement generated from venturing into the city.

Anyway, different strokes for different folks.

Posted by: lindenen at May 19, 2004 11:18 PM

Maybe it's just me, but I think every kid should have a yard to play in. My best memories from childhood are of shimmying up trees, playing in the woods and catching butterflies. Yes, in suburbia. It gets boring when you get older but at the same time part of this is the excitement generated from venturing into the city.

Anyway, different strokes for different folks.

Posted by: lindenen at May 19, 2004 11:19 PM

Linden: Maybe it's just me, but I think every kid should have a yard to play in.

I have a yard. It's probably not as big as yours, but it's a yard. I don't live in Manhattan, though...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 19, 2004 11:30 PM

It is typically American to NOT want to live where or like one's parents. ;-)
I moved to the suburbs for my children = I wanted to live in the suburbs.

The next generation says, I would have preferred to live in the City, and now I live there with MY children and it's better.

Guess where the grandchildren will settle down? ;-)

Posted by: Dan Kauffman at May 20, 2004 12:56 AM

Maybe it's just Salem, O.

Ursula le Guin wrote a short story called "The ones who walked away from Omelas", and the name of the mythical town comes from what "Salem, O" looks like in the rear view mirror as one is leaving.

Posted by: parallel at May 20, 2004 02:10 AM

Ahhhh...the old city/suburb debate.

When determining which is better, I think it all depends on where you are in your life. Sure, there are drawbacks to both, but age has more to do with it than anything.

For me, I'm 22 and I attend an urban university. The city is absolutely the place to be. Half my friends don't even own automobiles. My friend Tom gets around on a Vespa Scooter, doesn't have a license or insurance, and is one of the happiest guys I know. There's definitely something to be said for this kind of lifestyle, especially when you're young. For various personal reasons (yeah, Michael, that personal reason) I might soon be joining my friends. Maybe even investing in an Italian Scooter, too. It works in Europe, right?

Well, I can't speak for middle-aged folks with children to raise and I sure as hell can't speak for retired folks. I can only speak for myself and maybe for all 22-year-olds everywhere when I say that youth and urban living seem to naturally fit somehow. If any other 22-year-olds read this, that's my advice to you. Otherwise...to each his own.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at May 20, 2004 03:05 AM

Oh, and PS...

Yeah, Roman Holiday IS an inspiration. I'd be a huge liar if I said otherwise. But is there really anything wrong with that?!

Posted by: Grant McEntire at May 20, 2004 03:11 AM

MJT: you're right about this being about personal preference. I recently told a good friend - who is a city dweller with a nearly school-aged child and looking to move to the suburbs because of the schools - that he needs to understand that anytime he wants to do something he will have to get in his car and drive at least 8 miles.

My wife and I decided to raise our kids in suburbia because the cities around here have deplorable public schools and crime is a serious source of worry. However, once they are grown and on their own it is into the city for us, cuz' anytime we want to do something we have to get in our car and drive at least 8 miles.

Posted by: steve at May 20, 2004 03:41 AM

MJT,

I have the best of both worlds. I live in the 'burbs and work in Philly, commuting by train. My kids are within walking distance of a quality elementary school, ballfield, swimming pool, playground and small creek where they can see turtles, frogs, ducks and fish. We live in a house that would cost twice as much in Philly - at least. I don't have to pay confiscatory taxes for lousy services and schools. I don't have to pay for private school tuition for my kids to get a good education. I enjoy the amenities of the city by day and leave the problems behind at night. The problems I leave behind make living in the city prohibitive.

And speaking of problems, here is an example of the problems I leave behind in Philly:

http://www.americanthinker.com/articles.php?article_id=3551

Posted by: HA at May 20, 2004 03:52 AM

Did Mumia ever get a new trial, by the way? I know this was a big deal for a really long time with alot of people. If he recently got his sentence reduced to life in prison instead of the death penalty, how did that come about?

I happen to know a little about the case. It's my opinion that the bastard most probably did it and that he hardly deserves the adoration of anyone. I do, however, also happen to think he deserves a new trial seeing as how the first one was as crooked and mismanaged as it was. I hope the guy got his trial, a fair trial, and is still stuck in jail the rest of his life as a result. It would kind of go a long way in restoring my faith in the American criminal justice system.

Though it's really aside from the point, I'm glad his sentence was changed to life imprisonment as I don't believe that the State ought to be in the business of murdering its own citizens. That's got nothing to do with Mumia though, like I said. Just the liberal principles of limited government upon which this nation was founded.

But someone please update me on the whole Mumia thing. I'm dying to know, because this is news to me.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at May 20, 2004 04:26 AM

HA...

That AmericanThinker.com isn't a half-bad site, I have to admit. There's an article entitled "Why Does the Left Hate Israel" that actually takes the time to differentiate between liberals and leftists before actually getting into the argument. And they do a damn good job of drawing the line, if I do say so myself. The "one key test" bit is, in a nutshell, entirely correct. And they even take the time to highlight the more hawkish (Gephardt and Lieberman) wing of the liberal establishment. I'm thoroughly impressed with the intellectual honesty. Maybe even a bit surprised.

Just thought I'd throw that out there. This Scoop Jackson liberal is certainly appreciative.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at May 20, 2004 04:50 AM

"Inner city" doesn't mean inside a city, it is a euphemism for something else. Cities like Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis doesn't really even have an inner city. If MJT really wants to know what inner city living is like, he should move to cities like Detroit, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Cinncinati, etc... then tell us how good inner cities are for raising kids.

Posted by: JJ Walker at May 20, 2004 06:40 AM

Yehudit,

Downtown Philadelphia, Austin, and Manhanttan is not inner city. You lived in all the young urban professional hip neighborhoods. That's not what inner city means. Inner city is North Philly, The Bronx, and East Austin (actually Austin is too white to have an inner city).

Posted by: JJ Walker at May 20, 2004 06:46 AM

That AmericanThinker.com isn't a half-bad site, I have to admit. There's an article entitled "Why Does the Left Hate Israel" that actually takes the time to differentiate between liberals and leftists before actually getting into the argument.

--
These leftists hate Israel? That must be news to them

I guess you'd say these guy's hate Israel too

Posted by: calibar at May 20, 2004 06:50 AM

HA -- I'm sure you do love the quality public schools in your area. Do you support vouchers for parents in YOUR kid's school district, even though it means fewer resources for those who want to keep their kids in their current public school?

Grant -- I'm not sure what kind of a "Scoop Jackson liberal" you are, but if you're the old-fashioned kind, the sort that existed in the 1970's and is not averse to a government role in the economy, you might be interested in Social Democrats USA. They are not terribly active, and not active at all outside of Washington DC as far as I can tell, but they are what remains of the anti-communist wing of the old Socialist Party. Their website, which should be linked under my name, contains some interesting articles.

Posted by: Markus Rose at May 20, 2004 06:53 AM

I sometimes wonder if Grant is really thinking carefully when he makes claims about leftists hating Israel or if it's just something he heard that fit into a paranoid American fantasy about 'leftists'? I fear I know the answer.

Posted by: calibar at May 20, 2004 07:00 AM

Seneca Dad,

Buffalo is not a great example. There is no city there anymore, it's been completely gutted by white flight and awful urban development schemes. "City" does not have to mean crime. In places like Boston, Portland, Seattle the crims rates are arguably lower than the 'burbs. In fact crime has been migrating to the suburbs for decades. These days the worse places to raise kids are the exurbs - places like the Poconos (where my wife grew up) are now full of drugs and all sorts of "inner-city" problems.

Posted by: Vanya at May 20, 2004 07:20 AM

This entirely depends on one's preferences, and how one wants to live one's life. There is no final answer.

Posted by: Eric Blair at May 20, 2004 07:27 AM

I lived in both a suburby small town and a city growing up, and, while I did have fun playing in the woods and all as a kid, my mother was absolutely miserable living in the suburbs. Kids do pick up on that stuff, and it's rubbed off on me and caused me to be pretty much totally anti-suburbs (for my own family, anyway).

Live where it makes you happy, if not your ideal dream location, at least someplace that doesn't make you miserable. It's really more important that a parent actually likes getting out of bed in the morning than living somehwere they despise because it's supposed to be better for the kids. I think a lot of the people who favor the suburbs actually do like living there, and that's great. If you PREFER the suburbs, you should live there. I'm raising my kid in a small, diverse city, and I don't have any desire to move to the burbs, ever.

I also think that all of the "safety" benefits of living in the suburbs are completely wiped out when you factor in the fact that you have to drive everywhere, and 16 year olds are routinely given cars. I was bussed from the city to a suburban high school in the late 80s, and we mourned at least one or two suburban kids each year I was there to car wrecks. No (carless) city students were killed in any manner. And by the time my youngest sister graduated from the same school, the number of suburban kids with cars increased dramatically. So... people can leave the city out of fear of urban crime, but I'm personally much more afraid of being on the road in the suburbs.

Posted by: HQ at May 20, 2004 07:53 AM

MJT, I'm very sympathetic to your views on suburbs, and in my experience they're only getting worse. The town where I spent my HS years was once full of open areas, grass and trees, and quiet streets. Now the state's biggest mall has been built there, along with maybe fifty giant stores in strip malls which line it on each side, and more strip malls and duplicate grocery stores are going in all over town, along with gigantic housing developments. In my opinion, it's zoning commissions or whoever else approves this kind of thing that destroy surburban landscapes, with no foresight and no concerns beyond that of the town's immediate income. All of your complaints have now come true in my town (Lake Orion, MI).

I like the idea of debubnking a lot of the myths about city life. I now live in DC, in the District itself, and see the benefits of walking everywhere, of having culture just across the street, etc. But the city experience for many people is not like you and I have it, and I think that has to be noted. DC is split sharply down the middle (almost literally, geographically speaking) and those on the east side, and especially in Anacostia, live in a blighted landscape with constant danger. Just in the last few months, by total coincidence, a star high school football player and a fellow student and neighbor of his were shot to death, just weeks apart.

The areas of high crime or gang problems shift unexpectedly. My neighborhood (Mt. Pleasant) seemed like a model of gentrification (in its positive connotations) and upward-moving quality of life, until gang problems cropped up, and out of nowhere we had a running gun battle down our street which killed a kid on a bike, and hit a bus driver in the arm through the window of his bus. Bullets were flying past the windows of a day-care center. I think every other person walking down this street is a parent with a toddler or a kid in a stroller, and they're all lucky to have been occupying a lucky cubic meter of air that day.

So I'm not arguing with your characterization of certain cities or parts of other cities; but I think many people would find bigger things to complain about in their inner-city childhood than having to drive everywhere or a lack of culture. Their geographic closeness to the good life may be as misleading as yours was in Salem.

Posted by: Nate at May 20, 2004 08:02 AM

I live in Manhattan, and if I were going to start a family, as much as I'd love to remain here, I think it'd be incredibly difficult. Aside from whatever I'd desire my kids to have (either a life in the suburbs or the city), some basic facts must be considered:

1> New York City public schools are terrible and a huge safety risk, even in Manhattan.
2> Private elementary schools cost as much as a college education and I can't afford that.
3> I suppose it'd be possible to homeschool my kids, but I don't know if NYC has regulatory interference with that, and it'd be difficult to maintain a decent standard of living with one spouse not working.

The culture matters too. Unfortunately, cities are a risk when it comes to shocking culture. Times square and Britney Spears's midriff is 5 blocks away from where I live now. I wouldn't want my daughter growing up with that considered as "normal" at such a young age. Although any 20-something kid can handle what NYC throws at them (for the most part), this place can be INCREDIBLY corrupting to the morals and innocence of young kids. I'm not saying a suburb would be different, I'm speaking from what I know NY to be like.

If I had the money, I'd choose to stay in Manhattan and raise my kids here. But I think it's just too difficult, and I'd have to constantly watch over them like a HAWK whereas perhaps in the suburbs one need not do that as often.

Posted by: Sydney Carton at May 20, 2004 08:19 AM

Michael,

It's not "Salem," it's "Super Gresham."

Posted by: Josh at May 20, 2004 09:11 AM

It's not "Salem," it's "Super Gresham."

I'm laughing here. Yes, and I've not heard that before.

We had a joke growing up in Salem. Why does no one ever committ suicide in Salem? Because it would be redundant.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 20, 2004 09:33 AM

Yeah, it's not really a conundrum or a battle about which is "better." It all boils down to choosing from among the feasibly available environments, and picking the one that best suits your needs.

Working in an office where we see a fair amount of turnover among young proeffsionals that settle down, I've seen over and over that the migration to suburbia is invariably driven by housing affordability and school-system quality when children are involved.

It's pretty rare for a city to offer affordability and a quality public school system. Sometimes a medium-sized city can create some sort of "sweet spot" but the "sweet spot' still differs from person to person.

I also see lots of young professionals settling down who insist on prioritizing the cultural and lifestyle advantages of the urban environment that you describe. But most of these people soon come to realize that, #1, once you start a family, a car is simply no longer "optional", #2, once you start a family, you're not going to spend much if any time going to the symphony or to lectures. in short, many of the perceived urban advantages just don't retain their relevance to the new family lifestyle. Many new parents seriously underestimate the extent of the lifestyle change they're going to experience.

I"ve seen a ton of female co-workers marry and get pregnant, and prior to the child's birth, 2/3 to 3/4 of them think they're going to come back to work full time, but I'd say less than 1/2 of them actually do. Most quickly look for reduced hours, telecommuting, freelancing, or a new less-demanding job closer to home.

Posted by: bk at May 20, 2004 09:52 AM

Since nobody is defending the sticks, I will jump in. The country is where it's at, plenty of room, fresh air, green grass.

You can walk out on your porch in the morning in your drawers to stretch without anyone calling the cops.

Posted by: Ron at May 20, 2004 10:38 AM

Hell, I bet you can walk out on your porch in the morning without your drawers on to stretch without anyone calling the cops.

Posted by: Dave at May 20, 2004 11:02 AM

I have lived in or been acquainted with small cities in the Hudson Valley and with Hartford, Conn. decades ago. I always walked to work (10 minutes to half hour) and left the car for my wife. The best part of city life then was pushing the baby carriage around the city, seeing people walking the street, and stopping in places like Texas Hots, thrifts shops, the Italian bakery, going to the hilltop park after work for a picnic supper, to the Hudson just to sit and watch.

Alas, all this wonderful small-city life was destroyed by Urban Development, the Highway Program (which tore high-speed highways through the downtowns) and, eventually, by the malls. I have seen the first apartment house in the States torn down, along with 18th century cottages and streets. I have also witnessed the urban destruction of Hartford and Albany, NY all in the name of greed and small minds bent on "progress."

How did my cousin put it? What goes around comes around.

Posted by: Arnold at May 20, 2004 11:06 AM

Dave
I was trying to keep it clean.

Posted by: Ron at May 20, 2004 11:17 AM

Michael,
I grew up in Seattle (actualy the suburbs there) and now live in Gresham, which is the area I chose when I moved here both for liveability and affordability. I would not live in Portland, because, if you want any kind of house at all, you pay $100,000 more inside the city than outside. Pay that $100,000 more for the same size house and the bonus of bums hanging out in your yard. Don't debate that, I work in the inner Eastside where you say you live and I know how many are around. I disagree that the public schools in Portland are better than those in the 'burbs. Maybe one or two, but, then you'll pay even more for a house there. The bonus of downtown Portland? Well, it is a nice place for adults, lots of theaters, coffee shops, bookstores. Are kids interested in that? For the most part no. Do I want my kids mixing with the homeless street kids down there? No. As a parent, I do want to keep them away from that kind of thing. They can easily go to downtown Gresham on the bikes. And they do. Or to the park. Both of which are very nice places. Or to the MAX if they really do want to go downtown. No big deal. Your argument for, what amounts to next to nothing is not worth $100,000. At least to a normal working person.

Posted by: Mark at May 20, 2004 11:29 AM

Grew up on 17 acres of gardens/fields/woods. Loved the country, loved the neighbors, learned the real world doesn't come in packages. However: My fifth grade teacher failed me on a science essay because I didn't know planes flew because of the gas in the wings. (This was West Virginia in the '70s, but the schools down there still suck.)

Went to Johns Hopkins. Baltimore is high on funk, low on my list of places to raise children.

Followed my Ph.D. Candidate spouse to Rochester, NY. Great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there. Seemed good for kids at the time, now with Kodak and Xerox in deep death throes, I wouldn't know.

Followed Postdoc spouse to New Haven, CT. Nice little city in a vast wasteland of suburbia. Definitely a good place to raise a kid, but you better be an academic because local industry died a long time ago. (You could always take the long commute to Hartford.)

Jersey City, NJ. Don't go there.

Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY. One block away, crack houses. Three blocks away, one of the nicest parks in the world, a museum with one of the best collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Egypt. Four blocks away the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Easy access to Manhattan and Coney Beach via subways (which are much safer than the DC subways, BTW). In other words, a high risk/high reward neighborhood. For a not-obscene cost of living.

Moral: Where I would raise kids is not a simple problem. Except suburbs give me the willies.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 20, 2004 12:00 PM

That would be "Coney Island". There's a beach there, you know.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 20, 2004 12:01 PM

All this talk about being able to walk places might be wonderful where you guys live, but I live in Glendale - a suburb of Phoenix. Here, for six months out of the year, if you walk for 45 minutes in any direction you'll end up dehydrated and covered in sweat.

Posted by: Brandon at May 20, 2004 12:53 PM

My husband and I don't like the suburbs or the city...we left the Washington D.C. area for a small, rural mountain community in West Virginia 3 years ago.

I think the schools here are better because the parents know all the kids. In the city and the suburbs, the schools are huge and anonymous, unless you're talking private school.

We live on five acres and have a mortgage for $69,000. Our friends who live in the suburbs of Maryland have $350,000 mortgages on average...we don't know anyone who can afford to live in the safe part of the city.

When cars pass each other on the road out here, everyone always waves hello at each other. Back in the city/suburbs, you're much more likely to get cut off or tailgated than waved at while you're on the road.

I believe that the more and more that people are able to telecommute, the'll start heading for the country to raise their families like we did.

Posted by: allyK at May 20, 2004 01:15 PM

I live about 50 yards from Cabrini Green, and it no longer lives up to its notorious reputation as the quintessential inner city slum. The entire area is revitalizing in conjunction with mixed-income developments being built to replace the high-rise public housing. Crime levels have dropped so dramatically that the neighborhood isn't even among the 10 worst crime zones in the City of Chicago.

An article about the transformation:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/12/11/60II/main532704.shtml

Posted by: Doug at May 20, 2004 01:27 PM

The place I live is the best of both worlds -- a political moderate-to-liberal college town. We have all of the culture, galleries, little cafes, parks, bookstores and such that a large city has, but without the noise and traffic. There are nice old tree-filled neighborhoods within walking distance of the downtown and campus, a good school system, and a fairly inexpensive cost of living relative to a "real" city. For those who like suburbs, we have a small belt of suburban style housing and big-box shopping on the edge of town, but since the town as a whole is small, even if you lived out there, you are only a short bus ride or drive from the "urban" areas.

Posted by: Mike Silverman at May 20, 2004 01:49 PM

It's nice to have a backyard to play in when you're a little kid, but once you become a teenager the suburbs are an awful bore. If parents want to live in the suburbs, they'd be doing their kids a favor if they have easy bus and train access to the city.

Rural areas are nice to visit, but I'm not sure I'd like to live there. Friends of ours moved to a cabin in Minnesota, and their social life pretty much revolves around church and the local bait shop. It can get very quiet out there.

Posted by: mary at May 20, 2004 03:08 PM

Mike,

Are you in Lawrence? Nice town, I hear.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 20, 2004 04:13 PM

The best environment is a combination of city, suburb, and country: Standalone houses on a large plot in a smaller city, near open space, near the city's downtown, and within driving distance of a big city. You're near a downtown area big enough for the bookstore/cafe thing, but without the parking issues, near the big city for the symphony, world class museum thing (which let's face it, is a once in awhile activity for most people, especially if you have kids), on a plot big enough to afford some outdoor kid-romp space, in a standalone house to afford some privacy, and near enough open space to enjoy, well, open space.

It's tougher to find these places, but they're out there if you bother to look. Most large metro areas have pockets like these. Of course, everybody else wants to live there, as well, so it's usually quite expensive.

As for the suburb thing, well, as one who lived for many years in San Francisco and is now living in a suburb: The Ethiopian restaurants around the corner are all fine and good, for awhile, but eventually they're just another part of the scenery. I'd rather have an extra 2000 square feet in my day-to-day living space, an extra 2-3 bedrooms, and bigger dining and living rooms for entertaining. That extra square footage affords a lot of lifestyle choices I could not otherwise make. (e.g., in my area 3-car garages are common. It's quite nice to be able to turn a portion of your garage into a workshop, pretend you're Norm on "This Old House", and still have room to park you and your wife's cars. Try doing that in San Francisco!)

Besides, I can sit around commenting on discussion boards anywhere! ;-)

Posted by: Catalonia at May 20, 2004 04:15 PM

Suburbia is it for me. I don't like sharing a living area wall with anybody. I grew up about 20 miles from NYC, and there was no shortage of things to do without going to the Big Apple until I was well into my teens. It's quite normal at that age to hate where you live, and to imagine that things would be better somewhere else.

I live in suburban Phoenix now, which very much has a similar feel to where I grew up. I'm only about 10 minutes by bicycle from the library or the mall, about 5 minutes from the supermarket or the convenience store. You would not catch me living in the downtown section of Phoenix on a bet--too much crime and zero nightlife except for the strip clubs/bars.

Posted by: Brainster at May 20, 2004 04:15 PM

Another Eunice Stone like scare fizzles fast in Oregon

I think it's time for an update in the blog?

Posted by: calibar at May 20, 2004 06:19 PM

Michael,

Yep, Lawrence.

Liberal for a Red state, conservative if it were in a blue state, and a damn nice and beautiful place to live :-)

Posted by: Mike Silverman at May 20, 2004 07:52 PM

Interesting ... my response on NewzillaNotes:

http://newzilla.com/NN0520047.htm

THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME


Michael J. Totten wonders and writes about where it's best to raise kids with a leaning, possibly, maybe, towards the city. I think he answers his question in his final paragraph.

"Maybe it’s worth asking where they [parents] want to live. If you prefer to live in a city, don’t torture yourself in the suburbs just for your kids. If my parents asked me if I'd rather live in a city I would have said yes."

Strike the last sentence and the answer is at hand. Kids will be best raised by healthy, happy parents, which pretty much mandates that for the better part of their youthful lives they ought to be living in a place that feels pretty darn good to their healthy and happy mom and dad.

That's all the more there is to it.

A pat on the head, a look in the eye, an eager ear, and a gentle word from mom and dad all work equally well no matter where the child lives. A happy, well adjusted child combines what little reality they comprehend with their amazing imagination to create a wonderful, fairy tale existence until their adolescence, at which point they jettison their increased grasp of reality wholly in favor of whatever it is their fellow adolescents portray as important moment by moment. That's especially when healthy and happy parents, the kind that are fully accepting of the serious rigors of parenting children, understand how important it is for their children to have a warm and loving, supportive and disciplined home, again, regardless where that home may be.

If the question is ... can a child be as happy in the city as in the suburbs as in the country, the answer is of course. But the easy answer is that kids will be happiest wherever it is that mom and dad are happiest.

Posted by: Newzilla at May 20, 2004 08:26 PM

Total agreement.
I live in Columbus, Ohio, home of German Village (largest renovated historical district in the US) Victorian villiage, Italian Village, and Olde Town East (where I live). The former two locales are models of urban redevelopment, pristine, hip, and central. The latter two have in the past ten years taken the example and are architechturally beautiful, commercially ascending districts. All four neighborhoods are within two miles of the city center. In the face of the city's briskly growing population, textbook sprawl, and worsening traffic, significantly increasing numbers are bucking the trend and moving inward, rather than trampling some more farmland. It gets nicer every year. Y'all should visit.

Posted by: Jeremy Smyczek at May 20, 2004 08:34 PM

I've lived in Minneapolis - and its 'burbs - for 30 years now. Both are great. Each has its charms - and its downsides.

As a Realtor, I can tell you that within the city limits, you will pay more - dramatically more - for a similarly sized home with decent condition as in the suburbs.

I'm 20 minutes from downtown, live on 1.5 acres and can walk 5 minutes to one of two lakes. My block has people of different races, different ages, married, single - you name it.

Personally, though I have loved my homes in the city, I like being able to look out all my windows and see only trees and ground cover and deer and 'coons and foxes and wild turkeys who try to enter the house through my sliding glass doors. (So far, they have been unsuccessful.)

Live where you feel more comfortable. People simply are different - and whatever their choice, it may be right for them.

Posted by: Peg K at May 20, 2004 10:15 PM

To whoever said that the Ethiopian restaurants "around the corner" eventually just turn into "another part of the scenery"...

You must not be eating at very good Ethiopian restaurants. Really good Ethiopian food is well worth sacrificing the "extra square footage" (and that's to say nothing of Indian food which is on a whole other plain; I live for Tikka Masala take-out).

Posted by: Grant McEntire at May 20, 2004 11:04 PM

Grant,

I don't believe that the State ought to be in the business of murdering its own citizens. That's got nothing to do with Mumia though, like I said. Just the liberal principles of limited government upon which this nation was founded.

I agree with you on the death penalty. Not that it makes me squeamish. Most of these bastards deserve to fry, and Mumia is at the top of that list. But until we can achieve certainty that no innocent person will ever fry, I'm opposed to the death penalty. That won't happen until we invent the perfect human being and perfect law-enforcement and judicial systems. In other words, it ain't gonna happen.

But if the death penalty is the law of the land, it should at least APPEAR to be applied objectively. Even this abysmally low standard hasn't been met in the case of Mumia because he is a black man who murdured a white cop in cold-blood and that makes him a folk hero to several Democratic factions (Congressional Black Caucus, MoveOn, ANSWER, Hollywood, urban Democratic machines) that they need to regain power. Yet more evidence of systemic Democrat corruption.

And to top it all off, Mumia is an honorary citizen of Paris.

And yes, American Thinker is a SUPERB site.

Posted by: HA at May 21, 2004 03:35 AM

Markus,

Do you support vouchers for parents in YOUR kid's school district, even though it means fewer resources for those who want to keep their kids in their current public school?

Yes I would. But this question reveals either an ignorance of the facts or more illogic on your part.

First, that great sucking sound you hear is the sound of resources being sucked from my school district into the real inner-city of Camden, NJ (i.e. post-industrial, rust-belt wasteland not a yuppie-fied place like Portland). My school system spends $9,000 per student and Camden spends $13,000 per student. That extra $4000 per student they spend provides exactly zero measurable improvement in educational outcomes for the children.

You could double the resources squandered in Camden and it would still deliver zero benefit for the children of Camden because it gets consumed by the Democrat-machine bureaucracy. The inner-city Democrat machines are to inner-city children what the UN Oil-for-food program was to the people of Iraq.

Second, if vouchers were implemented here in Camden county NJ, kids would stay in Cherry Hill schools where I live because the schools are good. And the children of Camden who are currently chained to the failed public schools at the behest of several Democrat constuincies (NEA, government unions) would be free to take their $13,000 per student and spend it in Cherry Hill. That would result in a net INFLOW of resources to my school district.

Yet more evidence of systemic Democrat corruption.

Posted by: HA at May 21, 2004 03:55 AM

I raised my kids in a large city, in the inner city. With all of its attendant problems - crack dealers on our corner, drive-by shootings, etc., etc. Lost track of how many times we had to sleep on the floor.

But yes, there were great things to do in the city, and all the culture. My kids were in a fabulous magnet school, and they got real street-smart in their first 10 years of life. Also, real scared. Nothing like having to be escorted to the corner park to play, by a parent and a big, mean-looking dog. Nothing like watching a couple of crackheads knife each other over $5. I could go on and on, with some real hair-raising "war stories."

So we moved to the country. The big-city amenities don't mean squat if you're too stressed out from the noise and violence to enjoy them. The great school that my kids attended there doesn't mean squat either if they can't get enough sleep because of the turf war going on half a block away. Or our block barricaded by police because they're hunting a dangerous felon (which occurred 4 times while we lived there).

Now if we hear gunfire, it's at a distance, it's a hunter. I look out the window and don't see crackheads and junkies and drug dealers. I can own dogs for pleasure, or not at all - not for protection. All this, and if I had to, I could easily ride a bicycle to the small town close by for shopping.

No, the school system isn't the best. There isn't a world class symphony orchestra here, or a big museum. So we have to SPEND TIME TOGETHER and MAKE OUR OWN ENTERTAINMENT sometimes. Research questions on the internet. Take a walk in the woods or the meadow and identify trees and wildflowers. Plant a garden. Acquire some other pets and livestock, and learn how to take care of them. Identify the constellations, which we can actually see, away from those big city lights.

With all due respect, most of the people who've posted in here about living in the "inner city" didn't live in the same one I did (wry grin).

This is a tradeoff I'm glad we made.

Posted by: flick at May 21, 2004 07:09 AM

HA -- My original point was that, as a rule, middle-class and wealthy voters have overwhelmingly rejected non- means tested voucher proposals, most decisively in statewide referendums in Michigan and California in 2000, which lost by two to one margins.
see http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/15_02/Vou152.shtml

I agree with you that public school choice is a good idea, one that more and more Democrats support. Although I wonder just how many cute little black kids from Camden that parents and school boards in Cherry Hill are willing to welcome into their district, the extra $4,000 per student notwithstanding, particularly when classes become overcrowded.

Camden schools, and most other urban, black or Latino majority schools, are presently burdened most of all by the fact that they have to educate ALL students, including the 50-75% of their students who come from environments in which they receive no parental guidance to learn or even behave in a civilized manner. (A large portion of them also perform in or near the mildly retarded range on IQ tests , or suffer from some other testable learning disability.) If Camden and other horrific school districts could choose their student body, and expel nonperformers, like private and parochial schools have always been able to do, they would certainly be able to both attract both competent teachers and administrators (who presently, except for a few idealists, overwhelmingly seek to work in pleasant suburban districts), while improving student achievement levels, all for less money.

But if those schools could pick their student body, what then would we do about all of the students they rejected? I guess in the safety of the suburbs, that wouldn't be your problem, would it?

Posted by: Markus Rose at May 21, 2004 07:34 AM

Sounds like this topic was prompted by a domestic conversation...

When it comes to kids, the decision for my family was pretty clear cut. Safety and the ease of providing a safe and somewhat unstructured environment became paramount. It's easy as an adult to see the wonderful aspects of city life after you have become street aware. It's another thing to impose survival skills on a five year old. They simply want a back yard, a sprinkler to run through, and be able to bicycle around the neighborhood without getting harassed by street characters or hit by cars. For me, the 'burbs and/or rural areas have huge advantages for young kids. They loved their neighborhood growing up.

When the kids hit their teens is where you pay the penalty for this life style. Suddenly the neighborhood and town becomes confining and very limiting. Activities for teens tend to either be atheletic or academic. If you aren't an acheiver in either space you are out of luck. There are few avenues for kids who hear the beat of a different drummer and high school can be a living hell. In a perfect world one would raise kids outside of the city when they are young and move into an urban environment when they are old enough to cope. Easier said than done.

Both of my girls are chomping at the bit to leave New Hampshire for a big city.

Posted by: bob at May 21, 2004 02:16 PM

We sort of live in the best of both worlds, here in Los Angeles.

I grew up in a lilly-white, sterile suburb of Chicago. However, I didn't hate it. It was a great place to grow up. There was zero crime, the "gang activity" at our high school consisted of a guy bringing a pocketknife to school in his shoe and showing it to other students (not threatening them with it, just showing it -- I brought a knife to school -- I'm baaaad!) Since it was a working class suburb, the schools were mediocre, and because of this, I wouldn't raise my own kids there. But overall, it was a great place to grow up. I loved it.

When I finished college, I moved to New York City. I loved New York there, too. The city was full of energy, like a giant superconductor. The people were sophisticated, cultural opportunities abounded, and it just seemed like there was always something exciting going on. But the thing I liked the best was the ethnic and cultural diversity. I lived in the East Village (home of NYPD Blue) and Spanish Harlem. It was great.

The big drawback of the suburbs is that they lack diversity. The big drawback of the cities is that they are filled with crime, homeless people, and the scent of human urine.

Los Angeles is sort of the best of both worlds. It's one giant suburb. But it's diverse, just like a big city. As for culture, well, okay, we have a few deficiencies on that front.

The thing is, I think you can find an LA-like balance in most major cities. Most cities have a near suburb that is sort of half urban and half suburban. Chicago has Oak Park and Evanston. Boston has Cambridge. A lot of these places have gotten expensive lately, but most still feature some affordable housing. You won't get the big house you'd get in a more traditional suburb, but it'll still be a house, rather than a condo.

My current interest is finding a neighborhood where my kids can go into one another's backyards to play, unsupervised. I don't want to have to make "play dates" for them; it would be nice if they could simply roam around a set part of the neighborhood once they are eight or nine. There may not be too many places like that left in any city, but I am trying hard to find one.

Posted by: Joe Schmoe at May 21, 2004 03:16 PM

I grew up in the suburbs, and I never knew what I was missing until I started living in a city. It is so damn nice to look in the newspaper and say, "Hey, let's go to the Art Museum; they've got a display of ancient Indian jewelry that's supposed to be neat this week." Or, "Let's walk over to our favorite restaurant and have a nice dinner."

Posted by: Kimmitt at May 21, 2004 08:00 PM

MJT,

I don't like the term "inner-city" because the images it conjures are misleading. When people think of the inner-city, they tend to envision the hole in a doughnut. A finite, post-industrial wasteland surrounded by something better. This image doesn't do justice to the truly vast scale of the problem. To truly understand the scale of the post-industrial wasteland we envision when we talk of the "inner-city", keep in mind that you can travel from Washington DC to New York city and hardly ever leave the slums. It is not hard to do either. Just take a ride on Amtrak.

Everybody knows that America used to be an industrial power but most people don't really understand the physical reality behind that industrial might. In hundreds of cities and towns like Philadelphia, Chester, Camden, Trenton and Newark hundreds of millions of people over the course of a century worked in factories and lived nearby in crowded tenements and rowhouses. When America churned out cannon and rifle and uniforms for the Civil war, trains and rail and Stetson hats for the westard expansion, tanks and planes and ships for WWII, autos and washing machines and toilet paper for the post-war consumer society, and steel and petro-chemicals textiles for all these periods, these products were made in these places by hard people.

Places like Philadelphia were large enough to support the good things we associate with cities such as universities, museums, theater, restaurants and beautiful architecture. That is why Philly has a thriving Center City filled with yuppies. In Philly, the "inner-city" is where the good stuff is. Beautiful people living in beautiful brownstones next to beautiful squares visiting beautiful museums seeing beautiful shows at beautiful theaters and eating at beautiful restaraunts all next door to office towers where they work at a desk pushing paper or manipulating electrons. But if you start in Center City and walk for 15 minutes in any direction, you'll find yourself in slums. And when you get to the slums, you can walk for the rest of the day without ever leaving the slums. And Philly is lucky. Places like Chester and Camden weren't so lucky. When industry died off, there was none of the good stuff left behind. These cities are comprised of block after block after block of abandoned factories, store-fronts and churches surrounded by derelict rowhouses that no soft yuppie would go near.

The inner-city in Camden and countless other places like it more closely resemble Fallujah than Portland.

Posted by: HA at May 22, 2004 05:14 AM

I'm growing up in the suburbs right now. Fifteen minutes walking gets me to two places: Jack in the Box and Quizno's. If I wanted to go to a bookstore or library, it would be about three hours, one-way. Any time I want to go anywhere, I'm forced to hop in my car and get awful mileage in stop-and-go traffic. I first realized the difference when I went to downtown Dallas with my mom for a business meeting, and she gave me a twenty and told me to wander around the city. It was great, and I can't resist looking forward to moving.

Posted by: Robert Anderson at May 22, 2004 08:22 AM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member



Testimonials

"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

"Terrific"
Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere


Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com


News Feeds




toysforiraq.gif



Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button

totten_button.jpg


Tip Jar





Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn