Should I Move to the ‘Burbs?: When to Ditch Urban America

(Photo: Fotolia)

(Photo: Fotolia)

Right now, I can walk out of my Brooklyn front door and buy bubble tea in one of 17 refreshingly strange flavors. I can get a pedicure that’ll transform my gnarly trotters into feet that look like they’ve been airbrushed. Afterwards, should the fancy take me, I can debut my refurbished toes in a shop that sells the organic chia seed I’ve taken to hiding in pretentious homemade toddler treats.

Purveyors of all these essential goods and services have set up shop on or around my street. It’s basically paradise. Why would I want to swap all of this for a life in, say, New Jersey or the Hudson Valley? Before having a child, I wouldn’t have considered it for a moment. The suburbs are for grown-ups who can drive (I can’t) and own a set of cloth napkins (I don’t). Right?

It’s hard to say at what point the shine started to wear off urban living. Perhaps it was around the time my 16-month-old daughter decided the only thing that could persuade her to not grizzle from dawn till weary dusk was extended sessions romping in far-off meadows and eating bark. “Ugh, if only we had outdoor space,” I moan, hourly.

And I’m not talking about the patches of cracked concrete that pass for a yard in New York City. My new fantasy garden is measured in acres, not in inches. It has trees with more rings than Tiffany and a swing set. There might even be goats. At the moment, I’m schlepping to the park twice a day and trying to stop my toddler from gnawing abandoned condoms. Still, I’m ambivalent about whether I really want to make the move to somewhere “nice.”

Back in London, I could nearly make peace with the idea of swapping grimy east London for a ‘burb —one day in my distant, procreating future. In fact, my parents are serial movers, and I spent my first 18 years hopping between home counties. It was fine. Great, even.

But we Brits often get peculiar notions about the American suburbs from TV and film, and a result, these seemingly pristine neighborhoods give me the out-and-out willies. It’s Beavis and Butthead land, I tell myself. Giant, badly decorated piles enclose deeply disturbed families. Bored teenagers want out, Dad is schtupping his secretary, and Mom is blissed out on botox and fake tan fumes. Kids go to the mall for fun.

Naturally, I try to summon these suburban stereotypes whenever I’m irritated by our lack of living space or in-house greenery. The problem is, I’ve actually visited some of these places now, and they’re not like that at all. Well, not really. For instance, those large houses are fantastic! There’s room for cloth napkins and goats.

Better still, I’ve crunched the numbers and we’d even have some money left at the end of each month. It’s very possible we may not even have to sell a child so the other one can go to university, like people do in NYC. Yep, I think perhaps the time has come to have a conversation about the ‘burbs… But once you jump over that picket fence, there’s no going back.

Have you made the move from the city to the suburbs? Tell us your story below:

See more:
A British Houseguest’s Guide to the American Home
9 Ways for Brits to Style Their Homes Like Americans
Go On, Introduce Yourself: What Brits in America Must Learn to Do

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis
  • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

    Ugh – these ‘burbs versus city debates drive me nuts. Just do what feels right (not you personally) and don’t try to justify your choice by denigrating the other.
    I have actually been in group conversations and had people say (when they knew where I lived) “Of course, you can’t possibly bring children up in the City”. After more than a few of these I finally got a spine and said “Oh my yes. What with the free zoo, and and all those museums within walking distance It’s shocking.”

    • b

      Free zoo and museum are simply a “trip into the city”. Day to day advantages of raising kids in a city over suburb are harder to come by. Overall I think the quality of life is better with space and greenery.

      • http://tonisummershargis.com/ Toni Hargis

        My point is that I’m not about to defend my choice of location by slagging off the burbs. Just do what feels best and be done with it.

        • Gabriella Valente

          I live in the middle of a city, Toronto, and have shops plus green spaces,bike paths, and parks. I assume the same option is available in U.S. urban centres. The main difference between urban and suburban homes is the price.

      • Sylvia

        If you feel the quality of YOUR life is better with space and greenery then by all means you should live in such a place but there is no need to ever disparage someone else’s decision to live in the city.

  • Sylvia

    I’ve lived in cities, semi-rural towns, suburban sprawl, and I know I feel most comfortable in one of those types of arrangements so that is where I live now and am happiest here.
    Not everyone is able to choose where they live but if you do have a choice then choose the place that suits YOU best.

  • Butch Knouse

    To steal a joke from a comic strip, the time to move is when you step out of the shower to discover a bum in your bathroom has squeegeed the fog off of your mirror and is standing there with his hand out.

  • Lindsey

    I live in Las Vegas, which is kind of a mix between a cosmopolitan city and suburb. You can eat at all the fancy restaurants on the Strip while living in house with a big yard in Summerlin.

  • King Vampire

    It all really depends. First of all, if you’re to move, move to what feels right to you.
    Depending on where you live, some burbs are better than others. I currently live in the city, and I want out because of all the crime. There’s different areas of the burbs, some nicer than others. One area I’d like to move to is beautiful and green! And you’re not too far from anything. But there is another area where the burbs are home to ‘undesirable’ people, meaning the stereotypical disturbed families (that’s near where I live, I’m not saying this is everywhere) and methheads. One guy I knew was living in this area of the suburbs, and was receiving death threats. He moved, not to the city, but to a different, nicer suburb.

    • Vonnie

      Hey King Vampire, undesirable people? Disturbed families? What do you mean? A burb filled with serial killers? I think you need to clarify that please because I happen to live in NYC and in the Bronx. I guess you think the Bronx is filled with undesirable people.

      • King Vampire

        The place I’m describing is in the midwest. Not anywhere near New York. I said undesirable people as a euphemism for midwest white trash. I thought saying white trash would be offensive, and I’d get smack for it, so I went for undesirable people.

    • Antony Gazarra

      Not all cities are like that. Denver is one of the safest cities in the country. The people here are very friendly, and we actually know our neighbors. I live in what is considered the fourth most crime ridden neighborhood, yet, if my neighborhood was in most midwest cities, it would be considered one of the safest. It’s not uncommon to see people walking around the neighborhood at 1 am.

  • frozen01

    I think this depends on where you live.
    For example, in Chicago, there are a ton of spacious, green parks in many areas…. not to mention a great big lakefront! However, in certain parts of town, this is… definitely not the case.

    If you feel more comfortable in the suburbs, so be it.
    Just remember, with that extra space comes extra work. It’s time consuming and very energy draining to take care of that big, beautiful lawn, and can also be expensive.

    I’ve lived in about seven different suburbs in the Chicago area and yeah, sometimes your neighbors can be downright weird, and just as rude and inconsiderate as those in the city (but for some reason, it feels worse when you’re in the ‘burbs… you expect it from cityfolk but out here? C’mon!) Also, with crime? I’ve had more things stolen from me while living in the suburbs than in the city, to be honest, and in the last ‘burb I lived in there was a violent double murder not six blocks from where I lived.

  • ARandomMRA

    I’ll never understand how mere convenience can make up for all the gross, unpleasant, dirty, unhealthy, unfriendly- just all around yuck that cities are filled with, and on top of all that, for whatever reason, you have to pay MORE to live in LESS space there.
    There HAS to be another reason… People can’t really be that stupid, can they?

    • Antony Gazarra

      I love living in Denver. People are friendly, I actually know my neighbors, I don’t own a car, I walk, bike, or take public transportation everywhere. I gladly live in a small one bedroom condo. I don’t feel the need to own more, which means, without owning a car and spending less on things, I can afford to enjoy restaurants, theatre, museums, and travelling–I have more disposable income. By living in a walkable neighborhood, I notice the little things. I can wake up on a Saturday morning, and decide to go to a museum, which is a mere fifteen minute walk down the street. I don’t have to plan things. People who live in the city are actually healthier, as they are not slaves to their cars. They can walk where they need to go. There are also plenty of greenways in Denver. One can literally hop on a biking trail and ride to Boulder or another suburb. The trails also link the city parks. Denver happens to have the most extensive city park system in the country–no one is more than ten blocks from an extensive city park.