May 22, 2004

The Old City v. Suburb Debate

MEG McARDLE HAS a good discussion going over at her site about the merits of raising children in the city versus raising them outside of it.

We must say that having no children ourselves, we are glad we haven't any need to worry about such things. All we can do is look at our own experience growing up -- which, in retrospect, was pretty idyllic -- and compare accordingly, now that we've had a few years out in the world.

We grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich. As a student and then an adult, we have lived in Ann Arbor, Mich.; a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; and now, Manchester, N.H. Of all these places, we can say hands down that our favorite was Ann Arbor.

For university towns really do offer the best of both worlds. They offer some semblance of urbanity, while still maintaining the higher quality of life one generally finds in a suburb. You'll find great restaurants and cultural events and good bookstores and a cinema that actually shows old or off-beat movies and sporting events and everything else. And if you're lucky, you'll live in a university town where you can walk to everything, but it's not prohibitively expensive to keep your automobile.

This, as we see it, is good not only for adults but their children as well. For the kids will have plenty of things to do, and they won't face many of the dangers or drawbacks which are unfortunately a part of city life. Los Angeles was a great place to live when we were younger, but the unfortunate realities of life which we experienced there (crime, congestion, bad air and an insane cost of living) made it a completely unpalatable place to raise one's children. Oh, don't get us wrong, one does the best one can, no matter where one lives. But that doesn't mean there aren't places which offer a better quality of life for families.

Now, certainly Kalamazoo and Manchester offer a great quality of life for families, particularly Manchester. We must say we consider our present city of residence a fabulous place to raise a family. (If only we had one!) The schools are good, there is virtually no crime, housing is still affordable, and it is easy to get around. But even for a younger person, the Queen City isn't all that bad, and it's getting better with each passing day.

Now, we note that much of the discussion over at Ms McArdle's site discusses living in the City, with a capital C. To us, it is an interesting exchange, but not one that really hits us on a gut level; we couldn't imagine living in New York for any amount of money. It is not that the place is too large or too expensive -- that's something with which we could deal -- but it is simply too different, even when compared to our life in Los Angeles and Washington.

Perhaps it is our Midwestern upbringing, but the idea that one can live in or near a city -- but still not have a house -- is just odd, at least in terms of raising a family. If God ordains that we remain single for our entire life, we have no doubt we'll end up in a condominium. But good heavens! we can't imagine raising our kids in an environment without a yard. Perhaps if we actually lived in New York for a bit we could adjust to such a concept. But until that happens, we'll stick with a plan of action we know works.

That said, we do note that one aspect of the conversation deals with having one's kids become maddened at living in places which to them, are quite boring. When we were growing up, the old joke about our city was There's Nothing to Do in Kalamazoo.

That's funnier if you know the city's de facto motto was "Yes, There Really Is a Kalamazoo!" Still, it is a fair point. How we wanted out of the place by the time we were finished with high school! But, as it turned out, we did in fact get out of there -- and went about as far away as we could get.

That's a typical reaction for many kids, we think, and in our case it was expected. We have long believed that one must go where the work is; and if that means we stay here in Manchester for the rest of our days, or end up in Memphis or Richmond or Ann Arbor ten years hence, then so be it. We further have no doubt that our kids, when we have them, will eventually come to understand.

Someday, at any rate.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at May 22, 2004 09:04 AM | TrackBack

Well said, Mister Kepple. Ann Arbor truly was invigorating. I would do well to find myself back there in a few years.

Posted by: Matthew S. Schwartz at May 23, 2004 02:45 AM

If you actually DO raise children in a city where condos and apartments are the norm, I believe that your concerns abour raising said children in said city would be much bigger than whether or not those children have a backyard to play in.

Posted by: AK at May 24, 2004 12:21 PM

I've lived both in the Big City (NYC) and the burbs (Southern New Hampshire). As a single guy, I prefer the city, but I would raise my family in some place like NH.

Posted by: Gilly at May 25, 2004 09:13 PM