Raising Children in an Urban Environment

What’s it like raising kids in an urban environment (like London, Chicago, or Sydney)? I know that having kids is a huge expense, and living in the city is not cheap, either. Does it just make more sense economically to move to the suburbs once you have kids? Is “the city” just not the place to raise kids, what with all the crime, grit, smut, and other nastiness that is more highly concentrated in town than in the burbs?

As with anything, it depends.

I was raised in New York City, in Archie Bunker’s neighborhood, back in the Seventies, when crime in New York was at its worst. And yet… for most people in my neighborhood, crime was rarely an issue! My house was ONCE burglarized while we were on vacation, and that’s about the extent of my childhood experience with crime.

I like having a house with a big backyard for my son to play in, but when I was a kid, we didn’t really notice how tiny our yards were. We played stickball or touch football in the street or in the schoolyard, and had a blast.

Were there disadvantages to living in the city? Sure- but we also had advantages. I could walk to any store in a few minutes. I could walk to a library in a minute and a half. I could hop on the subway and see a Broadway show in half an hour.

There was a lot to like. The big problem today is, if you’re not rich, it’s tough to find affordable housing in my old neighborhood. The barbers. cops, construction workers and shopkeepers who used to be my neighbors keep getting priced out.

I am one of the many that fled to the suburbs but I know for a fact it can work out in the city. However, in Boston at least, it requires mega-bucks to pull it off the same way you would in a suburb. There are some parts of Boston like Cambridge and Brookline (neither of those are technically Boston but that is just a political distinction) that have excellent schools but they also have 1 million dollar starter homes so that is obviously a huge issue. I used to babysit a cute little 4th grade girl that lives in the North End of Boston which is very urban and she seemed to get along just fine. She wandered the busy neighborhoods at will and even took me on a walking tour of lots of the urban parts of Boston. Her family didn’t have a car and didn’t want one. She did have to go to private school though which can be a huge expense for something a nice suburb may be able to provide with regular tax dollars. There is also the yard and crowd issue. I don’t know if you have kids but that really is a big deal when they are young.

I was raised in Brooklyn, in the 80s. Things were getting better but some parts of the neighborhood were run down (there were burned out vacants at the top of my block, for example, which were refurbished in the late 80s & sold as condos).

My parents haven’t owned a car since 1981. I walked to my elementary school and my middle school; I commuted by subway to High School. Public school all the way through. Played Little league baseball in Prospect Park… I used to go to art class at the Brooklyn Museum after school on fridays. The City is a great place to raise kids!!

What’s the “yard and the crowd” issue?

One of my best friends grew up in downtown Pittsburgh. I was really jealous of her ability to actually walk to stores and parks and things. There was basically nowhere you could get to on foot from my house.

Their place was kinda half city half burb though. It wasn’t an apartment building IOW. They had a long narrow house in a tiny front and back yard, with nothing but driveway between them and the neighbors. What do you call that?

My parents moved from just outside downtown Honolulu to about 20 miles away in the late '80s. While I was glad to get my own room, there were trade-offs we made that didn’t seem worth it.

Because we moved so far from where we all worked and went to school, we suddenly had to accommodate commuting times, and had to adjust our sleep schedules. I never was a morning person, and having to wake up at 5am for several years racked me up a sleep debt I only now really feel has gone away (I’m 32). I had “insomnia” throughout high school; in retrospect, I think my body just didn’t want to be in bed at 11pm, but I had to be because of my schedule. These days, I’m in bed at 3am and awake at 10:30am, and it feels right.

I lost so many hours of my childhood commuting-- an hour a day each way when I rode with my parents, 2 hours each way on public transportation. I spent most of that time trying to sleep. It was not possible for me to spend that time studying or doing homework.

All my school friends lived near school, so on the weekends I couldn’t see them. I had school friends and home friends, but never really got to spend much time with either group.

There was more open space in my neighborhood and fewer cars, so I could have gone bike riding and played outdoors more often… except doing so required parental supervision where we lived, and no one’s parents could spend hours watching us. So my friends and I went to each other’s houses, and stayed indoors.

For many years, my neighborhood had nothing beyond houses, an elementary school, and a pineapple field across the way. There was absolutely nothing to do. Once I hit my teenage years, my options were either learn to drive, buy my own car and gas and insurance, and spend an hour driving somewhere for something to do, or stay home. With no close friends to go out with, I chose to stay home.

We had crime in my nice suburban neighborhood. Thieves broke into cars regularly. Thieves also entered my ground-floor bedroom and took cash from my room. I knew who it was, I just couldn’t prove it. It sucks knowing your neighbors are crooks.

Smog? We never really got away from traffic. We lived far from the most congested highways, but it’s not like we didn’t take those same roads and sat in the same traffic during our commute. Our side of the island also experienced massive growth and development in the '90s, and the traffic and congestion quickly followed. In addition to that, there was a large tract of undeveloped land near the pineapple fields, and we often had wicked dust storms and beetles flying about.

I think my parents moved where they did because they wanted to own a place, and it wasn’t possible in town. They’ve long since paid off their mortgage, but for years there was talk about someday selling the place and moving closer to town. If my parents do sell and move to town, they’ll make a profit, which is great, but at the same time, it makes you wonder what the point was of leaving in the first place.