Stop Selling the Suburbs

I probably want kids someday. I don’t want or plan to move to the suburbs. I don’t see these plans as mutually exclusive, but the older I get the more I have the following conversation:

Co-worker/party guest/friend of a friend: “Where do you live?”

Me: (says where I live)

CW/PG/FOAF: Is that downtown?

Me: No. It’s north and west of downtown.

CW/PG/FOAF: Oh, is that still in Chicago?

Me: Yes.

CW/PG/FOAF: We used to live in the city…then we had kids.

Me: (suddenly and intensely wants a strong drink)

First of all, what is up with everyone who thinks Chicago falls into “downtown” and “the suburbs”. THERE IS SO MUCH OF CHICAGO THAT IS NOT DOWNTOWN. A very small percentage of people actually live within the these parameters. There is like, miles and miles of city outside of this. So much city. Chicago is sprawling and giant. Plus, most of what’s great about Chicago is the neighborhoods.

Getting back to the point. The phrase above is usually delivered in a tone that’s part defensive-apologetic and part condescending, with an implied “You know how it is.” I don’t know how it is. I know why you’re doing it- actually, that’s not true either. I know what I usually hear:

  • It’s safer.

It’s not. I can provide studies upon request, but it’s not.. There are some parts of the city that are dangerous. There are some suburbs that are safe. There are some suburbs that are dangerous. There are some areas of the city that are safe. It’s not necessarily safer, so much as you feel safer. And what makes you feel safe doesn’t make me feel safe. Being surrounded by people and resources makes me feel safe. Not depending on a car makes me feel safe. Isolation terrifies me.

  • The schools are better.

From what I read and friends who work for CPS tell me, the public schools in Chicago are a mess. Point for the suburbs. I think this is the only point that’s somewhat true. And that really, really sucks.

  • Housing is cheaper, and I want a big house. 

Sometimes it’s cheaper. And the belief that your kids need x amount of physical to be happy and thrive is just that – a personal belief. I don’t want to raise FutureBaby in a studio apartment: though you can, and they can turn out amazing – I’m just saying, cramped living conditions plus the normal stresses of raising a kid is hard. But as far as I grow, a kid’s growth isn’t stunted without acres of house and lawn.

  • It’s closer to my parents.

It’s not closer to mine. But this is valid.

Despite all these reasons, people never sound really happy about these decisions – in fact, these points are usually punctuated by “But man, it was great living here! I miss it so much!” or a wistful “I loved being able to walk to everything.”

It’s not something they wanted. It’s an inevitability, something they had to do, and reading between the points above, the strongest, generally unspoken reasons are:

  • This is how I was raised, and I want my children to have that experience.

This is a fair point. I get it because I want the same thing – I don’t want my kids to grow up in the suburbs, because I didn’t grow up in the suburbs. I grew up in a big city then a small city. We moved to the smaller city because my mom didn’t want us to grow up in the suburbs, and if we’d stayed in the larger city that’s what would’ve happened. That might be the route I end up taking. It makes sense to me. I love being very, very close to everything. I love not having to drive. Being in the city is being part of a larger whole, which is important in many small and medium daily ways and sacred on a soul level. Yeah, I said soul level. I was born in San Francisco, California, and I have the right to say hippie-dippie shit like that and own it.

And if my kids revolt and move to Naperville, I’ll cry but I’ll deal. But I want them to grow up how I grew up: surrounded by activity, people, architecture, and history. I know there are downsides – getting into a good school is incredibly hard, I may never be able to afford property, and some areas are pretty bad. I’ll take it.

  • I have an amorphous yet pervasive sense that this is better, and popular opinion supports me.

This is the truth behind many of the points above, and it’s not always evil. People want the best for their kids, so they do what they think is best. I can’t fault someone for that. But it’s not fact, or logic, or in any way objective. You chose to move to the suburbs not because it’s objectively better, but because of the reasons above. They are your reasons. I can respect them a lot more when you don’t act like your choice is the only valid one.

Let’s make a deal. I’d like to propose replacing “We used to live in the city…then we had kids.”, your voice creeping with a mix smugness and sadness, with the following:

“We used to live in the city. Then we moved out to the suburbs.”

I will smile and nod, and probably change the topic to food or movies. And instead of making an awkward break for the host’s liquor cabinet, we can enjoy a beer together.



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