City Mouse, Suburban Mouse

A friend's donkey in an exurb of Houston. (To be fair, more country than suburb.) September 2012.

I've lived in a city since I left for college. Before then, I lived in a far northwest suburb of Houston that, thanks to urban sprawl, is no longer considered (by some) to be all that far.

When I left Houston I planned never to come back. I thought I hated it. Nope.

Turns out I just hate suburbs.

Some people prefer suburbs to city, which seems completely foreign to me. Musing on this, I decided to try to understand their perspective. I even did an on-line search on "advantages of living in the suburbs." Here are the arguments I found (and my counterpoints):

  • You can buy a bigger house in the suburbs. Agreed. However, a bigger house doesn't overcome the negatives of suburbia for me. That said, many people don't need a bigger house. And kids aren't going to wither with smaller or shared bedrooms and play areas. Lots of healthy, hearty kids grow up in cities.
  • The suburbs are great for families. I don't get this one. Why aren't cities good for families? I've seen plenty of happy families living in cities.
  • People are friendly in the suburbs. The only suburb I lived in had people desperate to "keep up with the Joneses." The few that seemed friendly were only superficially so. Just as with suburbanites, city dwellers in some areas are warm and fuzzy--and in some areas, they aren't. Suburbs haven't cornered the market on friendly.
  • You get to know your neighbors in the suburbs. It may depend on the neighborhood, but I've known my neighbors in cities. Actually, I've never lived in as stereotypically neighborhood-y a neighborhood than I live in now (in the city). The neighbors in the suburb where I grew up were positively standoffish.
  • Suburbs have great schools. Not all schools in the suburbs are good ones. And not all the good schools are in suburbs.
  • Your kids can play outside in the suburbs. I rarely see kids playing outside when I'm in the suburbs. The big character-less yards are mostly empty. Growing up, most of us played inside the big houses our parents had moved to the suburbs to buy. I see more kids playing outside in the city. Certainly it has something to do with density--there are more kids, so I will see more kids--but nonetheless, city kids do play outdoors. (This is likely untrue for kids in seriously dangerous neighborhoods, which exist in the city--and in the suburbs.)
  • Crime is lower. Depends on the city neighborhood and depends on the suburb. The city of Houston has some seriously sketchy suburbs--as does the city of Chicago. And London. And all three cities have seriously dangerous urban areas. Crime may be lower in suburbia than in urban areas, but cities are more densely populated. Also, all crimes are not considered equal. Shoplifting is a crime. So is urination in public. I don't endorse either, but just because they likely happen more often in dense areas does not mean that cities are de facto more dangerous.
  • Suburbs are close enough to the city to enjoy its conveniences. If you zoom in to see a play and immediately motor back out, you miss a lot of the city's vibrancy. Of course, if you prefer the suburbs, that may be the point. Or maybe you spend a full day in town on occasion for its diversity and culture. You're still missing out. (This endorsement of suburbs seems more to sway people who weigh living there over living in the country--even farther away from the motley urban crew.)

Are you a suburbanite or citified? What are your arguments for either?

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Reader Comments (5)

I chose to live in the suburbs because I could afford a nice home there. Anything more than a tiny pre-fab condo inside the loop and near work was not a possibility. I was already commuting an hour home to the west side of Houston - why not at least move somewhere nicer than the Westheimer corridor?

I think you have some excellent points, but I believe there is a distinction between master planned behemoth subdivisions (you could called them created suburbs) and communities that has since become a suburb due to city growth. I live in one of those communities in Clear Lake and could not be happier with my choice. I do know my neighbors and spend quite a bit of time with them, my area is significantly safer than my old neighborhood, and I live in an exemplary school district which is good for my property values. I have a fuller, richer life now than I ever did living in an anonymous complex in the city.

Houstonians can have such an "us' vs. "them" attitude in regards to where people live. One food writer said, tongue-in-cheek, that a suburban restaurant can't thrive if there isn't skeeball for the kids. I think that must be transference of the national opinion of Houston. We are very much a misunderstood and insider city and the same thing can be said about our suburbs. There's cool stuff out here, I promise!

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Having grown up in the suburbs (and since firmly establish that I too hate the suburbs and am definitely a city girl), I agree with everything you've said here.

I'd also add to "Suburbs are close enough to the city to enjoy its conveniences" - If by conveniences they mean, a large airport and access to freeways, then yes. But you certainly don't get the same advantages of the vibrancy of the city -- its food, arts, culture. Growing up we went into the city exactly one time a year, to see the Nutcracker (it was the most exciting thing we did all year, to me, because, DOWNTOWN!). The vast majority of people I know now who live in the suburbs (and I know a lot. I still live there and almost my entire family does as well, in various suburbs around the city) never venture into the city and are quite proud of that fact (or at the very least, completely indifferent of the possibility of doing so as they don't see any particular need to. Why go into the city to eat when you have a Chili's right around the corner?).

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermelissa

Here's my question.

Given that you are a young urban professional (not to say that you are a yuppie, but you are young, urban, and a professional) why would you choose to live here rather than in New York City?

I mean I can easily see you doing a few laps round central park each morning before heading off to Madison Avenue for a full day of work, then to meet friends for an art show in Soho before going home to a modest but very tastefully decorated loft on the west side.

Not that I am trying to get rid of you! Lord knows we are lucky to have Leslie here as she is one of the things that makes Houston great, but don't you at times feel you belong in "the big leagues"?

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

I agree that there is a lot of variety and vibrancy downtown, but I can't afford it. Actually, I could afford it if I was willing to live like a college student, but I got tired of living like a college student when I was in college.

So I live closer to work, in a pleasant suburb and go into town on weekends. It's a trade off, but until I win the lottery or marry a millionaire, the suburbs are it.

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

Jen: Good points about master-planned suburbia and communities that got engulfed by urban sprawl. There truly is a difference. The latter (where you are) is hands-down preferable to the former!

Melissa: Just mentioning Chili's gave me a shudder. Yep, that's exactly the mentality. They also seem somehow frightened of the city, as though there's danger around every corner. This baffles me. I chalk it up to fear of the unknown (which is unfortunate--I wish they'd see how much they're missing!).

William: You forget that I moved back to Houston from London, where I lived for a number of years, and prior to that I was in Chicago for a number of years. I've spent a good amount of time in NYC as well, although I haven't lived there. I liked all these cities for different reasons, yet cities have different characters. None of them felt quite right to me. (Which makes me think of Goldilocks and her porridge.) Houston fits me best. That said, I have no idea why you think the fourth largest city in the United States isn't the big leagues. Terrible!

Rebecca: I'll be on the lookout for the perfect millionaire for you. We single girls have to look out for each other! ;)

September 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

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