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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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« The Verdict | Main | In which I don't bother coming up with a conclusion. »
Tuesday
Mar222005

I leave the tough decisions up to the Internet.

I can’t stop thinking about real estate, Internet. Specifically: should we stay in Brooklyn, or should we beat a shameful retreat to the suburbs? I need you to tell me.

We bought our two-bedroom apartment a few years back for a quarter and some old gum wrappers, and it is now worth billions. While this is lovely, it also means that if we hope to buy a larger space in our neighborhood—well, we can’t; it’s not even worth talking about. Our space is not quite large enough for us, and will definitely Not Work if we have another child (NO I’M NOT PREGNANT). With the crazy inflation of real estate prices in NYC, we will only be able to afford a lean-to on the banks of the Gowanus, and Henry and his imaginary sibling will develop extra limbs from all the fumes coming off of the fetid waters. So that’s probably not the best option.

So it comes down to this: either we stay in our place, which in addition to being on the small side is dark and loud (we’re on the first floor on a main avenue—in the summer people walk up to our window and ask for money. We’re like an ATM! An ATM for crazies!), or we move to an As Yet Unnamed Suburb. We’ve found a couple of areas that seem to suit our needs: we could probably afford a smallish house in one of these towns, which are close to the city and artsy/liberal. However (need I add this?) they’re Not Brooklyn. We would not have the library, the museum, the park, and the Botanic Garden all within a few blocks of our home. We would have to own a car (gasp!). On the other hand, we would have a backyard. And a decent school district. And amenities within walking distance. On the other hand I will be dead inside (probably). My youth gone, I will spend the days watching soaps and drinking Chardonnay; when Husband arrives from the city I will greet him at the door with pies made of Play-Doh and cigarette butts. Isn’t this what you suburban types do? Yes?

In a nutshell, I am driving myself bonkers. One moment I think I can never leave Brooklyn how could I even think such a thing and then in the next moment I’m dreamily picturing mornings with Henry and Scott in a sunny breakfast nook instead of our dank living room/dining room/kitchen that is periodically infested with vermin. I would give up a lot to never have to worry again about stepping on a waterbug on my way to the bathroom. And don’t try to tell me about the cicadas or grasshoppers or whatnot you have in the suburbs--they are not the same thing.

Basically what it comes down to is there are many pros to moving, and one big con: we wouldn’t live here anymore. We feel superior to you non-Brooklyn people. Now you know.

Opinions. Yours. Let me have them.

EDITED TO ADD: Before I get more defensive comments: do I really have to say that I'm being facetious when I say I feel superior? Do I have to say that? I guess I have to say that. Sigh.

Reader Comments (203)

Delurking to tell you how much I LOVE living in Jersey City given how much I DREADED leaving NYC. We moved when I was two months shy of hitting my 10-years-in-Manhattan anniversary and it was very sad. But now I love it here. It has a city-ish vibe with good restaurants, a pretty cool arts scene, beautiful brownstones. True, you have to go a little further to find *your* favorite places, but then you feel like you've made this exciting discovery. And you can get so much more space for your money and maybe even a backyard and a garage. And you're maybe 20 minutes from the city. It took me a while to get over the whole "I live in New Jersey" thing (and this from a girl who grew up in Kansas). But the quality of life and knowing all the families on the block while not giving up diversity and culture has really changed my mind. I can now say I live in New Jersey and I'm proud.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterHilary
I am also normally just a lurker, but I sympathize with the situation, so decided to weigh in (even though you are overrun with conflicting opinions).

The hubs and I just moved from NYC in August. We lived in Murray Hill and we took the plunge and bought a little house in one of the closest suburbs to Boston. It is still on the subway and everything. A 10 minute walk for us to get to the subway. The town also has a little town center with coffee shops and clothing stores and adorable boutiques that are fun to visit. I did have a bit of an adjustment period, I admit. I was terribly sad for a couple of weeks at the thought of having to drive to the grocery store and not being able to walk to buy dog food or visit the farmer's market. But I have also been ecstatic at having my own backyard and front yard and loads of space. Especially loads of closets, oh the beauty of closets, really. And a basement and a garage. I love my little house and my neighbors are pretty nice and fun. We get into the city when we feel like it and we stay home or go into our town center when we are feeling lazy.

I would sit down, I guess, and figure out how often you do the things that are available in Brooklyn. I remember that I was traumatized to leave NYC at the thought of not having central park and the museums and all the restaurants, but I finally realized that I didn't go as much as I thought I did, and it was more the idea of leaving that bothered me. It is such a personal decision. I also don't have a munchkin yet, so I can't weigh in on schools or kids, although our schools are great and that is one less thing to worry about.

Good luck!
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterhalloweenlover
I've talked myself out of doing what I really wanted several times because "it didn't make sense" or, in the case of housing, because "no one in their right mind would never pay twice as much for half the living space." Well, maybe I'm not in my right mind and I don't make sense, but I always regret not following my gut, even (maybe especially) when I didn't follow it because cold reason told me not to.

While you'd still be you, and there would be other people like you who had also moved to the suburbs for similar reasons, I think you would probably regret your decision. If you have always been urban, and it means a lot to your identity (which is sounds like it does) to be urban, I think you ought to make the sacrifices and stay there.

Are the pros of the suburbs the kinds of things that really affect your fundamental quality of life? Only you know for sure ... sorry, baby crying ...
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterjulia
We expected better schools when we moved from Brooklyn, but are disappointed at what we've found and have gone private. It is hard to figure out the schools before you move, because everyone in the town has some interest in telling you they are great.

We like the suburbs fine, but I think I'm the person you would be trying to avoid by staying in the city so I'm not sure my opinion helps much.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNobody
hey, alice-

what do i know, but you asked, so hear this...pick the city or pick a lovenest in costa rica, but don't pick the suburbs. at the risk of sounding like the worst mother in the world, think about what you would do if you didn't have kids and why you'd do it.now, remember that henry and imaginary sibling(s) will blossom wherever you take them...they're loved and they've got a dazzling mamma, (and father, i'm assuming).don't cut yourself out of the calculus because you think it will do a service to your kids. give henry what you would want for yourself...i think that's a pretty good rule of thumb.

plus, we'll miss you. and i don't want to think of you crying in the parking lot of your local strip mall because the only bookstore is a barnes and noble, and henry's favorite restaurant is applebee's. that sounds elitist. sorry. but seriously. think about it.

[nb. author grew up on a california beachside avocado farm and now chooses to live in brooklyn with husband, son and some rodent "friends."]
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersara
QNS? it's sort of a compromise. a little bit suburban, less expensive, parts of it subway-accessible.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentertrixie
Ex-it? What does it mean, this, how you say, ex-it?

As one-third of the pieces on the board (in fact, I am the king...KING! I wear the pants in this fam-- oh, shit...bishop! Bishop coming! Defend me--!), I've got to say it's not the culture I would miss, nor the restaurants (we order the same damn burritos three times a week while not strolling around the BMA); it's the steeped-in-humanity feeling you can only get in a city. You walk out your door, ZA-BAM! there's humanity, demanding engagement, asking for change, or maybe wanting to share the Good News!

So it's rarely your type of human coming at you-- at least there's a sense that you're sharing the place with others. The resulting airborne mist of basic respect (and whizz) is something I never get when I go back to the suburbs. Here, you get to be near 2,000 people a day and not have to care about a single one of them, except so far as to not punch them as they pass. Is this so in the suburbs, fans of my wife?

Or do you GET to punch them as they pass? 'Cause if you do, I'm already pulling the car around, so be ready.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterScott
You're on the right track -- find the most nearly urban suburb you can. In addition to the house/better vermin/yard/sunny breakfast nook, etc., its advantages will be that (1) it has its own identity as a town, instead of just being a bunch of living rooms; (2) it isn't some decentralized sprawl requiring you to spend hours in your car; (3) the people who live there don't all look exactly alike; (4) a lot of your neighbors are people you'll be glad to know. We live in such a suburb of Chicago, and are very happy with the tradeoff we made when we left the city.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDan
Ex-it? What does it mean, this, how you say, ex-it?

As one-third of the pieces on the board (in fact, I am the king...KING! I wear the pants in this fam-- oh, shit...bishop! Bishop coming! Defend me--!), I've got to say it's not the culture I would miss, nor the restaurants (we order the same damn burritos three times a week while not strolling around the BMA); it's the steeped-in-humanity feeling you can only get in a city. You walk out your door, ZA-BAM! there's humanity, demanding engagement, asking for change, or maybe wanting to share the Good News!

So it's rarely your type of human coming at you-- at least there's a sense that you're sharing the place with others. The resulting airborne mist of basic respect (and whizz) is something I never get when I go back to the suburbs. Here, you get to be near 2,000 people a day and not have to care about a single one of them, except so far as to not punch them as they pass. Is this so in the suburbs, fans of my wife?

Or do you GET to punch them as they pass? 'Cause if you do, I'm already pulling the car around, so be ready.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterScott
Ex-it? What does it mean, this, how you say, ex-it?

As one-third of the pieces on the board (in fact, I am the king...KING! I wear the pants in this fam-- oh, crap...bishop! Bishop coming! Defend me--!), I've got to say it's not the culture I would miss, nor the restaurants (we order the same damn burritos three times a week while not strolling around the BMA); it's the steeped-in-humanity feeling you can only get in a city. You walk out your door, ZA-BAM! there's humanity, demanding engagement, asking for change, or maybe wanting to share the Good News!

So it's rarely your type of human coming at you-- at least there's a sense that you're sharing the place with others. The resulting airborne mist of basic respect (and whizz) is something I never get when I go back to the suburbs. Here, you get to be near 2,000 people a day and not have to care about a single one of them, except so far as to not punch them as they pass. Is this so in the suburbs, fans of my wife?

Or do you GET to punch them as they pass? 'Cause if you do, I'm already pulling the car around, so be ready.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterScott
I can completely empathize. I grew up in Manhattan. Moved to Park Slope in my 20's. Heading over the bridge with my stuff felt like moving away from civilization. After I got over the shock, I loved Brooklyn. It was city but not as in your face as Manhattan.

Then we moved to Los Angeles. I'll gloss over that part, it's irrelevant to this. But now we're contemplating a move back to the NY area. We can't afford a nice place in Brooklyn and we too have to consider schools etc. We're looking at two towns in NJ; one in particular has fabulous schools, an easy commute into town, and is very liberal/artsy. I worry about the sting of suburbia but from everything I hear, this town will feel more like home than home does. I'm content with the idea for now. And a friend who knows the area really well (he's in construction) says this town suits me and my liberal, artsy city slicker self like a glove.

Then again, I'd be moving from Los Angeles, not brownstone Brooklyn. So there's that. But I think there's an awful lot to be said for house-plus-yard-plus-peace. As long as the town has a soul and isn't a cookie cutter bedroom community.

I'm curious to hear your specific town choices.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterTamar
I've been lurking a while, but thought I'd get in and give an opinion since you asked for it.

We live in the 'burbs and love it. It's safe, clean, and green. We love our neighbors. There's good schools. Yes, you do have to drive to get your errands run, but I would think you'd get used to that. Getting to the city for museums and shows is pretty easy on the subway (which you also have to drive to).

I grew up in an apartment closer to the city than I am now, but still not right in the city. I hated it. I always wanted more space, more green, to be able to play outside. I only got to do that when I went to my friends houses in the 'burbs and I was jealous.

But I've never lived in Brooklyn or even been there. I'm sure it's a great place and you're really comfortable there. If that's the way you're used to living, it's hard to change. If you already have friends that live outside the city, they are probably the best source for specific info about that area to help you decide if you want to live there.

We can relate our experiences, but in the end only you know what is right for you and your family.

March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterChristy
Friends of 'slippy, I didn't just post three times-- I was rejected by some kind of weird automated message that claimed to be blocking "negative comments from scripts." I am not a script! A man is not a piece of fruit!

Sorry. Not an e-diot. Really.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterScott
Tamar, I think we're thinking of the same place! But I don't want to say it because it is Such A Cliche.

My husband is so overenthused that he can't stop posting. My comment is so nice I'm going to send it thrice, he cried out! Whee!
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
and this makes 4 cents, but it seems like most of the "pros" of suburban life relate to personal comfort. when did personal comfort become the holy grail? it's just more american wickedness, i tell you!and this kind of relates to your husband's post...when you stretch out on your overstuffed couch, you're less likely to go out and remember the rest of humanity. and come on, admit it, you secretly like the crazies asking for money at the window.i kind of like knowing i only take as much space as i actually need, and as for lawns, ahem ahem, there's the "Great Lawn" as it called in central park and the "Long Meadow" in prospect park, so take that!
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersara
i grew up in a suburb. i've lived in american cities and i live in a city now. i could never move somewhere that didn't have a bar stumbling distance from the door, a corner store i could run out to for the one basic ingredient, and a movie theater that wasn't a multiplex. i'm also very attached to public transportation and sidewalks. i find it difficult to imagine circumstances under which i would give those things up. so- i'm pro-city for myself. but i don't know whether a yard trumps a sidewalk for you.

obviously you need to do the pros and cons list thing (much advised, rarely actually executed). my family also does a thing of pretending that you've made one decision for a whole day, and then pretending you made the other decision for another day, and see which one gives you a knottier stomach.

thanks for letting us all weigh in on this...and good luck.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteranne
Hi, Fin. I've been a lurker, but I just had to write on this topic. I grew up in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. When we first moved there, it was wooded and beautiful, but it soon became strip-mall central -- not much character or individuality. I didn't like it. But I knew I wasn't a full-on city girl -- I love almost every aspect of city life ... except the size and location of the dwellings. I need a little grass, a little sunlight, a little square footage. So as soon as I got out of school, I moved to Alexandria. (If you're not familiar, it's a city right outside of D.C.) It was the perfect solution to my problem. It's still expensive like D.C., but not as. There's still a commute to get to my downtown job, but not as (at all). There's still culture and entertainment and variety and cool shops, but we also have a 3-story townhouse that can contain all our crap. And the schools are much better (and just down the street). It's a happy medium.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlmost in D.C.
Hi Alice,

My husband and I moved from downtown Portland (OR) to the suburbs last year and it has been both good and bad. Good- because we're not paying a ton for a home we can't afford and because we eat at home more often since the only restaurants in the suburbs are chains like Applebee's, Chili's, Denny's...you get the idea. The down side? We don't get to downtown Portland as often as we would like. Portland has a lot to offer and now I just feel like we're out of it. We used to be on top of all the "goings on" and be able to explore the city at our leisure. Now we have to drive half an hour and find a parking space and we, quite frankly, don't just go wandering around anymore because we need to justify that 30 minute drive. That part is heart-breaking but at the same time I'm glad that I live in a safe neighborhood with great neighbors, low taxes, low traffic, and a low mortgage. I'm torn- as you will probably be no matter where you end up!
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnna




We were in a similar predicament to you recently, and we decided to move to the suburbs of a different city. We were living in the Washington, DC area and we moved to a suburb of Philadelphia. We were able to buy a much bigger historical home with a lovely yard, and financially it was a very good decision for us too. The keys for the selection of our new location were proximity to our family and the type of suburb.

I agree that many suburbs are horrible. But we sought one out that had a vibrant downtown we could walk to, easy transportation into the city, excellent public schools and town services, and a strong sense of community. I love the town we selected, but there were a number of places in our area that met those criteria. I think two things that really help make suburban towns livable: (1) age of the town, and (2) proximity to colleges. We live in a suburb that is about 200 years old. As such, while there are some new developments on the outskirts of the town, most of the homes are older and in established neighborhoods with big trees, sidewalks, etc. IMHO this makes the town not only architecturally more beautiful, but also more friendly and livable. Also, there are four colleges/universities in the township I live in, and there are many more in surrounding towns. I think having so many young people around leads to the vibrant downtown and great local restaurants and shopping. Also, it is nice to have all of the social, cultural and sporting activities associated with being in a college town, and it makes it easier to find qualified babysitters!

March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJessica
We grew up in the TX burbs, now live in Brooklyn. When the kiddo gets born, eventually, we'll have to go somewhere greener and bigger. I know there's the parks, but when I was a kid, someplace that wasn't already crammed with other people was my idea of fun, and it just doesn't happen here. If you're used to the horizon in rural Texas (flat, endless, devoid of anything but you and some cows) always having other people in sight gets a little stressful. A little isolation can be healthy, even though, yes, it's fun to be Confronted By Humanity outside your door. We've loved New York, it's been great for us, but some days it's just a claustrophobic, dirty place. I loved going barefoot as a kid, I would never be able to let my kid out of the house doing that here.

And there can be good food in the right burbs; and there are magical things, like humongous 24 hour grocery store palaces, with enormous aisles *not* crammed with drunks, junkies, and thuggish teens. I miss those every time my Orthodox neighborhood shuts down on Shabbos and I can't get a pint of milk for 24 hours, and the closest non-Orthodox grocery store is already closed. I don't miss commuting, but I miss being able to leave my coat in my car. I don't miss pollen allergies, but I do miss wildflowers. So there's the tradeoffs.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee
I vote for the burb. But not if you're going to be unfriendly about it.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJean
By the way, I hope your thumb turned out ok.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJean
Alice, I wouldn't be surprised at ALL if we're talking about the same town! I'm heading there for a visit next month. We'll be staying with friends who know it really well, so we'll be getting an insider's tour, so to speak. If you want, feel free to email me and we can trade notes.

FWIW, to everyone else: this is not a chain-store mallrat town. I'm not even sure they have any fast food restaurants...

March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterTamar
Well, it should go without saying that if we move to the suburbs, we're going to mug you. Or someone like you.
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlice
Yes! Move!And your right...we suburban mom's do watch soaps all day while drinking our wine ;)(I wish!)
March 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

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