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Is it so that they can draw the classic house + sun crayon drawing?
January 26, 2014 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Can you explain to me as if I were an alien why children need to grow up in houses rather than apartments or condos? This is one of those things that seems obvious to everyone else that I seem to miss.

When people have children, they seem to make a beeline for house ownership in the suburbs. Except for one person I know that's raising their kids in a condo in the city, everyone I've met that has children does this.

I understand why you might want a house over an apartment in general, but I'm not completely certain why it is seemingly an absolute requirement for children. I grew up in a house myself, and while I did enjoy the backyard, I don't remember anything particularly crucial about that experience. It seems like that could be a tradeoff with some other benefit of living in a more urban area in a condo or apartment. However, houses are really expensive in the areas I've seen parents move to, so maybe there's something compelling that I'm missing.
posted by ignignokt to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think it's probably a lot of reasons

* apparent safety from crime
* apparent street safety - kids can walk/bike to the store, their friends place, school
* schools are nicer (not sure if this is generally true?)
* yards and stuff to play with
* suburban amenities (pools, parks, playgrounds)
* bigger places (the same sqft in the burbs tends to be cheaper than downtown)
* kids make noise, noise+apartments kinda sucks

I don't know how much of this actually goes through people's heads, though, vs just some kind of instinct gathered from the actions and speech of their friends/family.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:41 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Check out the school systems in the city vs. the suburbs. In a lot of places, the urban public schools are crappy and private schools are outrageously expensive, so people with kids move to the suburbs because it's the only way they can afford to send their kids to good schools. Expensive house may still be cheaper than less expensive apartment + private school tuition.

But there are literally billions of people raising kids in apartments or condos in cities all over the world. Many Americans prefer, if they can afford it, to have more space for their growing families, but billions of kids grow up healthy and well-adjusted in apartments.
posted by decathecting at 7:41 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]


It isn't. It's brainwashing.

What people are running to the suburbs for is better schools, because in cities, the schools are full of kids whose parents can't afford a place in a good school district.

Some people believe that kids need a yard to play in. If your city has great parks, they can play there.

Some people like the idea of kids getting on bikes and being gone for the whole day. That isn't realistic and it hasn't been since the Carter administration.

Good cities and good apartments can be AWESOME places to grow up. My parents grew up in Pittsburgh and they took the trolley to the library, planetarium, parks, clubs, museums and whatever else they needed to do.

I grew up in the toolies in Phoenix and I was stranded in the house in the summer time because if I tried to go somewhere I'd incinerate.

Some people just feel the need to OWN something, but monetarily, these days, there's no benefit. Some people think that it means that their kids will have the same "home" their whole life.

Yet, there are tons of older Americans stuck in big houses, that they can't maintain, or heat or anything else, but they're sticking to the idea of the "home" as something other than shelter.

So you're 100% right. But most people won't agree.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:43 AM on January 26 [14 favorites]


Good public schools are often a key factor in this decision. Many times the cities in the more urban core are not as "good" and that encourages parents to move out to the suburbs. Parents may also be seeking an environment where there are more children around. This provides playmates for the children and the opportunity to build a supportive parent network for the parents.

This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing: people move to the suburbs to raise children because other people move to the suburbs to raise children.

I also think privacy and space factor into this. Avoiding the intimacy of sharing a wall with neighbors means your baby is less likely to get woken from his nap. Having a little more space in the dwelling can give parents (and later children) more privacy in daily life, which is often desirable to people.
posted by jeoc at 7:43 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Space is a big factor- not just living space but storage space. The bigger the family, the more stuff you have and living on top of your stuff can get old. You can generally get more space for your money outside "the city".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:49 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


We are moving from a condo to a house for a lot of the reasons explained above, but mostly because we can't afford the good schools in the city and/or the good schools are far enough away that we would have to add taxiing our kids to & from school into our work days. We are moving to a town that has good public schools within walking distance of the house.

We are also getting a basement and a garage, and a guest room. Basement and garage for storing of all the various things that we now own because of kids, and a guest room so that grandparents can come visit for an extended time without ponying up for a hotel.

We're getting all this for less than the cost of our condo.

I don't have anything against families who raise their kids in apartments and condos in the city, and wish we were either the type or the income level who could do that. I worry about a lot about raising kids who have no city sense, but I also wanted to raise kids who could have access to the outdoors and who won't worry about getting mugged on the el on the way to school.
posted by bibbit at 7:53 AM on January 26


I've always thought (as a kid who grew up in a house) that it had also to do with continuity of residence. That is, if you live in a house, you can be more certain that if you want to stay there, you can stay there. In apartments there are more things that are up in the air and could change (building gets sold, landlord dies, rent suddenly skyrockets) Obviously apartments can be long-term too and in many places, especially larger cities, apartment dwelling is totally normalized and people grow up in the same apartment their entire lives.

I have some good friends who live in Brooklyn who have raised their two kids in an apartment and the only thing they had to do was ... basically be relaxed about noise, stuff, other people and etc. Like, it's more complicated to have kids in a high density place, take them on the subway, do something with their stroller in a cafe, deal with neighbors being all "Uh your kid makes noise and we are sleeping" but it's totally a mindset thing that you can move past and works great for certain sorts of people. They also deal more with community stuff (community playground, community pool, community park) instead of having their own versions of these things. And, again, this works really well for them. Some people just feel better having their own jungle gym.

Lastly, again, as someone who grew up in a house, some of this depends on what the other kids are doing. Like I lived in a rural/suburban town and most people lived in houses and the kids who didn't were often kids living in poverty or kids whose parents had gotten divorced or whatever. None of this was a thing, really, but it meant that apartment living was something that became a bit of a class marker as, again, it wouldn't be in a big city where you can live in a cheap apartment or a fancy apartment so just living in "an apartment" per se doesn't signify anything.
posted by jessamyn at 7:54 AM on January 26 [6 favorites]


It is not an absolute requirement at all, no. About a million kids are raised in NYC apartments; I was one of them. Whether you're in a modest neighbourhood railroad apartment or a spendy neighbourhood penthouse apartment, you're still in an apartment. As far as I know, nobody is telling the penthouse parents they're depriving their children of... well, jack shit, really.

Urban living has so much to offer kids; I live in house now, but if we were parenting I'd move to a 3-bed city centre with no hesitation.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:55 AM on January 26 [6 favorites]


I think you're talking about two different things here: city vs. suburbs and apt/condo vs. house. All of the pro/con arguments above are valid, but some of them apply to only one of these. For instance, if the schools in a particular suburb are indeed better than the schools in the city, you can still (usually) choose to live in an apt/condo in the suburbs if you don't feel the need for a garden, basement, upkeep on a roof, etc.
posted by wisekaren at 8:02 AM on January 26 [4 favorites]


The biggest thing for us was noise. Our upstairs neighbors woke up my infant with their fucking EVERY NIGHT AND LAUGHED ABOUT IT; I meanwhile lost it at every sound he made, afraid of bothering the nice people below us. Much common parenting advice like crying it out felt totally out of bounds.

For most people it's the image of American success, the kids and the house and the dog. I spent 30 of 34 years of my life in apartments and would have no problem with living in one again if we moved to a denser area.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:16 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


It is also really, really difficult to find apartments/condos with more than 2 bedrooms in most cities. If you plan to have 2 kids and you want them to have their own bedrooms, an apartment isn't going to cut it in most places.

Toronto has been actively pushing developers to build more three bedroom condo units, but they end up being christly fucking expensive, and the maintenance is quite high as well, and when it turns out you can buy a 2700 square foot house on a 45 foot lot in the suburbs for the same price as an 1100 square foot condo in the city, that house starts to look a whole lot more attractive.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:18 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


The freedom to make noise without bitching neighbors.

Being able to tell the kids to go outside and play, without you having to stop what you are doing to take them to a park. Kids have a lot of energy, two kids in an apartment with no rim to run around wood drive me crazy.

Space. Having room for all the toys and just plain stuff kids being with them.

Some people don't actually like living in the city, or in an apartment, but feel it's what you'd are supposed to do when you are young. A family is a good excuse to move to where you really want to live with no one thinking you are weird.
posted by wwax at 8:25 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


It's not crucial. I have many friends raising children in apartments and condos close to the city centre and they are very happy. Having said that, we did move to the suburbs because...

Convenience: hauling a stroller up the stairs gets really old fast. Having to worry about noise all the time is a bummer. Not having a place to let the kids play outdoors while I was making dinner or otherwise unavailable was a pain. Hauling a stroller up and down stairs in the totally not accessible subway system, major pain. Trying to find a place to park the car after we broke down and got one, almost as bad.

Schools: this has been covered above. In our new neighborhood the school is public, excellent quality and a 5 minute walk from our door.

Bike paths and parks: yes, there were some where we lived in the city but the nice ones (no need to glean for glass before letting the kids play, no worries of cars veering in to the bike path on the busy street) were far enough away that we had to drive or transit to get to them. Now, less than 5 minutes from the house, we have dedicated bike path that goes on and on. There are at least four play parks within a 10 minute walk of the house. This includes a wading pool and two outdoor swimming pools.

Services: swimming lessons are less than $30 for 12 weeks (subsidized by the city), excellent libraries, a well used cultural centre, soccer pitches within walking distance, a great gymnastics program, summer day camps easily available and well staffed, public (free) ice rinks (indoor and outdoor in winter), free outdoor dance/zumba in the summer plus all the suburban festival stuff (theatre, music, fireworks on special holidays and so on). This place is set up for families with kids.

Price: Our single family home in the suburbs (15 minute drive from downtown if traffic cooperates - 40 if it doesn't) cost LESS than the condo we owned previously. Taxes are lower too.
posted by Cuke at 8:29 AM on January 26


Your experience is not my experience. I know more people raising children in suburban apartments and houses in the city than in apartments in the city and houses in the suburbs. In European families it is completely normal to have children in your apartment and apartments can be family sized (echoing jaquilynne that Toronto apartments are generally small) and units of two/three bedrooms tend to be in nosier buildings with a lot of students/roommates rather than families. My experience of America has been that apartments tend to be in cities and (affordable) houses in suburbs. Plenty of people move to townhomes/row houses that seem to be an amalgamation of apartments and single family detached homes.

I did partially raise my first child in a 600 square foot apartment though; reasons I left included: the constant pollution (I am not normally sensitive to it but the car exhaust was overwhelming), limitation on mobility (access to subways was impossible with a stroller, strollers were completely unwelcome on streetcars, bus stops meant having the child on the kerb right at car exhaust height), carrying the baby and accruements up and down three flights of stairs multiple times a day was tiring, lack of walking distance resources for families, less social acceptance of children (locally, there have been disputes over who should use urban parks - children or dogs - and signs in some cafes making parents feel unwelcome for disturbing the cool university students with their children), difficulty entering many stores due to older buildings not having universal accessibility, and disliking making any type of noise/being disturbed by other's noise with shared walls/floors.
posted by saucysault at 8:33 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


The people I know want a yard for their kids.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:37 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I grew up in an apartment in NYC and it was pretty great. There were lots of places we could go play besides a yard, including several parks and a pool within about a 5 to 10 block radius, plus the children's museum, Natural History Museum, bookstores, etc.

Sound can travel in an apartment but I don't know of any specific incidents that were dreadful (obviously I don't remember when I was a baby though). We lived in a large building, which was pretty neat for community actually--I had a best friend who lived there as well; and we went trick-or-treating within the building. Also, the apartment building had an elevator, so not tons of walking up stairs. My parents have always had a car as well (which is primarily for my dad, who commutes to work), but we also took the subway, and the bus, which is easier for a stroller/small children.

I think wisekaren is right that there are 2 issues: city vs. suburbs and apartment vs house. I think schools are a major reason people move to the suburbs. While there are good urban schools, they can sometimes be few and far between.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:41 AM on January 26


I moved from an upstairs condo unit to a duplex with a little high-walled yard even though the condo was objectively much nicer, because I have an insanely high-strung three-year-old, and being able to turn her out in the yard for an hour while I wash dishes in the kitchen or vegetate (rather than trek her and the baby to a park) is PRICELESS.
posted by celtalitha at 8:44 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


We just had kid #2 and we're pondering whether to move out of our 2-bedroom apartment to the burbs. We love the apartment and would have no problem staying if not for the costs--there are multiple parks within walking distance and lots of things to do, and i love not having a car. Primarily this is a financial decision-- for example, for preschool and childcare, we are currently paying close to 60K/ year, for a not-fancy school. Other costs, from haircuts to swimming lessons, are also high. Our public schools are terrible. And, to be honest, at this point in our lives we are not really taking advantage of living in the city on a daily basis, although we do go to the zoo and museums. So it's starting to look appealing to move somewhere with space for both kids to have a bedroom, good public schools, and lower overall cost of living.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:06 AM on January 26


In New York, your options for school in the city are either twelve years in private schools with five-figure tuition or taking your chances on the handful of hotly contested seats in selective admission schools like Stuyvesant, etc. Meanwhile across the bridge, a mortgage payment approximately the same as your rent gets you two more bedrooms and a guaranteed seat at a public school which certainly isn't Stuyvesant but at least doesn't have metal detectors at the entrances. I also believe the quality of education, ignoring safety, is also better at the median suburban school than the median NYC public school, but that's a harder claim to prove.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:24 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a suburban house with a yard, and it allowed me to develop a real closeness with the outdoors that public parks wouldn't have. My parents knew the names of all the plants and let me help pick new ones to put in the garden, I got to pull up weeds and make mud pies, and I found all sorts of cool insects and mushrooms. I loved my yard.

I'm certain that childhood in the city would have allowed me totally different but equally great experiences, though.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:34 AM on January 26


houses have yards. anything above ground floor in a condo/apartment building has no yard. a common area with grass is not the same thing as a yard. if my brothers and i growing up didn't have a yard to play in, our fallback would have been "let's cause trouble for our neighbors to amuse ourselves."
posted by bruce at 9:53 AM on January 26


Some people like the idea of kids getting on bikes and being gone for the whole day. That isn't realistic and it hasn't been since the Carter administration.

This is realistic where I grew up, and plenty of kids still do this. It depends where you live.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:15 AM on January 26 [5 favorites]


Some people like the idea of kids getting on bikes and being gone for the whole day. That isn't realistic and it hasn't been since the Carter administration.

Yup, kids totally do this where I live as well and in a lot of the towns nearby. This is a matter of opinion about which reasonable people can disagree.
posted by jessamyn at 11:31 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


I think most people do it because it's much easier to find a 2+ bedroom home that is a standalone house in a suburban area. If you want to raise a child in an apartment, your choices are to pay a lot more for a (comparatively rare) large apartment, or to compromise on space.

Most of the people I know raising children in apartments have complicated issues with things like how to put a baby to sleep without cutting off all access to the single bedroom in the house, or how to get everybody rested in a late night crying baby situation. Three people in a one-bedroom apartment is tough enough, but when one of those people cries all the time and has extremely delicate sleep needs it can be pretty impossible.
posted by Sara C. at 1:11 PM on January 26


Also, yes, the whole "school district" issue, which is often a code for all sorts of other complicated social/cultural assumptions people rarely unpack.
posted by Sara C. at 1:13 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


The Childless City

San Francisco: a Childless Future?
posted by alms at 2:19 PM on January 26


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