Why did you move to a suburban tract home/suburban complex/gated suburb?
March 31, 2009 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Why did you move to a suburban tract home/suburban complex/gated suburb?

Also, are there any other positive things about your suburb that you discovered after moving in?

I'm doing a project that deals with the theme of suburban aesthetics. I am specifically interested in different ways of looking at newly developed suburban areas. I want to get a general feel for the subject from the perspective of people who live or have lived in these places.
posted by quosimosaur to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
All the usual reasons. Good school district was far and away the No. 1 reason. Safe place for the kids to play. Backyard for the dog. Big parks nearby. Convenient shopping. A not-terrible commute to work.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:57 AM on March 31, 2009

Also, are there any other positive things about your suburb that you discovered after moving in?

Oh, this city happens to have, per capita, the most children in the state.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:58 AM on March 31, 2009

I grew up in the suburbs, in a development set apart from the other developments around it (though now I think the neighborhood I grew up in isn't as isolated as it used to be). We called it our "neighborhood" because it was. We had a pool and tennis courts and sidewalks. It was rather large but I knew all the kids around my age who lived there. It was a nice experience. I always thought I'd live in the city when I grew up. Turns out I don't like the city. Rather, I love the city, I just don't want to live there. I have an aversion to noise; I can only stand so much and then I really HAVE to find someplace quiet to decompress and calm down.

My family and I live in a neighborhood in the suburbs now, surrounded by other neighborhoods that are connected by outside sidewalks and walking trails. It's not a new development, though. Our house was built in 1965, and our neighborhood was completed by 1980. The schools are excellent, the township is quiet and safe. I have no problem with my kids getting on their bikes and riding the mile or so to the library or the movie theater in our township center. We have lots of "greenspace" in our township; undeveloped areas of trees and woods that will stay that way forever. The city is only about 15 minutes away by car, but our little corner of the suburbs is quite nice.
posted by cooker girl at 7:59 AM on March 31, 2009

My qualifications: My family moved from the hip edgy part of the city to a suburb 45 minutes away when I was 4 1/2. I lived in the same house until I moved away to college and my parents left that city. I plan to live in the suburbs when I have kids (although not 45 minutes from the city).

We moved because my sister was going to have to take a 30-45 minute long city bus ride to get to one of the only decent middle schools available. My parents weren't cool with their 11 year old riding the bus alone where she'd have to ride it. Also, on our street in the old neighborhood we were literally the only two children; it was mostly elderly straight couples and gay singles/couples of all ages (this was the early 80s, and none of the gay couples had kids). There were no decent grocery stores within miles -- in the suburb we moved to, we were actually within walking/biking distance of the grocery store, if we'd been so inclined.
The new neighborhood had close schools and universal busing. My elementary school was at the end of our block, less than 100 yards away from our house. They were decent schools, better than the neighborhood schools we'd been zoned for in the city. And safer.
There were lots of kids in the neighborhood. It wasn't new when we moved in, but it was about 10 years old and it was very well settled. Out of 16 houses on our block, there were 4 houses that had a kid in my grade. Our neighborhood was out in the boonies when we first moved there, and as a result it was pretty tight -- we knew most people by sight, people were always looking out for you, etc. On more than one occasion I got hurt or needed help and it was a neighbor I didn't know particularly well who came rushing out of their house to help me or even drive me home. We also had large yards and there was frequently a pack of kids playing outside and in the streets, which was much safer in our dead-end neighborhood than in the busy city.
One of the biggest positives I discovered came after some reflection, when I went away to college. As I said before, the schools in the suburbs were decent. They weren't great, and I didn't fit in terribly well. I lived in a petroleum ghetto and didn't want to become an engineer, which was the only occupation imaginable for a smart kid there. It was frustrating, and when I went to college and learned about International Baccalaureate (which my school counselors had never even heard of) and other magnet programs, I was sorry to have missed out on those opportunities. It would have been nice to go to school where I was the norm, and they weren't constantly hectoring me to take Calculus and AP Physics II. But -- living in the suburb taught me how to find commonality with people who were different from me, and how to have friendly relationships with people who weren't into the same things I was into. Yes, it was a lily-white suburb, which was frustrating; but it taught me more tolerance of people's differences than I would have learned if I'd been able to segregate myself with an ethnically diverse but intellectually uniform group. There are people I literally never would have spoken to, given the choice as a shy and geeky child, who I was thrown together with due to the small size of our community and who I grew to like and have relationships with. That was one of the best things about growing up in my neighborhood -- a diversity of a kind I would never have sought out on my own.
posted by katemonster at 8:21 AM on March 31, 2009

In 2005 we moved to a somewhat isolated suburb of about 150 homes built between 1960 and 1990. It's isolated because most people don't know it's here, but it's literally across a road from a city of about 70,000 people.

It's great. We have a ton of trees, no sidewalks, a community park with a pond, a barn turned into a club house, and an athletic field, and playground equipment. We bankroll maintenance of this and other community areas through an annual chicken dinner. Also, there's a voluntary $75.00 per year contribution to the community association (which is not an HOA by any means).

We have a very strong sense of community, and people look after each other and each other's property. For example, one of my neighbors, 84 years old, finally published a book he's been working on for at least 20 years. A group of neighbors spontaneously arranged and held a book signing event at the barn for him; a five hour event with the place packed the whole time.

This kind of thing, the monthly Bunco nights that a number of the women enjoy, the fact that after a snowfall the driveways of older residents are frequently "magically" shoveled by neighbors, and other similar acts of kind spirits make life good here.

I think these kinds of places are very rare here in the Mid-Atlantic area.
posted by imjustsaying at 8:36 AM on March 31, 2009

Schools/Finances. In the city, we would have to pay private school tuition for our two kids. Moving to a suburb with decent schools meant we could instead take that tuition money and put it towards equity in our house. Eighteen years later, we're sure we made the right decision financially. Our youngest child has never lived anywhere else, and did benefit greatly from the situation. However, our son is more individualistic, and I believe he would have been much happier growing up if we had been somewhere more diverse and accepting. And we would also have been happier with a more diverse circle of neighborhood friends. But all in all, we're glad we did it.
posted by raisingsand at 8:38 AM on March 31, 2009

"We have a ton of trees, no sidewalks, a community park with a pond"

Imjustsaying, I'm curious. I would view the "no sidewalks" as a drawback. Why is it a positive for you?
posted by lunasol at 8:40 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've only ever lived in 19th century-built small towns or big cities (read: higher density than the 'burbs) so I can't speak to the anecdotal experience, but I am studying suburbs some and can say a few things:

- There are many different types of suburbs, owing mostly to when and where they were built. Some suburbs aren't the hell that us highbrow city-types make them out to be, others are spot on alienated living space. In short: it's a much more complicated subject than people give it credit.

- Further, suburbs themselves have been around for a long time, though we tend to think of them as 20th century inventions. Every city ever founded has probably had demographic division of space along race and class lines - which is exactly what suburbs are.

- Speaking of 20th century suburbs, many of these are now 50 and 60 years old. That patina of age (tall trees, etc) makes them a lot more appealing to the New Urbanist set who look for walkability and "livable streets" in a way that new suburbs don't. In short: there are historic-suburbs and then there are the sprawl-suburbs.

- Suburbs have ALWAYS gotten a bad wrap. Go back and read about Levittown, PA - that place was slapped together in the late 40s for returning GIs (well, the white ones) and was instantly lambasted by the same type that deemed the newfangled television the "boob-tube." (In other words your typical MeFi.)

- The pitch and fervor over suburbs (or as the really bad ones are called, exurbs) has intensified in recent years due to several issues, mostly concerned with sustainability and quality of life: 1.) The housing bust has shown that these aren't always the good investment people think they are. 2.) High fuel costs, long commutes, traffic, and environmental concerns all play a role in very legit criticisms. 3.) IMHO a new self-awareness of health and fitness has also taken hold of the zeitgeist leading many people to realize that their car centered lifestyles are not only killing them slowly, it's also jacking up the cost of health care nationwide.

I can go on, but hopefully some of this shows just what a complex and fascinating subject it is beyond just, "Moved for good schools and so the wife would feel safe from the blacks and browns..." rhetoric that a lot of people fall back on.

James Howard Kunstler, is not considered an academic per se, but his book The Geography of Nowhere is passed around quite a bit in New Urbanist circles. He's a little doom and gloom at times of the "peak oil" sort, but that book does a reasonably good job of describing the suburbs through one of the most critical lens I've seen. It's worth a flip. His weekly netcast is worth a listen also.
posted by wfrgms at 8:44 AM on March 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

The move to our current subdivision was motivated chiefly by the desire to be in the best school district we could get into and still be a reasonable commute from my husband's job. We chose this particular subdivision on the basis of price point, proximity to the elementary school, large houses on large lots, a quiet area (our previous house backed onto one of the busiest roads in the city, and traffic noise was constant), and amenities like a great resort-style pool complex.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:45 AM on March 31, 2009

Imjustsaying, you say "it's great" and include "no sidewalks" in your list. That's a positive for you? Seems like it would necessitate driving everywhere or walking in the road.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:48 AM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

We live in a suburban townhome condo complex because:

1. It's really difficult to find an affordable place that will accept two largish dogs, so we have to take what we can get.
2. We both work in the suburbs and doing the reverse commute is insanely time consuming and stressful. (If we worked downtown, we could take the train. There is no public transportation between suburbs.)
3. Very quiet and almost no crime.
4. The cost of goods and services are lower here than in the city. Especially gas.

That said, notwithstanding the dogs and the jobs, I'd much rather live in the city because it's TOO quiet out here.
posted by desjardins at 9:12 AM on March 31, 2009

"[No sidewalks] Seems like it would necessitate driving everywhere or walking in the road."

It doesn't just necessitate driving, in effect it excuses it by making walking not just inconvenient (due to street layout in suburbs, forcing indirect routes and longer-than-necessary distances) but also less safe.

But speaking more directly to the point, I have heard suburb-living friends and family preposterously (in my view) claim that sidewalks ruin the aesthetics of their front yards. I have also been told that it complicates mowing the lawn and can cause playing children to trip and fall (and on a surface more likely to cause injury than grass). My suburban parents would complain from time to time that the municipality's control over the portion of their front yard between sidewalk and street was an affront of some kind, although I'm not sure if removing the sidewalk eliminates this.
posted by onshi at 9:14 AM on March 31, 2009

I don't have sidewalks in my neighbourhood and I really like it too. But my neighbourhood was built before cars were common so the narrow roads are used more like wide sidewalks that cars are allowed to drive slowly on, making necessary detours around hockey games and large groups of teens walking six abreast (I'm near the town's high school).

If I had a sidewalk in front of my house I would lose almost half my front yard, it is less than 20 feet from the front door to the road. I'm pretty happy about not shovelling sidewalks since the town plows and sands the street. The road is smoother than sidewalks for the pram too.
posted by saucysault at 9:33 AM on March 31, 2009

There's a faculty member at Cornell, Deni Ruggeri, who is or was researching this exact question.
posted by salvia at 9:44 AM on March 31, 2009

We moved to the burbs 2 years ago from West Hollywood. We have no, nor are we planning on having children. Ever. So school district had nothing to do with our decision (however we hear our local school is awesome). The reasons we moved to the burbs are:

1. Very quiet
2. We feel safe. I can take a walk at twilight and feel perfectly safe (and it's as diverse, if not more so, than my Russian neighborhood in weho)
3. we have a decent amount of space for gardening and entertaining.
4. no one has ever had to drive around for 15 minutes to find a parking space near our house
5. lots of trees and green stuff
6. no tweakers taking apart their cars in the middle of the night
7. community events we are able to walk to and feel like we belong
posted by Sophie1 at 10:13 AM on March 31, 2009

We really live in the city, but our neighborhood has a suburban feel. Our #1 reason was the excellent schools.
posted by Ostara at 10:15 AM on March 31, 2009

I live in a planned community in Loudoun County, Virginia. We originally chose to live here mainly because it was close to our jobs, and we'd been saving up to buy our first home but couldn't afford anything nice closer in to DC. After living here for over five years, we definitely think we made the right decision.

Our development was a test community for Verizon FiOS, and all the homes are built with fiber-to-the-premises. We liked that it was new, and family-friendly, and built to be walkable (sidewalks, few cul-de-sacs). We are one block from a 15-acre park, and three blocks from the grocery store, movie theater, coffee shop, toy store, restaurants, and other shops. We have an official HOA intranet (with interest groups, message boards, etc.) and an unofficial forum site with a wider spectrum of content. I have never known so many of my neighbors as I have here, and people pitch in to help out (whether it's for a family who lost their home in an electrical fire, or a neighbor that has cancer and needs help with getting to chemo, or a family whose son was killed in a car accident). If I walk with my kids through the park and up to the town center, I will always see at least one person I know, and usually more than that.

I grew up in a less-than-stable family that bounced from trailer park to apartments to run-down rental houses, so for me, living in the suburbs has been like a dream. But I didn't want the isolation (mental and physical) that I saw in many developments - which is why we didn't choose a gated community, or one without sidewalks, or one without a strong social structure built in.
posted by candyland at 10:22 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I grew up in (and still have family in) a community with no sidewalks and people living there wouldn't have it any other way. It lends an atmosphere that is more conducive to getting to know all the neighbors with much socializing taking place in the middle of the street. as people walking on opposite sides of the street meet in the middle and talk for a while. On the street parking is discouraged as the yards and driveways are more than big enough to accomodate each household's vehicles and visitors's vehicles.
posted by buggzzee23 at 11:15 AM on March 31, 2009

Both my best-friend's parents and my in-laws live in a planned communities -- one is an over-55 community, one is not. But they cite the same two reasons for being happy with their decision: living quarters all on one floor, and excellent recreation facilities. It's all about maximizing time and energy during retirement for them. They can stay in shape and stay active, but if someone breaks a hip or gets sick, they don't have to hobble up and down stairs.

They both acknowledge that the older suburban areas in which they raised their kids had had appeal for being less antiseptic, and both dislike the power that the HOAs and real-estate sales offices have in these new planned developments.

I'm a city girl; navigating the pipestems and randomly-placed circles and similarly-named roads makes me batty. I admit that they have a pretty sweet pool, though.
posted by desuetude at 11:51 AM on March 31, 2009

My parents moved to a gated suburban townhouse complex shortly after I was born, solely because of the quality of the schools. I'm glad I got the quality of education that I did, and I grew up in a beautiful coastal town. That said, it lacked the sense of community that many of the above responses cite as a perk of suburban life. My family was on good terms with a few neighbors, but it never felt like a neighborhood. Each household had the luxury of keeping a distance from the next. When I left home, I went on to live in an urban area, and for the first time in my life I felt like a part of the community there.

Since then, I've lived in two suburbs, one of which was a college town. I disliked it while it was there, but now I realize it wasn't so bad: it was mostly walkable, and being a college town, there were plenty of events going on all the time. I can't stand the suburb I'm living in now and miss feeling like I live in a real neighborhood. My SO and I moved here because we needed to find a place closer to our new jobs and this was the cheapest, least sketchy place we found before our leases ran out. I do love the trees and the hills here, but it's difficult to walk anywhere in town (winding roads, cul-de-sacs, not enough sidewalks), it's just as hard to find street parking as it is in the city, and I don't feel any safer walking around at night, albeit for a different reason (reckless drivers--I nearly got hit by three cars in one evening while I was wearing light clothes and obeying traffic signals). It's not even that close to our jobs: I have an hour long commute, and his is 75 minutes on a good day. I regret signing a 12 month lease when we had the option to sign for 6 months, and we're seriously considering breaking that lease to find a place we'll like better.

My MIL-to-be lives in a newer suburban development, and trying to navigate that town drives me mad. It's poorly laid out, and of course, all the tract homes in her labyrinthine community look exactly the same. I once drove around for an hour trying to find her house, and didn't figure it out until I flagged down a cop and had him draw a rough map for me. He had to consult his GPS. I let my fiance navigate around there now, and even though he used to live there, he gets confused too.
posted by kiripin at 12:18 PM on March 31, 2009

Living in the 'burbs certainly allows for one to spend money on other things such as travel. Living in the city itself can be very expensive, especially if, God forbid, you want to purchase something larger than a shoe box.

It also doesn't hurt to be closer to large parks (i.e. actual woods) as well as being able to escape the crush of people.

Of course I say this living 20 minutes from being in a downtown city. I think in a case like that the 'burbs give you the best of both worlds. You can still get the culture of a city without having to endure as much of the negative side.

Would it be great to be able to walk to the grocery store and such. Of course it would, but not sure if it is worth giving up owning a home for.
posted by UMDirector at 1:00 PM on March 31, 2009

"Imjustsaying, I'm curious. I would view the "no sidewalks" as a drawback. Why is it a positive for you?"

Lot sizes are at least a half an acre here, and the streets are more like country roads; all twisty and hilly. We have only the most minimal amount of non-local traffic.

Nearly everyone, young and old, does a lot of walking on the streets. Speed limits are pretty universally observed (we're a CrimeWatch community and we'll call the police at the drop of a hat) are 25 mph max.

No pedestrian has ever been hit by a motor vehicle in this neighborhood, and, like I said, the first homes were built in the mid-1960's. The biggest road hazard, far and away, are the deer. Over time, they haven't been as fortunate as the human beings.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:26 PM on March 31, 2009

We used to live in a historic district of Galveston, TX, in a walkable neighborhood next to downtown, in a beautiful turn-of-the-century house. We moved this master-planned community adjacent to Houston.

The primary reason for the move was that my partner is increasingly more disabled. His doctors in Houston were an hour drive, one-way, from our old home. They are a twenty-minute drive from our new home. We would have liked to have been even closer, but it we also had other requirements that were best met here.

We want a new or almost new home: No more fixer-uppers. We wanted it to be less than $200,000. We wanted it to be in a quiet low-crime neighborhood, where we had a yard for our dogs and room for a garden. We wanted a one-story house; stairs are no longer acceptable. If we could have compromised on any of these we could easily have lived in the city (Inner Loop). If we had had more time to look, we might have found something, but we moved very quickly, under a deadline from selling our old house faster than we'd expected, and this was the obvious choice.

Positive things we've found here after moving in: There is amazing racial and ethnic diversity here. My street is a United Nations in miniature, white, black, Latino, East Asian, South Asian, European... I think this is due primarily to the proximity to the Texas Medical Center, the same thing that brought us here. And yes, we're a gay male couple, and there's a lesbian couple next door. We all fit in, just fine.

Negatives: I miss having front porches. I miss fenced front yards, where the dogs can run around freely when I'm out there in the garden. I miss pedestrians. I knew the neighbors better before we moved, and it was a more "neighborly" place to live.

Overall, it's not ideal, but it's o.k. It suits our needs at this point in time, and that's what counts the most.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:31 PM on March 31, 2009

One more thing, about walking and pedestrians: The only people walking here are either children going to school or a rec center, people walking their dogs, or people exercising. For adults, there are no "destinations" in walking distance unless you happen to live on the edge of the community. All of the commercial, business, and office districts have been located on the periphery.

This does lend a quality to the area that is at once "artificial" and "natural" (or naturalistic). The flood control channel behind my house is an artificial wetlands, and I see amazing egrets, ibises, and ducks there all the time. Other sections are adjacent to artificial lakes. I feel sometimes that when I take the dogs out for a walk, we're walking in a park.

My old neighborhood, human-oriented and emotionally satisfying as it was, had litter, crime, homeless persons, and as much of the typical urban problems that you can fit in a town of 60,000. This place, totally new, is still inventing itself. Surprisingly, houses are still being built and bought here, in this economy. It's vibrant and alive, except in an artificial way. It's not really a neighborhood, in the sense that most people come home and night, shut their doors and never see their neighbors. But it's growing, and seemingly, it works.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:19 PM on March 31, 2009

We moved to a far-flung suburb for the schools and to be closer to our jobs. (Funny, we live in one of those really bad exurbs, and we drive less now than we did when we lived in the city.) We chose an older house in an older neighborhood because that was all we could afford in a town where the majority of houses are new construction. Because most of the people here come from somewhere else (notably, suburbs closer in to the city, and the city itself) and because most of the houses are bland McMansions, I expected it to be sterile and unfriendly. But it's not. The most positive thing about this place, that I discovered after we moved here, was the great lengths and effort most people go to be friendly, and to keep that small-town community atmosphere. People will invite you to meetings and fish fries and high school sports events and junior high band concerts and just to sit on the village green and watch free movies, just because they want to get know you, and the old-timers want the new folks to love it as much as they do. And most people do.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:46 PM on March 31, 2009

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