What is the benefit of growing up in the big(ish) city?
April 27, 2007 11:36 AM   Subscribe

What is the benefit of growing up in the big(ish) city?

I live in San Francisco with my husband and my almost one year old daughter. We love it here and in my gut I have a sense that growing up in a city must be a net positive (culture, diversity, "street smarts", etc). The problem is that even though we both have good jobs - we can't afford to buy a house here in which we would like to live. Before we totally give up on the city and start going to open houses in Oakland and Berkeley - I'd love to hear from people who are raising children in urban centers or grew up in a city and have thoughts on this issue. It seems like we would have to fight to raise our daughter here every step of the way (child care expenses, competitive kindergarten admissions, wacky school system) and pay a huge premium for the privilege. Is it worth it? I saw some information here but I know San Francisco is no New York. Alternatively - tell me your stories of the glory of east bay parenting.
posted by Wolfie to Human Relations (45 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I don't live in the East Bay, and I don't have any kids, but I would imagine that Berkeley might be just as "urban" according to your measurements ("culture, diversity, 'street smarts'") - if not as skyscraper-filled - as SF.

I imagine the commute over the bridge or on the bus or BART everyday might be terrible, but given that parts of Berkeley are closer to downtown San Francisco than parts of San Francisco (at least via public transit/depending on traffic), it seems like moving out that way might be a net positive.
posted by mdonley at 12:11 PM on April 27, 2007

Well I'm out in Concord, so I'm a) in a smallish city and b) pretty far East by East Bay standards. Personally I loathe it out here on the fringes, but we do have a lot of nice open spaces and property is relatively cheap. I'm paying $600/month for three days of preschool, which is the best deal I've found out here, given the quality of the preschool. There's no cultural activities to speak of, but the cultural diversity of the populace is pretty good. From what I've been able to tell, the school system out here is really bad unless you're sending your child to one of three or four schools in the spendier neighborhoods - I've watched a couple of neighbor kids go through Jr. High and High School and the lack of real education they've received is shocking. If you're looking this far East you'll want to be in Danville or Lafayette.
posted by lekvar at 12:15 PM on April 27, 2007

Don't leave the city for the sake of your kid(s).

I grew up in Washington, DC, and then went to a medium-sized state school (UCSC), where I got to interact with people who were raised both inside and outside of cities. The differences among 18-year-olds is striking -- growing up in the city (any city) is a HUGE net positive. I wouldn't want to raise my kids anywhere else.

In general, city kids grow up much more aware, confident, better adjusted, better at interacting with adults, much more culturally sensitive and more street-smart (if not just plain smarter) than their suburban and rural counterparts. In short, they grow up faster (because they've always been surrounded by lots of adults, who generally have shit to do) . This is a good thing.

The statistics say that city kids are much less likely to have been arrested or have serious drug/alcohol problems (because, there's a whole city full of things to do, they don't have to just stay in Jason's basement every Saturday night and put powder in their noses to make themselves feel worthwhile -- and when they do go out and get trashed, there's always a bus/subway/cab that'll bring them home safely -- watch the news... whenever there's a tragic drunk driving accident that kills a Civic full of 17 year olds, it's virtually always in Pleasanton, Antioch or Palo Alto, and almost never in The City).

The suburbs suck the soul out of everything living there. Sure, the land is cheap, all the stay-at-home-moms have their weekly wine and bridge groups, and you can get a lawn to mow every Sunday as you jealously eye your neighbor's 200 square foot deck -- but is that really the kind of environment that creates well-rounded adults out of malleable children?
posted by toxic at 12:26 PM on April 27, 2007 [11 favorites]

In my more angsty years, as I gradually realized what I was missing in the big city, I was angry at my parents for moving to the suburbs after I was born. It's a great place to raise kids but what happens when they get older? Suddenly there's nothing to do, so they hang out at the mall or in the park, and drink and do drugs and get into trouble, and they can't wait to get the hell out.

It is a tough problem. Today, I respect my parent's decision to move because they couldn't afford the city anymore, and wanted to buy a house, and I really can't say if I would have liked growing up in a tiny apartment; it's easy to second-guess. One day if I have kids I think I will try to raise them in the city - if I can afford it.

You could look into renting a house, rather than buying? It's unconventional, for sure, but maybe worth it.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:33 PM on April 27, 2007

What I like about raising my daughter in the city is the casually-encountered cultural activities and diversity. Sure, you can drive in from the suburbs for a day at the museums or the Latin American street festival or some-such, but I can't count the number of times we've gone to a museum for an hour or so just because it's Saturday afternoon and we don't have any plans, or when we've come across some festival or performance when we were on the way to doing something else. In a city, cultural diversity becomes part of the daily business of life, not a special occasion.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:38 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I grew up in the suburbs and then on a farm, but got to go to a city high school. Man, did I envy those kids who grew up in the city. They knew how to take buses to go anywhere (and buses actually came to their streets!). They could participate in the cool gifted and talented programs and act in children's theater because these options were actually close to their homes. They could walk to friends' homes, to stores, to movies. When a kid is still carless, the rural area or even a newish suburb is a big ol' wasteland, in my opinion.

But then very few cities are like SF or NYC with all the "gotta get the kid into the right preschool" pressures.
posted by GaelFC at 12:48 PM on April 27, 2007

I grew up in NYC in Greenwich Village and the East Village. My parents didn't have much money. But I had a great education - cooperative day care when I was really little so I felt I had many aunts and uncles and sibilings tho I was an only child at the time. Public schools that continued in that spirit (PS 3 and Stuyvesant), and when I went to private schools it was on scholarship.

The landscape of where you grow up deeply affects who you are. I wouldn't have traded my childhood city vistas for the world. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you have to achieve some middle-class dream to be happy or to have happy kids. Everyone I grew up with was poor but very very intelligent. The kids I went to daycare with grew up to be intelligent, questing, extremely creative people who are a delight to be with.
posted by zia at 12:56 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I grew up in the city (there's only one, as far as I am concerned), so I am not familiar with the particulars of San Francisco, but I can speak on growing up in a city in general. (Please note that my experience is not everyone's experience, YMMV and all that.)

The adage that kids grow up faster in the city is, in my experience, completely true. I now go to college with kids from all over the place, and freshman year it was startling to me how much...older I felt than a lot of my new peers who were from the suburbs or rural areas. There is an obvious downside, and that is that in my experience kids in the city are exposed to drinking, drugging and sex at an earlier age (Larry Clark's film KIDS is not that far off the mark, even ten years later). It will obviously depend on a lot of factors, but a lot of kids I knew and hung out with were classic 'latchkey' kids with a ton of money, free time and a dearth of parental supervision. The plus side is that no one is driving anywhere under the influence, at least in NYC (because no one drives).

My city friends are on the whole much more streetsmart than my non-city friends. I have also found this to be true of kids I've met at school from cities other than New York. I think this is a result as having much more freedom and independence at an earlier age because public transportation means you don't have to rely on your parents driving you around everywhere. City kids tend to be "self starters": at 12 I was navigating public transportation through five (ok, really only four) boroughs by myself, so it makes sense that at 20 it doesn't fluster me to take initiative the way I think it sometimes flusters other people my age.

City kids also tend to be more cultured, simply because "culture" is more available to them. In high school I was much more likely to spend a Saturday afternoon at the Met than "hanging out" at the mall, for example. My group of friends at home is also much more diverse (racially, socio-economically, ethnically) than my friends here, but that is as much a function of school choice (high school and college) as anything else.

Overall, I don't think I know a single person who grew up in a city--any city--who would rather have grown up in the suburbs. Personally, I think I would be bored to tears. And while I'm glad I got out for college (mostly just to have the experience of something different), I can't imagine living anywhere but a city once I graduate. So that's a downside, I guess--growing up in a city spoils you to anything else. (On preview: sorry this is so long. I hope some of it was helpful to you.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 1:06 PM on April 27, 2007

Even without living in the heart of things, there are usually areas that are close-enough to the city without being unaffordable or suburbs. I grew up in Queens which is a quick train ride from times square, yet orders of magnitude less expensive to live in. I don't know SF, but I'd be surprised if there weren't similar areas.

I think the best part about growing up in the city is the lifelong ability to mock those who didn't.
posted by Skorgu at 1:16 PM on April 27, 2007

One downside: city kids can be annoyingly smug and self satisfied that they grew up in the city even though it was nothing more than an accident of their birth. As mentioned previously some kids tend to grow up too soon and there is a general lack of innocence - it can be the downside of the freedom and independance. Background: I personally enjoyed growing up in a city (New York) quite a bit and am currently raising an infant in Chicago.
posted by true at 1:34 PM on April 27, 2007

I think there is something to be said for bringing up teenagers in a place where there is something to do besides drink, drive, and screw. I don't know what teens in Berkley and Oakland do, but I'd want a better idea before I decided to raise kids there.
posted by Good Brain at 1:39 PM on April 27, 2007

In general, city kids grow up much more aware, confident, better adjusted, better at interacting with adults, much more culturally sensitive and more street-smart (if not just plain smarter) than their suburban and rural counterparts.

Hey, I guess my small city upbringing ruined my interaction-ability, so don't blame me if I tell you to screw off. This is an impressively ignorant statement.

I grew up in a college town in Oklahoma (a state where about 45 out of 50 states fancy themselves better than). I look back very fondly to being able to bike to any place in town, and having lots of outdoor space to play in, and no place where I was warned to stay away from (except the whole of Oklahoma City, although there are plenty of other good reasons to stay out of there) because of the risk of gang violence or what not. Now I live in a big city and don't like it. It's dirty, loud, violent, and too big. I'm looking to move to a smaller city in the area because it will be a better place to raise my kid.

I went to college in a big city. I didn't feel less equipped with "street smarts" than the kids that grew up there. I sure have noticed that people that grew up in cities have a lot harder time figuring out how to split wood, fish, identify a bird call, camp, navigate a map, or perform all sorts of other very important outdoors related skills. I guess that means they're the dumb ones. But (seriously) it really comes down to what you want for your family situation.

Others have mentioned this, but I think it bears repeating: If you keep your big city job and just commute from the East Bay, you will be giving up a lot of your life to transit or traffic. That time adds up. Make sure that you really, seriously weigh the commute in any calculus here.
posted by norm at 1:39 PM on April 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a midwestern white trash shithole with a population of 6000. They just got a Ruby Tuesdays and this is considered to be an upscale, fancy place to eat. The people there are homogenous, boring, plebian, christian, unintelligent , incurious and related to everyone else, and if you don't raise your children to get the hell out of there when they hit 18, then they have a future ahead of them at the brake parts factory, the football helmet factory, or Super WalMart.
posted by pieoverdone at 1:42 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I spent ages 3-11 on a literal island in the chesapeke bay. Middle of nowhere. I moved to the 'burbs, but I lived two or three blocks from a DC metro station. You have no idea how much better life for kids is when they can use public transport to go out and do something other than drugs and one another.
posted by phrontist at 1:47 PM on April 27, 2007

Response by poster: To follow up for the benefit of those who don't live in these parts - you can see San Francisco from Oakland and Berkeley and my commute will be about 15 minutes longer if we chose to move to the other side of the bridge. Public transportation links the east bay to the city pretty efficiently.
And for what it's worth - I grew up in Alameda and don't feel like I was cheated somehow. My parents brought me into SF often as a kid - and I was allowed to take buses and BART into the city even before I was able to drive there. I'm specifically wondering if there is something intrinsically better you get by actually growing up within the city limits that living in a rented apartment and going to potentially sub-optimal schools makes up for?
We're not considering a gated planned community anywhere - our conditions of neighborhood livability haven't changed - just possibly the name of the city. I guess I'm answering my own question to some degree here - but welcome more experiences...
posted by Wolfie at 1:55 PM on April 27, 2007

I was raised in LA until my mother (a single parent of 2 kids) moved my brother and me to the suburbs in 7th and 6th grade, respectively. I remember us driving to the suburbs to look for houses, and me wondering out loud where all the black people were and why the trees were evenly spaced. Something about the suburbs seemed off to both me and my brother from the word go.

But my mom was very nervous about the prospect of us going to Jr. High and then high school in the city, because it seemed that the kids we would have to deal with were much rougher and bigger and more mature and full of angst than she remembered having to contend with as a kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 50s. Whether or not that's true, that was her perception.

We stayed connected to LA through a summer camp that we'd been going to for years, so we got to check in annually with the kids we'd grown up with. Before long we were completely unable to relate to them. It was like we'd been incubated for a year in a secluded microcosm with no contact with the outside world.

The suburbs were insular, closed, and controlled. Individualism, open-mindedness, spontaneity and imperfection were strongly discouraged. The environment was manufactured to be secure and safe and predictable. It's really an alternative reality.

The thing is, you can only shelter a person for so long before they realize they're trapped, and it either becomes stifling ("get me outa here now!") or they accept it as their reality and are unable to accept another one, unable to deal with the world outside. Neither reaction yields good consequences, IMO.

I've lived in SF for over a decade now, and my mother still complains about how dirty and stressful it is here on the seldom occasion that she visits.
posted by nadise at 1:58 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I grew up in town of about 30k in TN. I had a really wonderful childhood, even though my mom was a struggling single parent. I went to school with the same kids from kindergarten to high school. I had a lot of freedom (first on my bike, then at age 16 my car). I was a smart kid in gifted and AP classes. I got a full ride scholarship at state university in a much larger city.

All that said... my first year of college was BAD. I was very ill equipped because, even though I had a great childhood and a wonderful mom, I was not a worldly kid. I didn't know how to make friends, because I had the same friends for most of my life. I was very intimidated, and afraid to interact in social situations because I felt inferior.

Thankfully, I started to figure things out the next year. Now that I live in NYC, I am amazed by how different city kids are. The wealth of opportunity is staggering for people of every age, and kids have experiences in self sufficiency much earlier than in the burbs. As others mentioned, they seem to act more adult, and are more open to and confident in new interactions with the world.
posted by kimdog at 2:05 PM on April 27, 2007

I'm raising my son in the city, although not your city. Housing prices here rival San Francisco and we don't want to spend 2 hours or more every day commuting. We don't want to be locked into working crazy hours while our children are small. My husband walks to work and comes home for lunch. He's home by 5:30. I work from home and use my flexible schedule to ensure childcare. We walk just about everywhere, although we sometimes drive on the weekend when we need home improvement supplies. We know all the kids in the neighbourhood. Even the grocery store clerks and Gap associates know us. We never have to mow the lawn or deal with a leaky roof -- even $900k here buys a fixer-upper.

My son does see things that I guess I'd prefer he not yet see. Used condoms, needles, drug use, people sleeping on the sidewalk, people having meth-induced outbursts and so on. I sometimes wish he could walk along the sidewalk without holding my hand or that we could just run around the park without having to worry that needles might be hiding in the corner. I'd prefer that people with full blown AIDS and festering open sores not try to touch his hands or pat him on the head.

However, at this point in our life, those things aren't my biggest worries. Maybe we'll consider a house when he's kindergarten age. But, right now, we're pretty happy with our city life.
posted by acoutu at 2:05 PM on April 27, 2007

I haven't been in the east bay housing market personally, but I've heard from friends in similar situations to yours that it's really not much better than The City, and that the holy trinity of good schools, more reasonable home prices, and family-sized living spaces can't be achieved in Berkeley or Oakland either, or at least not the parts you'd want to live in.
posted by nadise at 2:07 PM on April 27, 2007

I just feel like someone needs to state the counterpoint here. I grew up in rural New England, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world; so it's not as if everyone necessarily wishes that they grew up in the city.

My experience might have been dramatically different if I had been an only child -- I imagine it would have been pretty bad -- but my brother and I had acres (not that we owned that much, but property lines are academic when you're 12) of woods to play around in. No, there weren't any museums or art galleries, but I can't remember ever feeling like there wasn't anything to do, at least not as a child. I never got locked out, because we never locked our doors; it was the kind of place that, had I not grown up there, I'd probably assume doesn't exist anymore.

The first time someone steps outside the environment they grew up in, they're necessarily uncomfortable; if you've only ever lived in a city, it may seem as though people from the country are just hopeless, street-stupid rubes, but the reverse is also true -- people who move out from the city to rural areas (and I don't mean postage-stamp-house "suburbia," I mean rural) have a lot of adjustment in the other direction too, which can be similarly comical. I think that it's only because most people tend to move into cities when they graduate college or highschool, that the image is seems to be so widespread.

It's definitely true that where you grow up influences who you are as a person, that I definitely will agree on. But the city isn't for everyone, and not everyone who grows up outside the city pines for the concrete jungle. If it wasn't for the fact that there's virtually no employment to speak of in rural America (at least for me), I'd never have left.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:08 PM on April 27, 2007

Speaking as someone who grew up in Berkeley and now lives in San Francisco:

One advantage of growing up in city vs. suburbs (I'm counting Berkeley as "city" here) is the wealth of after school / other than school resources for kids. For example, the Berkeley Public Library, especially the children's section, is really, really terrific. Suburban libraries seem small and sad in comparison. Also, you can hit up the Oakland / SF Zoo, or go to museums such as the Lawrence Hall of Science or the Exploratorium, without having to take an hour and a half bus ride on a school field trip. They can be part of your weekly/monthly routine, instead of a twice a year treat.

As an older teen, I was able to do things like take community college classes, volunteer at the library/museum, take ballroom dance classes, and otherwise pursue a spectrum of nerdy interests which would have been difficult to gratify in a smaller town setting. Also, I never had to drive or bug my parents to drive me anywhere. Hooray for public transportation.

Really, though, Berkeley and Oakland are hardly suburbs. Berkeley offers as rich an array of cuisine and stinky an assortment of homeless people as San Francisco, and has the advantage of being somewhat cheaper to reside in and easier to park around. Kids who grow up in and navigate around Berkeley or Oakland are going to acquire as many urban street smarts or what have you as their SF counterparts.
posted by Wavelet at 2:11 PM on April 27, 2007

My kids grew up in DC and went to the public schools there. I think that overall they were glad to have grown up there. They had friends from all over the world. Diversity is great (it's one huge difference from here in VT), but I think you'd get that anywhere in commuting distance to SF.

Do consider commuting time...it adds up. But also consider the money. I spent ALL my salary on my DC mortgage- that adds up too.

I'm glad to be gone from the DC area, but overall I am glad that in the 20 years I lived in the area, almost all of it was spent living IN the city.
posted by MtDewd at 2:14 PM on April 27, 2007

While my younger brother was in junior high / high school, we lived in a suburb of Washington, DC, but it was very close to DC and there was a metro station not far away from where we lived. My brother would ride his bike to Georgetown and other sections of the city and just hang out during weekends. We'd take the metro to go to movies and museums. Contrast this to my cousin's children, living in an outer suburb of DC, no access to public transportation. They had no access to activities other than what their parents drove them to, and otherwise stayed home playing videogames. There was nothing within walking distance, other than other houses in that subdivision, with other kids similarly stuck playing video games or going stir crazy. It just makes me shudder.
posted by needled at 2:36 PM on April 27, 2007

Where will *you* be happy? Happy kids tend to come from happy parents - why give up on the city if it's what you love?
posted by Space Kitty at 3:15 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

What, really, no one will speak up for the suburbs? Let me, then. I grew up in Potomac, MD, in the suburbs of Washington, DC, and I loved it. Excellent free schooling, relatively cheap housing (35 years ago -- not true anymore in my town, I'm afraid) easy to get around by bus or bike, quick access to Washington when you wanted to go to a museum, the zoo, a rock show, or whatever. Our libraries were grand, Thai food was available, and conformity was not enforced. If the city kids in college had anything culturally over me, it didn't show.

An advantage suburban kids have is that they're able to appreciate the charms of both urban and suburban life, which is to say they'll be able to live comfortably wherever their careers and relationships are likely to carry them. In other words, they're like you, and like me. On the other hand, some city kids -- certainly a minority, happily -- become gripped by a paralyzing fear that if they don't live in the five boroughs, or maybe SF, they or their children will turn into hideous Stepford drones and get fat. So they stay in New York, bankrupting themselves for private school, coming home after work and watching reruns of Friends but knowing that they could be at MOMA or at the bar they read about in Time Out because they live in New York, thank God.

If you were one of those people, I would encourage you to stay in San Francisco -- because if you feel oppressed by the place that you live, you won't be able to hide it from your kids, and they'll resent having to grow up there. But it sounds like you're fine with the suburbs. And the suburbs you're thinking about, Berkeley and Oakland, are just about the most pleasant places in the world, in my opinion. So here's one vote for "not worth it to stay."

Oh, and if you choose Berkeley, Berkeley Parents Network is kind of amazing.
posted by escabeche at 3:38 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm specifically wondering if there is something intrinsically better you get by actually growing up within the city limits

Those city limits are an imaginary line. Especially if you're comparing places as urban and cultured and close as San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. (Speaking as one who lived in the DC metro area once, in DC, Virginia, and in Maryland all three.)
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:59 PM on April 27, 2007

I'm specifically wondering if there is something intrinsically better you get by actually growing up within the city limits

The difference was well-stated by MrMoonPie above. The city becomes part of your life rather than a special occasion. As an example, I live in San Francisco and like to take the dog for long walks - anywhere from Bernal to the Mission to Noe Valley. Its just part of my routine, this dog-walk, but through this I'm often running into small celebrations - folks crowded outside an art opening, a new food place opening up (yum, Mission Pie), crowds of people who gather to pet my dog - Asian and Mexican families, hipsters, couples out on the town, street corner hoodlums, Noe valley yuppies, crazy (but harmless) homeless people - the whole spectrum.

I can see the appeal of growing up in the country - as a kid we spent every summer on my grandparents farm in Mexico. Its where I learned to ride horses and milk cows. But the in-between places - the suburbs, the outskirts - I dont think can offer much of either. Everyone moves to Oakland and says they'll continue to BART into the city or whatnot but they dont do it or not as often. Its because the city is now a special occasion.
posted by vacapinta at 4:32 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm just amazed how much the people who grew up in the inner city seem to think they're so much better than everyone else

I should mention I mainly grew up in a suburb - not a bad one, a gorgeous beachside town - and hated it. And add me to the chorus of people who think the city/born/bred folks are among the most interesting/confident people I know.
posted by vacapinta at 4:35 PM on April 27, 2007

And (last post I promise) I hated it because it was a cultural wasteland. I used to beg and work hard to get my local library to get all these fantastic books, working the inter-library loans and whatnot. Then I meet these kids who grew up with the NY Public library or the SFPL and the Met and all these amazing cultural resources - Seminars and Universities and bookstores where they could hear their favorite author or academic speak - all these riches at their disposal! I know the feeling I felt and it was pure, undiluted envy.
posted by vacapinta at 4:42 PM on April 27, 2007

I can see the appeal of growing up in the country

I grew up in the country, and the comment above about the being nothing to do but drink, take drugs, and screw is absolutely true. This happens in the big city too, but there's plenty more to do besides. Plus schools in small towns have fewer resources than the ones in larger cities. I remember finally getting out of my hometown (pop. 2500) and being shocked that high schools in the city had AV classes. I would have killed for an opportunity.

My parents were raised in the city and ran for the country when they graduated college - I think this works to the best advantage. Kids get the opportunities of the city and adults get the relaxed atmosphere of the country. The reverse doesn't work nearly so well.
posted by lekvar at 5:09 PM on April 27, 2007

Lots of good answers here ... I'll just post my two cents to say that this doesn't have to be an either/or kind of decision. I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland (unlike some major cities, raising children in Cleveland is really not an option -- the schools are the worst in the nation and it's really not safe). We lived in a suburb that was culturally diverse and very close to some of the nicer parts of Cleveland (University Circle). I really feel like I got the best of both worlds. There was plenty to do and the museums, cultural institutions, sport teams were only a few miles away. If you raise your kids in Oakland or Berkeley or any of the Bart-accessible suburbs, they'll definitely be able to get the advantages of the city. I think the boredom/frustration really starts to hit when you reach the outer suburbs.
posted by bananafish at 5:14 PM on April 27, 2007

I don't think you have to stay in the City to reap the benefits for your kids if you live near BART. They'll be able to head over there any time (except very late at night), and Berkeley and Oakland are also pretty chock full of cultural goings-on. If it's important for your kids to have a yard or ride bikes, you might do better in the East Bay.

Oh and: I grew up on the Peninsula, until my parents moved to rural south Santa Clara County, where we had our horses and our wee ranch. I'd drive into San Francisco on the weekends with friends to see bands or go shopping. It was pretty much the best of all worlds at the time. Ranchers and punk rockers for friends, country and city to play in.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:18 PM on April 27, 2007

Or: what bananafish said!
posted by oneirodynia at 5:19 PM on April 27, 2007

I'm going to counterpoint also: it depends on the city. Is living in downtown St. Louis better than living in southern Connecticut? I would counter no, that the ease of access to a major world cultural center far outweighs just "living in a city." The question should be, "does living near or in a major cultural center benefit a child?" Of course the opportunities afforded to them are going to be greater. I don't know if they are going to be gallery openings every weekend, attending the opera and going to cool Soho loft parties -- but the net benefit will probably be greater on the dozen or so times a year they actually benefit from something not available elsewhere (Manhattan is more gentrified now than I think Manhattanites wish to admit).

This may also be very generational. As someone from the Generation X/Y (where ever the cut off has been), I have always had the Internet and cable TV. I might be an outlier, but I never felt out of the whole culture loop. In fact when I visited Chicago and came to NYC many people were surprised I wasn't native to either locale. I don't take that as a personal compliment or indie cred as much as proliferation of information has destroyed the isolation that previous generations had. As an example, "Pynchon's book is illustrated at the Whitney? That's cool, I didn't know that", "Yeah I saw an article about it in the NYTimes and then I googled it and found the guy's web site and read about the backstory, etc." That is not to say some experiences one has to really experience in physical life to truly grasp -- just that non-city life is isolating as it once was.

I've managed to find culture, art, what have you where ever I've gone. It may not be as accessible but that does not mean it doesn't exist. I say this as someone who's finally decided to move to the East Village and would never trade it for the world.

n.b., an exception is the rural Midwest. I have yet to hear someone say anything good about it. I suppose that accounts for the reason why no one is living there anymore.
posted by geoff. at 7:07 PM on April 27, 2007

I really agree with what Space Kitty says. Do it (or not) mainly for yourself. The best reason to raise kids in the city is that you like to live in the city, whether for the walkability, cultural life, better commute, etc., and think it's worth the (sometimes) crushing expense and inconveniences of doing so, particularly when you have children to educate.

Some of the cited virtues of living in the city seem like mixed blessings to me -- what the world needs now is not a lot more "sophisticated" teenagers. You certainly aren't bestowing any kind of sustained socioeconomic advantages on your children just be living in the city. You'll look long and hard to find a college or profession -- or even hip city neighborhood -- that's not numerically dominated and culturally determined by people raised in suburbs.
posted by MattD at 7:08 PM on April 27, 2007

Having grown up in NYC and a remote suburb outside of Pittsburgh, I would vote for the city. But I might have liked the suburb better IF it had the following:

1) Easily accessible public transportation. (We didn't even have buses out there.)
2) A city center with actual sidewalks where you could walk around...not just the strip malls that we had.
3) Activities available to junior high and high school kids that stayed open past 7 pm in the evening. Other than the Roll-R-Skate on Friday nights and McDonalds. (And your parents had to drive you to those.)

It was clean. There were lawns. No homelessness on my street or grafitti. But it was so isolating. And conformist. With few opportunities to learn how to navigate experiences without a parent driving the car or waiting outside. Very sad, actually. I also lived for two years in the extreme rural country (nearest neighbor was a mile away) and even THAT was more interesting than the tract house/strip mall suburbia of which I speak.

If you had a downtown area with sidewalks and if you could get there by bike, I would counter that you didn't live in a TRUE suburb but in or very close to a small town. And that is really different than a suburban wasteland.

Anyway, we're living in Chicago now with a 15 month old in an extreme fixer upper and have less disposable income than if we lived in the 'burbs, but much more fun because it fits who we are. YMMV.
posted by jeanmari at 8:58 PM on April 27, 2007

Just want to add something, I lived in very-rural upstate new york until I was about 5, and I am who I am because of both middle-of-nowhere and middle-of-everywhere experiences. I think (and Science! backs me up) that unsupervised time in a natural, wild environment is crucial to generating a real understanding of the way nature works.

I guess what I'm saying is, live within easy public transportation distance, but go camping a lot.
posted by Skorgu at 9:48 PM on April 27, 2007

I guess I don't think about it as rural vs. suburbs vs. urban... because everybody makes cutoffs at different points. It's more, how much do you truly live in your location? How much of your life is interaction with your environment?

Think about the incidental interaction that happens because you walk/bike/take public transport to work or the grocery store or a restaurant. When you, at the drop of the hat, can go to a museum for just an hour, go to the zoo because you have a spare morning, when you can pop out for restaurant food in a matter of minutes. You smile at the bus driver, run into friends at the farmer's market, or overhear someone talking about your favorite author appearing at the big bookstore downtown. (of course, there's the downside of incidental interaction of the homeless guy who sits next to you, or pushy people, or the loud talking on the cell phone).

Think about the incidental interaction that happens when you drive to work. Or when you drive to the grocery store. Or when you drive to a restaurant. You might smile at someone in the car next to you, but you won't interact with anyone until you arrive at your destination, and maybe not even then. You are insulated. To go to the zoo or the museum requires special planning, and dedicated time. Your life becomes destination-based, and not process based. (Of course, there's the upside: you don't have to see the homeless, you don't have to interact with pushy people, and if someone's on their cell phone, you at least won't hear them talking about their breakup before their car veers into your lane).

That's what you give up/gain. You can insulate yourself from bad stuff, but it seems to me you are giving up far more upside than the downside you shield yourself from. I guess to me, the big difference between any environment is how much is it car-based?

(As a personal anecdote: I found my suburban experience incredibly stifling. I was never someone who fit into any particular expectation, and so never found a niche in the suburbs. It wasn't until my family moved to a large-ish college town midway through highschool, a high school that celebrated its freeks-n-geeks, that I thought, "Ah! HERE are my people!" I hate. Hate. HATED growing up in the suburbs.)
posted by e to the pi i at 10:18 PM on April 27, 2007

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley.I guess it depends on the city. LA's public transportation sucked ( I went to a magnet school on the other side of the Valley and took the then-RTD after I got fed up with being bullied on the school bus) and I wish I could have lived in or near a city that had better--as Boston does; I went to Bradford College for two and a half years, which was a short walk from the commuter train.
posted by brujita at 12:05 AM on April 28, 2007

  • I would say that the parents matter a lot more than the place you grew up in.
  • It's totally true that city kids grow up faster. So what? Exactly what is the benefit of that? They will grow up eventually. Is being a kid a little longer that terrible?
  • I grew up in a small town, and it took me a long while to adjust to cities, but I did. I know plenty of city folk, though, who cannot stand being in the outdoors for extended periods of time.
  • It's Berkeley, for crying out loud. Your kids will be fine.

posted by Deathalicious at 3:40 AM on April 28, 2007

I grew up in the suburbs and couldn't wait to get out. The place was too small and yet it was hard to get around to see other people, places, things. I was bored but later in life found I had to adjust to being in places with people whose experiences were radically different from mine -- so, at least for me, it meant I had to learn to be more flexible and resilient later on.

My nieces grew up (and one's still growing up) in Pittsburgh (move to Pittsburgh! I am sure you could afford a house here and we were just voted the number 1 something in some publication about places to live) and they are resilient, strong, adventurous, no-nonsense girls who can relate to a variety of people and situations and entertain (most of the time) themselves. The youngest still gets my sister to drive her around a bit, but in a pinch she's more than capable of getting herself around the city by bus.

I am sure my sister and her husband had something to do with how the girls turned out, but, you know, it takes a village, or in this case, a city.
posted by nnk at 7:05 AM on April 28, 2007

just popping in to emphasize that oakland/berkeley are hardly suburban wastelands. i live in oakland. i can walk to bart and be in downtown sf in a snap. this is one of the most diverse places i've ever lived as well. i personally think we've got the best of everything over here. we've got the cultcha, we're close to SF but not too close. we have backyards and can be hiking through the hills in minutes. we're poised equidistant from all these options. we have farmer's markets and the berkeley bowl. we also have big box stores if you are in to that sort of thing. oh, and it's always warmer and sunnier (but not too much!) over here. i can stand in my backyard and eat blackberries growing off the vine and hear the bart train running in the distance.
posted by apostrophe at 8:05 AM on April 28, 2007

I grew up in big cities, and I'll list a few things I liked about my urban childhood for you. My pro-city points may not be exclusive to cities--that is, it may or may not be true that I would have had the same good experiences, or reasonable substitutes for them, in the suburbs, but I really have no way of figuring that out. I just want to provide you with one data point (me!).

Some great things about my urban childhood:
1) I loved being able to go anywhere I wanted thanks to public transit. I took it for granted at the time, but looking back, I realize I grew up feeling like the world was mine to explore.
2) I had different communities available to me at different times in my life. When I went through my [X] phase, I could make friends who were really into [X] or join groups dedicated to [X]ing. X = pretty much anything I wanted. When I was passionate about certain political issues in high school, it was easy for me to volunteer on a campaign, do community service work connected to those issues, and find like-minded kids my age. When I discovered a love for an obscure instrument in music class, it wasn't hard to find a teacher.
3) This is related to (2): I never felt trapped in a community that no longer fit me. When I grew apart from a clique I was a member of, I started spending more time with friends from activities I was involved in outside of school. My world never felt overly small. That period of life is all about identity-formation, and if I hadn't had so much freedom to seek out new people, I would have had a choice between a) having no friends or b) having to keep playing the role my clique had assigned to me. (I won't go into unnecessary detail because this isn't really the point of your question, but these were the two options.)

All my memories of growing up in cities are positive, or at least, the only ones that are negative have nothing to do with where I grew up. I've seen various trend pieces over the years in New York Magazine about kindergarten admissions craziness, striver urban parents who try to teach their kids differential equations in the womb, etc. I'm sure that all happens, because the reporters probably aren't just fabricating it, but I will say that I didn't have parents like that and I don't know anyone who did. When I was growing up, I didn't feel pressured to be the best finger-painter in nursery school. My parents didn't really spend a lot of time stressing about my education. They just supported me and let the chips fall. I guess I was in the sort of high-achieving environment that those trend pieces skewer, but I just felt like I had tons of opportunities and was surrounded by cool, smart people I could learn from. I'm not saying this isn't equally possible outside of the city--as I said before, I have no frame of reference for making those sorts of judgments. But it's at least possible in the city.
posted by barelylegalrealist at 9:14 AM on April 28, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the anectdotes. Its not a decision we have to make right away - but its something we're thinking about and this gives me lots to consider.
(oh - and hi vacapinta - we must be neighbors. you did a great job of articulating exactly why this decision is so difficult for me)
posted by Wolfie at 10:37 AM on April 28, 2007

Culture, for sure.
posted by mintchip at 7:39 PM on April 28, 2007

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