Urban vs. Suburban Living: Help us settle a domestic dispute!
May 9, 2007 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Help us settle a domestic dispute! Urban vs. suburban living. My wife and i can't seem to find a suitable compromise and it has become a significant problem in our relationship. Need help finding a middle ground, or other solution, in Los Angeles or other CA city.

My wife and I currently live in Los Angeles. And, while we're only 6 miles from downtown, it is pretty suburban, difficult to walk to things, not particularly convenient to transit etc. We live in a house built in 1941 which is a pretty consistent source of projects and repairs - none of which I enjoy (in fact they stress me out to an admittedly irrational extent).

My ideal would be to move to a condo/loft in or close to downtown that is much lower on the maintenance and allows easy access to transit and walkable amenities. The thing is that my wife loves her garden, loves being outside, grew up in a rural area, and gets sort of freaked out at the thought of being confined in a condo/loft.

We've talked about living in a condo/loft for a few years before having kids and then moving back to a house when the kiddies need an outside place to run around, but that has been a nonstarter with the wife so far.

This has become a surprisingly big problem. So, I come to you! We would both really appreciate 1. any general thoughts on bridging this gap 2. any specific suggestions on middle grounds, paths to compromise. Condos with garden plots near downtown LA or in other California cities? (Prefer LA at this point but open to moving if needed) Other ideas? 3. any experience living with a baby in a loft/condo? is that part crazy?

Even as I'm writing this, it seems a bit silly to me (on my part as much or more than hers), but, for whatever reason, it has become this semi-intractable problem in our relationship, so any help from the unbiased, smart people of Metafilter would be much appreciated.
posted by krudiger to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, we're all biased. Just not in the same way you are.

My bias is towards minimizing sprawl and pollution. The less you drive to get places, the less carbon emissions, and the more green space is preserved for your wife. The further out you drive to eat, work, etc., the more those green spaces she loves so much will suffer.

Here in Sacramento we have a very succesful urban garden program, with at least two of the downtown loft developments having dozens of large high-quality gardening plots immediately next door or across the street. I would assume a city like LA must have things like this in its downtown core neighborhoods, which you mention as one of your options. I will ask my wife, who works for the local development agency, if she can recommend such developments in LA... email me.

I know several families who live with babies in loft/condo/apartment type dwellings downtown. They all seem very happy and comfortable with the arrangement. Less time on house-repairs, more family time, close to everything (and childcare), etc. I'm a huge fan of old houses so loft living is not for me but I can understand the attraction and it is certainly valid.
posted by luriete at 11:07 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Could you find a newer, closer in house that still has a garden and yard for your wife?

Honestly, I think "pretty suburban, difficult to walk to things, not particularly convenient to transit, etc." is pretty much what you get if you choose to live in LA.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:09 AM on May 9, 2007

If all she wants is a garden and sunshine, you can get those urbanly (rooftops, etc). If what she wants is *space*, you'll have to reach a compromise. Living suburbanly but within walking/biking distance to public transit is one idea.

I've never raised a child in the city but I'm raising more than one in a small town. Being able to send them outside for a while is absolutely vital.
posted by DU at 11:11 AM on May 9, 2007

I can only speak to part 3 of your question - living with a baby in a condo is perfectly doable but not ideal. A loft is not a good a idea, IMO - you'll all need to get some uninterrupted sleep somewhere!

It's not a big deal the first year - after all, they *do* very little - but once they get mobile they really want to be outside. And you'll want to be outside with them, because you'll all be bored being inside all the time.

Of course, I know that plenty of people happily raise kids in condos and that there are alternatives to having a yard (parks etc). But it wouldn't be for me, and it sounds like it wouldn't be for your wife either. (It's amazing how much space the kids' toys take up.)
posted by widdershins at 11:12 AM on May 9, 2007

Move to Venice areaor other West LA? My brother lived there happily for years without a car and he had a tiny house with a garden and a rooftop garden.
posted by fshgrl at 11:22 AM on May 9, 2007

I hate to be all "your city sucks," but the advantages to urban living (lots of stuff within walking distance) are not quite as plentiful in downtown LA. Consider looking into a city with more parks, community gardens, space for container gardens, rooftop decks, etc?
posted by desuetude at 11:36 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

move closer to the train
hire a handyman
posted by caddis at 11:41 AM on May 9, 2007

The logical first thing to look at (imho) would be a similar house at a similar distance from downtown, which -- unlike your current home -- is within walking distance of its local amenities and has a nearby LA Metro station. Maybe also newer.

If such a place exists in/near LA, that is.
posted by genghis at 11:45 AM on May 9, 2007

I know of one urban garden with plots for rent in West LA/Mar Vista, on Centinela very close to Santa Monica airport.

There are plenty of small houses with gardens in Los Angeles (Mar Vista immediately springs to mind), but price may be an issue depending where exactly your current house is. Also consider moving to a condo within walking distance of a park, in a neighbourhood with sidewalks (can be hard to find!). Why not talk to a realtor and try to scope out some suitable areas within your price range?
posted by Joh at 11:52 AM on May 9, 2007

(also, west LA is a great suggestion - affordable houses with yards, near public transportation, are still available in parts of santa monica and that area - I lived in that area for a few years as a kid and was very happy with all the child-friendly options and the decent schools - also: PINKS!)
posted by luriete at 11:52 AM on May 9, 2007

desuetude writes "I hate to be all 'your city sucks,' but the advantages to urban living (lots of stuff within walking distance) are not quite as plentiful in downtown LA."

This is true. I'm not sure downtown is the best place in LA to get the advantages of urban living. There's just not much down there.

There are a ton of relatively dense little neighborhoods all over the city though, many with houses that have small yards and a lot of new condo developments. Have you spent much time driving around LA neighborhoods getting a feel for which places you may or may not like? West LA and Santa Monica both have dense, walkable cores. I'm also partial to the Silver Lake/Echo Park area. Hell, even in places like Pasadena there are new developments and increased density sprouting up next to the light rail stations.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:17 PM on May 9, 2007

I used to live in an older '40s home (and was married, hmm); home maintenance chores about drove me up the wall. They were expected of me, as part of my husbandly duties, but I really grew to despise them and dread my weekends. In retrospect, I should have hired more of them out and maybe hired a lawn service, both despite the objections of my then-wife. I guess what I'm saying is that in my case, it was more of a relationship problem than anything -- me trying to make her happy by making myself miserable. Doesn't (didn't) work in the long run.

I have a loft now, and I love it, partly because there's zero outside maintenance and very little indoor work. But unless you can afford a huge space, I think it'd be too crowded for a couple, much less a budding family. Also, consider that the home owner's association fees (covers cost of maintaining building and surrounding grounds) could just as well cover the cost of a handyman, lawn service, etc.
posted by LordSludge at 12:21 PM on May 9, 2007

We have a two-year-old and we're expecting another baby. We live in 1000-sq-ft condo. It works for us. My husband walks to work and I work from home. We usually walk to stores. There's a park and playground about 1.5 blocks away, along with a community centre. We know tons of people living in similar situations. Yes, kids' toys take up space, but you don't have to buy everything. We don't have ride-on toys, ride-in cars, a playhouse or a sandbox because we can use those at the community centre. We don't need swings or a slide because they have those at the community centre and the park. The community centre even has a toy library, so we can borrow books and toys without needing to buy them (although we do have a lot of toys -- but closet organizers work wonders). We might change our minds when our kids are a bit older, but, right now, we don't need a backyard. There are around 150 kids living in our neighbourhood and hundreds more around our downtown area.

We don't have a backyard, but we do have a big lobby, two outdoor courtyards and a pool. Our son keeps pretty busy.

If your wife can't stand the idea of a condo, perhaps you could look at at a townhouse or duplex. Or rent a house and rent out your current place (if you own).
posted by acoutu at 12:21 PM on May 9, 2007

any experience living with a baby in a loft/condo? is that part crazy?

I have friends in Chicago with a six year old and a two year old that live in a three bedroom flat in a building that's three blocks from Lincoln Park Zoo. The mom stays at home, the dad reverse commutes into the burbs. They love living in the actual city and their children don't seem to be any worse off than I was as a kid growing up in the country. (Unlike most folks, if I have kids, I want to stay in the city. I find the "children need room to run around" argument rather odd since most cities have parks.)
posted by smallerdemon at 12:41 PM on May 9, 2007

just a note -- i live in downtown los angeles, and there are many resources on the web you can look to for finding out about it, such as blogdowntown. certainly don't go by these off-hand dismissals of people who obviously don't have much current experience with the downtown neighborhoods.

downtown is seriously lacking in green space, however, and i'm not aware of any loft/condos that offer real garden space.

if you want transit-accessible, the idea of looking at neighborhoods around the various metro stations is a good one. many of these areas are becoming more pedestrian-friendly and mass-transit-oriented.
posted by jimw at 12:42 PM on May 9, 2007

If you get something with a balcony or roof access, you can create a lovely container garden.
posted by schroedinger at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2007

first off, i'm sorry to here this is an intractable problem in your relationship. i really hope you work this out.

let me be clear i'm not from los angeles, but i've lived in various spots in and around hollywood and downtown area, and never on the west side. i recently moved to a nearby "suburb", i have a car, and i generally don't know why i didn't entertain living out here any sooner. now the way i read your post, it sounds like you know exactly what you want, but you're hoping to find it in what i think is the wrong place. and i think your significant other senses this, and it may be adding to the considerable tension.

so this much is true. downtown is full of bus routes. it is the nexus of the metro train system. you are surrounded by highways. and, for what its worth, some parts of downtown are relatively condense. but i have yet to meet a couple from downtown whose personal and professional lives aren't either, on the one hand, a daily adventure, or on the other hand, completely mapped out - and as a result, rather sheltered.

public transportation in los angeles shuts down too early every night, and is inept in the late evenings and on the weekends. highway traffic patterns make it hard to leave in the mornings, and even harder to return at night.

there is a distinct, co-operative social scene among tenants downtown, as well. i don't know how old you are or what you're into. safe to say you'll either find downtown totally happening, or fucking intolerable.

there is a lack of "neighborhoody" commercial businesses in downtown, although this is changing, and by all means there are pockets (see little tokyo, china town, santee alley). but even compared to the relatively tame, and nearby echo park, downtown is dead in the "walkable amenities" sense that you imply exists there. in the highly developed south park section of downtown, near the staples center, where you might find some of the nicest buildings, i find this is especially true. the day-time hustle and bustle of the financial and jewelry districts, which i'm particularly fond of, vanishes into thin air the moment the work day is over.

there is the rather visible poverty problem downtown - you have your drug-pushers, your users, your prostitutes, your loiterers, your criminals, and so forth. now i don't have any statistics to show that downtown is a relatively unsafe LA neighborhood. but one trip to skid row and you'll see what the atmosphere is i'm referring to. south los angeles isn't that great either.

in short, i personally could not even begin to imagine raising a child in downtown los angeles. then again, i couldn't imagine having a child at this point, period. and part of me is definitely, even irrationally, obsessed with the area, in a good way. the best loft parties, the best openings, the best concerts (free ones too! see pershing square, and grand performances at the california plaza are simply amazing, check it out) are all downtown. i never leave without wishing i spent more time down there. but the reality of living down there i seriously doubt is so rosy.

i'm going to wrap this up with a recommendation that i'm a little surprised i'm committing myself to, because i didn't initially intend to recommend anything in particular, and i've never actually lived in this area. but do give the rolling hills of echo park some consideration. they have a beautification day coming up, as well as the popular lotus festival. i have many friends who live on the hill northwest off the intersection of sunset and alvarado, and so i think i can attest to its beauty. the 101 is nearby and extremely handy, plus you have multiple backroad routes to make it downtown in a flash. it doesn't have the best public transportation - what part of la does - but in every other respect i think it's a great compromise for you and your significant other. there is also the right-down-the-street, slighty-closer-to-downtown, and blow-your-socks-off-beautiful angelino heights. (as a former east-coaster, i fell in love with this area immediately. admittedly, the typical house here may require a lot of care, but you are a stones throw from downtown, with all the garden you need. click through the links on this page for an awesome gallery.)

if downtown angelinos want to pick apart my points, feel free, as these are my personal views, and i'm always open to changing them. and i wan't to also say add that, with some good fortune, krudiger, i think that if you decide to move downtown, you will provide your child with a rich, urban upbringing that i believe is an asset.
posted by phaedon at 1:00 PM on May 9, 2007

i agree with luriete. if you live in an area that is not very dense, you're in effect decreasing the amount of green space available to yourself.

also, its funny. when i moved from the suburbs to the city, i started spending *a lot* more time outside.
posted by kneelconqueso at 1:01 PM on May 9, 2007

My condo association recently voted to cut down a perfectly healthy, [to me] lovely eucalyptus tree that I planted three years ago. It's flourished, and provided an environment for a lovely shade garden, but the board members think it "looks weird", "leans" (it does lean, rather gracefully I think) and "doesn't match". The complex has a lot of square-cut holly bushes and lawn grass. Darn right it doesn't match.

Moving to a condominium may subject you to more of this kind of thinking. I'm completely sad, sad, sad; it's awful for me. Please consider whether you and your wife can bear this kind of subjugation to mass thinking in her gardening choices.

I know that there are associations in traditional house neighborhoods, too, but at least you can grow what plants you want on your own land.
posted by amtho at 1:02 PM on May 9, 2007

Townhouse condo. They cut your grass, take care of the building, and you usually have a small amount of land that you could put a flower-garden or something in.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:05 PM on May 9, 2007

What's weird about raising a kid in a condo? I grew up in apartments. When I wanted to go outside to play, I did. There were parks and stuff around. I wouldn't worry about that part - millions of New Yorkers raise kids in apartments.

I'm not hugely familiar with L.A - I've only ever been there for conventions...which were held downtown...where nothing happened after the convention got out for the day. Why live closer to there? San Francisco (where I am) has lots of three-decker and two-decker buildings divided into flats, and many of them have gardens in back, or in front, or both. We're near three or four bus lines and a 10-minute walk from BART (not to mention clubs, coffeeshops, grocery stores, etc.). LA must have neighborhoods like this, yes?
posted by rtha at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2007

You can hire out the household projects and repairs, your wife cannot hire out her enjoyment of gardening and the outdoors.

The less you drive to get places, the less carbon emissions, and the more green space is preserved for your wife.

Sounds to me that the wife is more interested in living where she has her own outdoor space than preserving green space somewhere else. Personally, I enjoy sitting in my own backyard in a way I would not if it was a public space. It's nice to be outdoors and alone. Having to drive somewhere else for this is impractical, especially with a small child.

Yes, it does preserve green space for people to live more densely - but some of us dislike the press of people everywhere. Your wife might be a bit more introverted than you are.
posted by yohko at 1:29 PM on May 9, 2007

I went to college in Santa Cruz, which while not exactly the hub of the universe, does have a lot of bungalow-y, smallish houses with gardens, and is very walkable/bikeable/busable. You're an hour or so from the rest of the Bay Area, essentially ON the (not tropical but not freezing) beach and near lots of trails and redwoods, and the main downtown strip is full of independent shops and local color. The university brings a great deal of vitality into the town, and it's a really nice place to live if you can afford it.
posted by mdonley at 1:39 PM on May 9, 2007

Moving and closing costs are expensive; can't you just use that money to hire a handyperson to fix things? Or, since your wife is the one who wants to stay there so badly, she should learn how to fix things herself! That is how my parents solved that issue, and it worked out great.

I know this doesn't really address your other problems, but I'm not sure how great a compromise you will be able to come to. I currently live in a downtown condo (not LA) and hate it - I hate the oppressive rules, I hate the lack of trees, I hate that I can't grow anything that isn't in a pot, I hate the traffic sounds all hours of the night, I hate the noisy neighbors upstairs, I hate that it is too dangerous with crazy traffic to ride my bike. The fact I can walk to a handful of restaurants is absolutely not worth it to me.
posted by gatorae at 1:55 PM on May 9, 2007

When my wife and I lived in Chicago, she wanted the urban lifestyle -- growing up on New York's West Side does that to you, I guess. Having grown up in a slightly more suburban setting, followed by lots of lousy urban apartments, I wanted a lot of land in an outlying area. She hated the idea of rural-style living, and I hated the idea of city living.

Then we moved to Los Angeles. After a few apartments, we bought a home in a suburban area in the valley. And here's what happened:

1. I became much less enamored with the suburban/rural lifestyle. I found myself missing the access, the public transit, the walkability, and most of all discovered that I hated to mow lawns and tend yards.

2. She became much less enamored with the urban lifestyle. She found herself enjoying the dog run (so no need to walk the dogs several times a day), the yard for our kids, the separation from neighbors, and so on.

Now I remark that I look forward to a day when we can return to an urban setting, and she says no way.

So, people change and tastes change. Compromise until your tastes merge (if they ever do), and if not...well, buy a house with a garden in an area well-served by a small business community within walking distance and at least one bus or rail line.
posted by davejay at 2:07 PM on May 9, 2007

Living with a baby in a vertical dwelling (narrow three story townhouse, say) seems like a very bad idea if it can be avoided.

It seems to me like you need a house that is walking distance to shops and restaurants. I'd try: Venice, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Silver Lake or Hancock Park (near Larchmont).

While homes are still very pricey in these areas, renting may be an affordable option.
posted by GIRLesq at 2:45 PM on May 9, 2007

Amtho, that's awful about your tree...

I wonder, could it be replanted somewhere else? Maybe a yard and garden store could sell it. What a waste just to cut it down...
posted by frosty_hut at 6:09 PM on May 9, 2007

Living with a baby in a vertical dwelling (narrow three story townhouse, say) seems like a very bad idea if it can be avoided.

posted by desuetude at 6:53 AM on May 10, 2007

I think they meant to suggest that running up and down stairs or protecting your child from a fall would be complicated. I don't think they meant an apartment would be bad.
posted by acoutu at 9:34 PM on May 10, 2007

I think they meant to suggest that running up and down stairs or protecting your child from a fall would be complicated. I don't think they meant an apartment would be bad.

I guess I don't get how an urban townhouse would be different from any other home in that regard, generally speaking. Most suburban homes are two-story.
posted by desuetude at 6:48 AM on May 11, 2007

They said three-storey. And narrow townhomes tend to have fewer things on each floor. But, yeah, I'm with you.
posted by acoutu at 9:44 PM on May 11, 2007

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