New Twist on the Dilemma of City vs. Suburbs


city-suburb.gifFor city dwellers with children, there is always this dilemma of whether one should move to the suburbs. The case for the suburbs is pretty cut and dry: there are the obvious lifestyle reasons such as more space for children to run around, and also financial ones, like being able to send kids to great public schools where you don’t have to fork out private school tuitions in the $25,000-to-$30,000 range (per child, that is).

In our family, thoughts about moving to the suburbs always lurk in the background, even as we go apartment hunting in the city. In fact, one year, the lure of the suburbs was so strong for my husband that we even went house hunting in various towns in Westchester and New Jersey. Obviously in the burbs, you get more for your money. A spacious house, a nice yard, maybe even a swimming pool if you’re lucky. The pitfalls of moving to the suburbs seem so few, aside from the inconvenience of having to drive everywhere (it’s a given anywhere else, I know, but for Manhattanites, it’s a huge deal!). And oh yes, the high taxes. This is especially true in good school districts in Westchester and Long Island.

According to the New York Times (“Leaving the City for the Schools, and Regretting It,” November 13, 2006) however, there is an interesting upward trend of people who move to suburbs like Westchester choosing to send their children to private schools. That seems to defeat the whole purpose of moving to the suburbs in the first place. The high property taxes AND the tuitions? Apparently, many of these families did not plan to do this when they moved out there but decided to do so after finding public schools a little less than ideal, even in the good districts. The common complaints are that the programs are under-funded, too many kids in each classroom (many of them unmotivated), the administration is not responsive to parents’ needs, and the list goes on.

Guess you can’t have everything, even in the burbs. I’m just glad that we are still in the city, paying just the tuitions but not the high taxes. Of course, it’s not a given that you’ll find the schools in the burbs unacceptable; plenty of families are very happy there. But there is always that “What if?” You can bet that I will be showing my husband this article every time he muses about moving out of the city.

About Author

I have lived in New York City for 16 years, and sadly, my no. 1 passion is looking at real estate ads and going to open houses for fun. Currently living in a rental apartment after having bought and sold real estate in Manhattan, I really would like to buy something again. If I can only persuade my husband, who seems pathologically unable to pull the trigger.


  1. Great post and very interesting. I can’t imagine living in the big city, but can greatly appreciate the sentiments. A few hours in the city each day makes me love real estate itself more and more, but ache for open land. Take me away to the country!

  2. Can’t stand the thought of living in the burbs. Sent my kids to public school, the schools has some programs that beat the private schools, our daughter, went to public schools and now she is working on her PHD. I am happy we stayed where are friends, life and work are.

  3. The problem with your analysis is that city folk pay NYC income taxes while suburb residents do not even if they work in NYC. The diff can vary based on income and suburb you live in. For me my RE taxes are les than what my city income tax bill would be.

    I grew-up in, lived in and worked in NYC for 26 years and now have lived in the burbs for over 16 years. The suburbs IMHO are better in every single way. Having said that I still work in NYC and most co-workers disagree (of course they either live in the city or a closer burb). It comes down to the individual. I love not having anyone living within 600 feet of my house. I love the fact that the trees block direct views of houses next door.

    I love being 11 mins from skiing and great ski race programs. I love being 5 mins from a 20 mile off road bike trail. We have the best movie theaters in the state as they have all been built in the last 10 years.

    What I do accept is others do not feel the same. The counters they give are culture, nightlife and not having to drive everywehere. All I can say is culuture in terms of the Arts (The Met etc) has never interested me in the least. For me its way boring. Nightlife hey i lived in the city and expeiranced as much nightlife as one can and I simply outgrew it or another way to say it is I have Zero desire to hit a nightclub or go out to eat. As for driving I love it to my very core. There is nothing like crusing on a back country road.

    As for schools in NYC for the most part you are going private in the burbs the public schools are better although I went private. As for where children perform better its really up to them trust me. So when statements are made such as the above regarding PHD’s the reality is that was probably happening anyway. You should be proud you have a gifted child.

    Cost is not an issue for me and I could live in either location but having a finance background I can’t help but crunch numbers. In most cases the burbs are substantially cheaper than the city and become incrementally more cost effective for each additonal child you have.

    I wuld note that the city does have some perks but none that offset living there as I can access the best with a 45min drive and leave the worst behind.

    Long post but one final point many of my co-workers also discuss how little they have to do on the weekends like mow the lawn, snow throw, home maint, etc. All I can say is I like mowing the lawn ofver playing tennis, When my mower or snow thrower breaks I like getting up on Sat. at 5am with some coffee and figuring out how to fix it. I have rebuilt my snowthrower twice and my mower once. I know what a shearing bolt is and why using a regulr bolt is bad as it could cause additonal damage to the augur a more exepenisve part. My buddies from the city visit and you can see they are bored out of thier mind working on garden equipment. I just feel great when I start the baby up after an hours labor and the thing runs great. PS mowing is easy abot 50mins for 1.5 acres if you know what your doing.

    All I can say is I am glad the city dwellers are happy where they live and I can understand why they feel the way they do. Different stokes for different folks.

  4. xfactor, like you said ‘different strokes for different folks’. But when you say ” thesuburbs IMHO are better in every single way”, and mention all the reasons, you are mostly talking about why they are better for YOU, not that they are better in general for everyone else.
    You say that you outgrew going out at night, but nightlife is not just for teens or young 20somethings partying the night away. There are plenty of interesting night events for different types of people, with different types of hobbies, etc. Some people love theatre, while you may be bored. Some people love ballroom dancing, and it’s not just for young people, plenty of older people doing it, and some really good too, and having a great time at night.
    Some people even have late night chess tournaments in NYC.
    Just because things happen at night don’t mean they are just wild parties.
    I just think cities have more diversity, more interesting things to do, and not just for one type of people- not everyone needs to love art or museum in cities either. Pick a hobby, and you will probably find a group, class, workshop, anything about it in the city. Maybe not so much gardening, but that also happens in the city too, despite people having smaller yards.
    So while the city may have downsides, crowds, etc. there are plenty of people who love it and, find tons of reasons why it’s better for ‘them’.
    But thank goodness everyone is not the same in the world, everyone can’t think exactly the same, or else nothing would be interesting anymore.

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