Monday, 9 February 2015

A Slice of Suburban Paradise

Where to settle down and make a home for your family is a complicated decision. It may be one of the toughest you’ll ever make – and have a huge impact on your child’s future.
A high-rise condo in the heart of the city with all the amenities and within walking distance of everything? A sprawling farmhouse in the country with acres of land and trees and a creek trickling by? A midtown century townhouse oozing character and charm just a short drive away from the office? A cozy suburban bungalow with a sprawling backyard and playgrounds and parks and kid-friendly streets?
Do you need to stay near your families, to the town where you were raised? How long of a commute to work can you handle, and how much traffic are you willing to deal with? How much living space do you need? How important is a yard? Do you need to be close to shops and restaurants? How close? What about schools, and parks, and community facilities? What kind of lifestyle are you comfortable living?
And what can you afford?
The further away you move from the city – particularly this city – the more home you can afford for your money. A bigger house on a bigger property with a smaller mortgage and more money left over at the end of the month is a big incentive to relocate. But how long of a commute is reasonable for you? How much will you have to spend in gas, time, and an extra vehicle to make that move away from the city workable?
Living right in the heart of the city with easy access to transit means being able to get rid of one of the cars – both, if your life is very centralized and you’re willing to rent one for the odd necessary trip out of the city. But homes in the city cost an absolute fortune – are you willing to be house-poor for a few years in exchange for the convenience of having everything at your fingertips?
There are a million questions, a million factors, a million priorities to sift through in making a decision about where to put down roots, raise a family and build a life.
For our family, the decision was a no-brainer. For us, the suburbs is the only place to live and raise our family.
We both grew up in the suburbs – the same suburb, actually – a cozy little small town only a couple of kilometres from the biggest city in the country. It was perfect – safe, friendly, family-oriented. Community-minded. Lots of kids bike riding up and down the streets, neighbourhood barbeques, everyone meeting up on Main Street for ice cream, that sort of thing. I can’t imagine a more idyllic childhood, and I want the same for my kids.
A rural lifestyle is completely out of the question for us. While I understand the appeal of living a life of quiet isolation in the country – for some, though definitely not for me – I couldn’t imagine raising children there. No neighbourhood barbeques, no park full of kids, no sounds of splashing in the pool or children’s laughter from nearby backyards, no get-togethers with the neighbours because there aren’t any neighbours. A bus ride to school instead of a short, familiar walk. Strapping everyone into the car for a trip “into town” every time you need to buy so much as a bag of milk. No neighbourhood kids knocking on the front door to ask if your son can come out to play, no security in the knowledge that if your boy falls off his bike down the street a half-dozen adults who know him will make sure he’s ok and get him back to you. I’m sure a childhood out in the country has its benefits, but it’s just so far removed from my mental image of what childhood means, from what my own childhood was, from what I want for my kids’ childhoods.
And, frankly, I like knowing the city’s just a stone’s throw away from where I live. Like most native Torontonians, I firmly believe the city is the centre of the universe.
The city lifestyle is definitely something that appeals to me – restaurants, shopping, theatre and nightlife all at your doorstep, endless options for activities and entertainment, everything you could want and need within walking distance of your front door. It’s exactly the kind of lifestyle I’d want – if I didn’t have kids. The problem with raising children in the city, in my mind, is safety. No matter how good a neighbourhood you live in there’s always a bad one within a few blocks.
A city is a big, crazy, congested place – too many people, too much traffic, too many distractions. Too easy to lose sight of a little pair of legs walking alongside you. Too much risk of a tiny hand slipping out of yours. Too many people crowded in on top of one another, leading to too much crime, too much exposure, too much risk of something very bad happening. Too much anonymity, not enough sense of community. Though the idea of a shortened commute and access to everything is uber appealing for a young single or a couple without children it would never be my choice for where to raise my kids.
Suburbia is the ideal for us. This little slice of heaven we found in the particular suburb we live in (after years of moving from suburb to city to country and back to suburb again…) couldn’t be better if we’d made it to order. Our home is tiny but perfect and sits in a beautiful yard, fronting a quiet tree-lined street and backing onto a park with a playground. Our neighbourhood is safe and friendly – neighbours visit from yard to yard, kids can bike ride up and down the streets or meet at the park to kick the ball around – everyone knows everyone else and keeps an eye on each other’s children. The school is one of the best in the region and is a five minute walk from our front door.
Our small town isn’t really all that small but does an amazing job of keeping that small-town sense of community – organized activities and events for kids and families every holiday, special occasion and long weekend, concerts in the park and movie nights, fairs and festivals and barbeques. Though we have restaurants, shopping, theatres and community centres within walking distance of our home we are also surrounded by biking paths and hiking trails and rivers and trees – and we’re still only a twenty minute drive into the heart of the city.
We did the city living thing and realized we’d never be able to afford both the home and the lifestyle we wanted for ourselves and our children if we bought our forever home there. We gave in to the temptation of owning a mansion for the same price as a condo in the city and moved up north – and absolutely hated it. We tried a few communities outside the city before we found the perfect fit for both our budget and our priorities – a cozy townhome with a beautiful yard in an idyllic little slice of suburbia just close enough to the city we spend so much time in. It’s a lot less house for a lot more money than we’d get living in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a lot more space than we’d ever have in the centre of the city action – and an ideal family lifestyle home and neighbourhood.
It’s the perfect balance of small-town community and city amenities and exactly the suburban paradise we want to raise our children in.

Originally published as "City vs. Suburbs" on my weekly column at 

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