Raising Kids in the City

I received a sweet comment from a reader who is considering leaving the suburban home she and her husband moved to a few years ago to return to the city and raise their kids. The city is an amazing place to raise a family. Our museums, libraries, universities, cultural and civic offerings, diverse neighbors and community spirit keep urban families constantly learning and discovering.

Here are some of my responses to the frequently-asked-questions I get about raising kids in the city:

Q. Don't you want to live in a big house with a big yard and plentiful parking?

A: We like our cozy home and we rarely drive our car in the city so assigned parking isn't a necessity for us. And who needs a big yard when we have Harvard Yard just up the road? Also, our small shared backyard in our big, six-family building fosters a strong sense of community and collaborative play, particularly because there is now a gaggle of kids in our building. So much of our time in the city is spent outside of our house--meeting friends at nearby parks and playgrounds, visiting museums and libraries, exploring city squares, hopping on a bus or subway train--that we don't feel limited by our small city space.

Q: Isn't it hard to get around with kids in the city?

A: The city is simple when you live in it. It's easy to walk or bike or ride on public transportation for all of our errands and appointments and recreation. When we are at my family's lakehouse in the country, I find it much more challenging and stressful to pile kids in and out of the car to simply buy a carton of milk or go to the bank. In the city, our daily errands are woven into our play, with a walk to the post office followed by a playground or museum visit.

Q: What about the schools?

A: We have chosen to remain city-dwellers and home school our kids, but many urban school districts get a bad reputation even though they have a lot to offer. Urban school districts typically spend two-to-three times the per pupil expenditure of their suburban counterparts, which can lead to many innovative programs and resources for students. There are also exciting things happening with charter, magnet and exam schools in urban districts across the country. Also, while there is much truth to the lore of urban, private schools as expensive and difficult to get into, there are also a variety of more affordable, more accessible private school options in most cities.

Q: Isn't the city dangerous?

A: Just as there are some cities that are more walkable than others, there are some cities with higher crime rates than others. But of course it's important to note that whenever there are more people in one place, there will be more crime, just statistically speaking. The city amplifies both the good and the bad of society. For the most part, though, city-living fosters community and networks and close interactions with neighbors. I feel much more secure in my city condo surrounded by people than in our more remote country lake house. Similarly, with so many people in the city, there are very few parks and playgrounds and other outdoor spaces that are off-limits to us. Most are heavily populated with families at all times of the day.

Q: Isn't the city expensive?

A: Yes and no. It's true that housing costs are higher in many cities, but as a result homes are typically smaller, denser and cheaper to heat, cool, furnish, and maintain. We drive less and only need one car (or none at all), so transportation costs are significantly lower for city-dwellers. High rents at local markets and shops can raise prices, but cities are wonderfully diverse and for every high-end store there are plenty of discount ones nearby too.

Q: How long do you plan to stay in the city?

A: Hopefully forever!