I didn’t always live in the suburbs. I started life on a quiet city street, and my family moved out of town when I was 7. We lived in a community that was comprised of houses lining both sides of a highway, and a couple of side streets. However, our house and all of our neighbours’ houses were set on 2 or 3 acres each of forested property, surrounding a lake. It was like “cottage country” year-round!
Our little village had one school, two churches, a gas station, a restaurant, and a family-run convenience store. We kids were always busy exploring the woods, swimming, skating, and walking to the store to buy candy. The parents/adults good-heartedly kept the kids busy with a few organized activities like Brownies and Cubs, swimming lessons, and eventually, a canoe club. I took drawing, dancing and guitar lessons from local people who offered them in their own homes. We were bussed many miles further out into the country for most of our schooling. The school had clubs and activities at lunch time and they even had a “late bus” so you could stay for after-school activities and be bussed home. The teachers dedicated a lot of time organizing groups and chaperoning us.
In retrospect, it seems idyllic! However, probably because of my reading tastes, I gravitated toward city life from a young age. The nearest city was just half an hour away, but because we were grouped into a rural school district, it seemed like another life there. My parents drove into town weekly for provisioning. Public transit ran once a day in each direction, 6 days a week, so we kids could only go “in town” on Saturdays. No one asked their parents to drive them – it was understood they were tired from commuting all week. So we’d go to movies and go shopping and kill lots of time at the malls on Saturdays between bus hours.
We’d meet kids from the city schools and compare lifestyles. I envied them their choices of curriculum courses, the abundance of activities and facilities they had access to, and the independence they had because of being on bus routes. I envied their proximity to all-ages rock shows. My friends were in various small communities and we only saw each other at school during the day. I thought it would be cool to live in the city because your friends would be nearby and you could hang out at any hour.
When I left home, I didn’t migrate to a big city – I accepted a job offer in a city the same size as my own nearest one growing up – but 2700 miles away 🙂 It was easy to navigate and make friends, and inexpensive to boot. My next job and city were the same size again – 1600 miles closer this time. Then I came full circle and moved back to my home town – not the tiny community, but what was once the big city.
In the meanwhile I had visited and spent time in larger cities, from Ottawa and Calgary to Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Boston and San Francisco. However, my career path never led me to stay in any of them.
Upon my return home, I had almost unlimited choices of places and styles of living: a new apartment downtown, a condo in a “funky but chic” neighbourhood, a charming flat or a character home in a old part of the city, a lakefront or oceanfront home in the country, a retreat in the woods, or a new construction in a “development.” I ended up choosing the latter.
Here’s my checklist:
- Wanted municipal services (water, sewer, library, etc.)
- Wanted to be near amenities such as shopping and recreation
- Wanted to have some basic services within walking distance
- Wanted to be near arts, culture & entertainment
- Parenting: access to good schools, childcare, activities and student jobs
- Didn’t want bored, restless teenager (possible side effect of country living!)
- No interest in major outdoor recreation (boating, hunting)
- No large pets to accommodate
- Wanted to live in area with diversity (of people)
- Wanted public transportation
- Wanted easy access to work, avoid long commute
- Wanted neighbours
- Didn’t want major property upkeep (dock, private road, plowing, etc.)
- Didn’t want to live near country features such as livestock farm or stock car racing!
- No longer able to tolerate being in a shared building (noises from adjoining apartments, etc.)!
- Wanted some privacy
- Wanted to avoid cityscape noises (sirens, heavy machinery)
- Wanted green space, potential for gardening
So…it was an easy decision: live in a city or town with amenities, but in a quiet neighbourhood. Off to the suburbs I went! I live in a smallish 15-year-old house on a street with dozens of similar houses. The lack of character does not bother me at all. (Either I can create my own character, or be the character!) The homes are about 25 feet apart and have their own driveways. There are sidewalks and street lights, parks and playgrounds, and plenty of safe walking routes. The neighbourhood (although not my own property) backs onto a forested wilderness. I have a big fan-shaped yard with trees and flowers and almost too much grass to mow. There are 2 schools, a big sports centre, 4 churches, a good restaurant, a convenience store, a supermarket, a produce market, a dollar store, a vet, and a bus stop around the corner.
And kids are bored and they spin wheelies in the school parking lot and I sometimes hear construction or sirens. But I like going out on the deck and saying hello to my neighbour on the next deck 50 feet away, or pointedly ignoring each other when we want privacy! I like walking loops around all the crescents at night and knowing all the dogs and their owners. I like not having to travel great distances on the highway to get to work, and being close enough to movies and plays and concerts that I can go any weeknight and not have to think about the trip home. I like my errands being errands and not an expedition. I loved taking my kid to clubs and lessons and events, and making an easy transition to all those things being done independently.
And now my kid has been launched, and is in the Big City – not this one, but a real Big City – and I feel super comfortable with that, because who wouldn’t want all the perks of city life?
I will be staying here in my in-between land, because it’s the best of both worlds. And looking forward to all my future vacations – every one of which will be to cities!