Stay in the City or Move to the Burbs?

Suburbs give much-needed room for families to spread their wings and explore the outdoors, but cities beckon when the kids move out.

April 1, 2006

Where and when a family moves depends largely on their age and the developmental stage of their children. An exciting city location is great during some phases of life, but the peaceful suburbs beckon at other times.

Despite the nationwide trend toward city living, families with young kids still tend to favor the suburbs, says David Kopec, an expert in environmental and community psychology.

“Children in elementary school or junior high tend to prefer a suburban environment because it affords them greater freedom to go outdoors to play, and their friends are usually within walking distance,” Kopec says. “They tend to view their environment in terms of exploration and immediate gratification.”

Families with young children usually prefer suburban and rural environments because life can be less structured, Kopec says. Children can run outside to play in the backyard at a moment’s notice and find hours of entertainment in exploring nature.

However, as adolescence approaches, children reach a stage of development in which they seek entertainment from man-made environments. Climbing trees loses favor to hanging out with their friends in malls, movie theaters, and community centers.

Still, families who move to a new home during their kids’ teenage years are likely to favor the suburbs, which are perceived to be safer and more family oriented. But as the children become adults and leave the family home, they’ll often gravitate towards more urban areas.

“Preferences often evolve to a more urban setting because of the increased availability of social, educational, and career opportunities,” Kopec says. “For this population, a variety of restaurants, clubs, and sports facilities — social opportunities to find a potential life partner — are the environmental attributes of greatest importance.”

After taking in the excitement of the city, finding partners, and having children, housing preferences often turn back to the suburbs. “Parents with young children often prefer to be around other families who can provide playmates for their children, as well as collaboration on methods for child-rearing,” Kopec says.

Likewise, many of the important considerations for location for this population are access to child care, quality schools, and proximity to grocery stores, he adds.

But the cycle continues. As parents become empty nesters and seniors, the city looks appealing once more. Good public transportation, a wide selection of leisure activities, quality medical services, shops, and restaurants are big benefits of living in the city.

So when the question arises, “Which is better, the suburbs or the city?” the answer is a little bit of both, depending on where you are in your life.

(c) Copyright 2006 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.