Friday, November 14, 2008

The Small City Advantage, Family Perspective

One of the first entries I ever did on this blog concerned the benefits of small-city living, seen from the perspective of an individual looking to establish some social capital. The basic idea behind it was that a city is going to offer a lot more than a small town or village, and it's a small city (100,000 or so residents) that's going to be just small enough to where you can actually *be* someone and not just get lost in the shuffle of a New York, Boston, LA, or Chicago.

Spending the better part of the past week on leave with the extended clan has shown me another small city benefit -- public transportation. When kids are in the age range where they're busy with activities but too young to drive and/or own a car (say, 12-17 years old) it's VERY easy for me to see how the title "parent" can just become synonymous with "chauffeur." But, while they're at that age, that also means they ought to be self-sufficient enough to use a bus or light-rail system when it's available. When you've got that in place, and you live somewhere dense enough where walking is usually a viable option, you make it a lot easier for kids to get around without turning their parents into full-time chauffeurs (which is obviously impossible if they already both work full-time jobs).

Having grown up in a community that had no public transportation system whatsoever, it made getting around a constant challenge, especially when both parents work. And while suburbia's green lawns and bigger houses may be great for the ego/privacy/net worth of the homeowners, I would say that when it greatly restricts anything that kids might be able to do outside the house, it's a very debatable point to say that it's necessarily *better* for kids.

I guess the ideal scenario for large families might be a nice neighborhood with some space that's not too far from downtown (i.e. reasonably walkable) but still within city limits and thereby accessible by public transportation.

Unless, of course, you don't mind chauffeuring.


Shannon said...

Interesting point. My first thought when choosing a location for a home with a child was to move far away from the city. But now that I have been outside of it for almost a year, I definitely miss it. I miss the lights, and even the sound of cars driving by.

Tucson's public transportation system called SunTran is not very efficient. It takes 3 to 4 hours to get across town and the buses are usually late so personal transportation is a must. But downtown is a little different. It is very close to the university and mostly everything is in reasonable walking distance. Lots of people ride their bikes to get around and there is a bus station so if your not going too far it is helpful.
Downtown really has a very unique character and style all its' own. It is a diverse and incredibly eclectic place. The people that belong to downtown are absolutely that way as well. Downtown even has its' own smell. Its not bad, just distinct. During the day there are always kids out walking around or skateboarding and lots of parents out and about with their small children. Its a really fun and interesting place.

The New Englander said...


Good to hear a lot of this applies in a place like Tucson (more spread out and newer than most small cities in the Northeast), the bicycle thing is a good mention, too -- when you're close to the center of things, it's another good alternative to the bus or just walking.

I guess at any age for the kid(s) the proximity thing is good for parents...I know your daughter is too young to get around on her own, but I would imagine it's that much better (for you AND her!) when you live near a playground...and then once she's old enough to go out and walk around on her own, you won't be stuck as the driver every time she wants to go see her friends or go see a movie.

Also, I like what you say about downtowns' character (buildings and the people). It's just a way more interesting way to live...the other day I drove out to Sudbury, Mass. (looks almost identical to my town growing up) and remembered that yes, it's great for people who want to have a big lawn and a big house but it's just a very isolated way to live compared to the city. Way less interesting and not necessarily *better* by any metric I would use..


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