My childhood was just about as small-town-idyllic as it gets. I grew up in the woods of New England; I ran outside barefoot all summer, playing tag and catching fireflies until long after dark. We knew everyone in town, and all the parents kept an eye out for each other’s kids (my mom joked that she had “eyes” all over town).
But today, I’ve made the choice to raise my daughter in a vastly different environment — in the heart of one of the biggest cities in America. Why? Too many reasons to count, really, but here are a few.
In my small town, the vast majority of the residents looked like me: white. It wasn’t until I went to college in Boston and Los Angeles that I became exposed to people of different cultures, races, ethnicities, religions, genders, sexual orientations, abilities… the list goes on. Simply meeting people who are different opened my eyes to global issues more than any school lesson could. And now, my daughter has been exposed to more diversity at age 3 than I was at 18. My hope is that this means she’ll grow up with a deeply ingrained sense of respect and compassion for those who are different from her.
Then there’s the bonus of living in a diverse community: food. In my hometown, our choices were limited to fast food, pizza and Chinese takeout. In her few years of life so far, my daughter has already gobbled down delicious and surprisingly cheap Thai pad see ew, Japanese ramen, Korean bibimbap, Mexican tamales, Filipino barbeque, Vietnamese cold rice noodles, Indian aloo gobi… Oh, and all of these dishes are available within a 2-mile radius of our apartment.
In cities, living spaces tend to be much smaller. Our family of three lives in a 750-square-foot apartment. This means our energy bills (and carbon footprints) are low, and we can’t accumulate a lifetime of clutter — because we have no place to put it. We have to make careful decisions about what purchases we bring home, and we have to stay organized. This means we save on everything from toys to clothes to furniture as well as the hours we’d spend cleaning a larger place. Most of all, we spend a lot more time together because there aren’t opposite ends of a house to retreat to.
Culture & entertainment
This holiday season, I’ll be taking my daughter to a production of The Nutcracker just like quite a few families across the country. But not all those families have dozens of Nutcracker productions to choose from. Shall we hit up the Moscow Ballet? How about a Debbie Allen hip-hop revamp of the Tchaikovsky-Balanchine classic? Or perhaps we’ll check out The Nutcracker performed by puppets.
From Disney on Ice to Paw Patrol Live, if it’s touring, it will come here. But it’s not all big-ticket shows that cost a pretty penny; our city also boasts a seemingly unlimited selection of affordable or even free museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens and play spaces to choose from at any moment.
Does your kid want to learn Mexican folklorico dancing? Maybe she wants to try rock climbing, learn to code or go to zoo camp? Or how about a foreign language — Arabic, Hindi, Swedish, anyone? If your kid can dream it, there’s probably a class available with an expert to teach it. Yes, a lot of these classes cost a lot of money, but you’d be surprised at the affordable options out there. Even the public school system in our city offers dual-language programs in Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, you name it. When you live in a densely populated area, there’s a wealth of experience and talent at your fingertips for a wide range of price points.
Can’t make it to the grocery store because you’re home with a sick kiddo? Having a dinner party and forgot the wine? Working late with no time to make dinner? In my city, there are seemingly countless delivery services that can bring you everything from food to booze to household supplies. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re lazing it up, never leaving the house and spending our entire salaries on getting random items toted to our doorstep. But, boy, is this a nice option to have for “emergencies” large and small. I know if I ever wake up the day of my daughter’s friend’s birthday party and realize I forgot to get a present, I can order something on Amazon Prime Now that will arrive in an hour or two. It’s amazing what this knowledge does to lower one’s anxiety levels.
Even in small towns, “walkable” is one of the most sought-after real-estate buzzwords. Being able to walk to your local coffee shops, parks, libraries, farmers markets, restaurants and shops makes for an active and often more happy family. And if you’ve been trying to get a sullen older kid to open up a little, there’s nothing like a long walk to stimulate conversation.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was worried I’d never be able to recreate that small-town community vibe I’d grown up with. I thought it would be impossible in this big city — but I was so wrong. Since my daughter’s birth, I have met so many amazing friends and parents (many through nothing more than a neighborhood Facebook group) and I now have the same close-knit, caring community I had back home — just on a slightly larger scale.
Bottom line: While I don’t have a huge backyard or recognize every face in the grocery store, for me, the benefits of raising a child in the city far outweigh any negatives. By being immersed in diversity, educational opportunities and cultural experiences, this city is educating my daughter far better than I would be able to on my own. And I like to think that education is turning her into a more compassionate, global-minded citizen too.