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City vs. Suburbs

As a military family, there are dozens of variables you consider when looking at a prospective home. How close is it to base? How are the local schools? What is the local economy like? And while a military assignment may mean a finite list of options, if given the opportunity you’ll also want to think about what kind of setting you’d want that home to be in: city or suburbs. Here we outline some of the pros and cons of each for you to keep in mind during your search.

Pace of Living: City living is high speed, high action, all the time. The suburbs lend a more relaxed pace. Neither is inherently good or bad. Maybe you like the fast-paced life and the idea of a city that never sleeps. Maybe you like it in small doses as a visitor. Perhaps the idea of constant activity gives you hives. You’re probably pretty clear already on your preference, which means this is an easy call, unless your living plans include folks who like the opposite. If that’s the case, weighing and measuring some of the other differences will be even more important to you.

Transportation: Cities typically provide a public transportation system. If you’re living in the suburbs, it’s likely that you’ll need to have at least one car in your household to get around. And if that car has to take your service member back and forth to post, that means you’re without a vehicle and/or spending money on Uber/Lyft, etc. But there’s usually less traffic in suburbia, so that car you’ll need to have? You won’t be spending as much time stuck in traffic with it.

Cost of Living: City living is expensive. There’s really no getting around that. The question to ask yourself is this: “Is what you believe you’d gain from living in the city worth the higher price tag?” The answer to that question is really about what you value most for yourself and your family, so the only right answer is the one that works for you.

Homes are generally cheaper in suburbia, and you’ll get more real estate (square footage) for your dollar. If you’re envisioning big closets and wide-open spaces to enjoy—that’s fantastic news. But you may not have access to some of the amenities you’d like, and it will cost you to have those things available.

The View: City lights or starry nights? Colorful sights and sounds or expanses of well-manicured lawns? There are beautiful views to take in everywhere if you’re open to the idea that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. So, what do your eyes want to take in when you’re enjoying the view from your home?

Diversity: Cities offer greater diversity—you’ll share your neighborhood with people of different cultures and religious experiences. There will be greater access to ethnic food and cultural events. You’ll find galleries and museums and concerts and plays and a whole rich assortment of things to do and see. The suburbs are more likely to be home to nearby mom-and-pop shops or local specialties and may lack a tremendous amount of variety in offerings. But if you’ve got that car that suburb living will necessitate, those diverse opportunities are only a drive away to the nearest city.

Community: City life offers anonymity. You have some grace if you’ve suffered a falling-out or made a visible-to-others mistake. It’s likely nobody will have noticed except your immediate circle of people, and you have the option of picking a new circle of people at any time.

In the suburbs, things like you yelling at your kids out the kitchen window or crying in the driveway in your bathrobe after yet another deployment departure are more likely to be noticed. You’ll probably get caught in those less-than-spectacular moments by someone who actually knows your name. But life in suburbia also brings with it a greater feeling of community—so there’s also more likely to be someone who sees your struggle and responds with loving support.

When weighing the pros and cons, there may not be a clear winner. Maybe you like living in a vibrant, busy, bustling environment but also love to enjoy the clear night sky. Perhaps you enjoy the idea of a Chinatown or Little Italy within walking distance but also want your kids to be able to play hockey in the middle of the street with their soon-to-be neighborhood besties.

Like with many of the decisions you’ll make as you navigate another military move, you’ll need to be able to find the solution that best addresses what’s most important to you and your family. And whether that choice leaves you calling the city or the suburbs home, you’ll still be heading for a great adventure.