Rare: urban Millennial claims to miss the suburbs

This is not a piece from The Onion but rather a story at Atlantic Cities: a Millennial discusses why she thinks the grass may be greener in the suburbs.

I’m one of the thousands of Millennials who make up this new urban demographic. I left the comforts of Eden Prairie, Minnesota — a suburb of the Twin Cities and a community that has consistently been ranked one of the best small towns in America — for New York City. And while my move to New York was the right decision for a variety of reasons (or so I keep telling myself), I often wonder if the grass might indeed be greener—both literally and figuratively—had I stayed in the suburbs.While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about green space. Multiple studies have tracked the social, cultural, and emotional assets green spaces bring to a community, including mental health benefits and reduced rates of gun violence. While cities such as New York and Philadelphia have made tremendous gains in creating new and better public spaces in recent years — former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presided over the biggest program of park building since the 1930s — too many urban communities are still “park deserts” compared to their suburban counterparts.

Another area where suburbs often trump cities is in the quality (or lack thereof) of their public schools. From the mass closing of public schools in Chicago to the “dizzying, byzantine system” eighth grade students and their parents go through to select a public high school in New York City, it is as hard as ever—if not harder—for parents to find quality public education for their children in large American cities. And this particular reality seems especially stubborn: students from suburban communities are more likely to graduate high school and go on to higher education than their urban counterparts, which of course in turn makes them more likely to get well-paying jobs as adults.

But the number one way the suburbs beat the city, especially for young people, is in affordability. After living in both Washington, D.C., and New York City, I can safely say that affording basic human necessities, such as shelter and sustenance—not to mention having a little fun here and there—is much cheaper outside of the city center. When paying $1,000 per month to share an apartment is a “good deal,” and when you don’t think twice about spending $14 for a single cocktail, what chance does a young city dweller have to actually save money? Not all cities are as insanely expensive as Washington and New York (Philly! Baltimore! Portland!), but when the mortgage on a spacious, four-bedroom home rivals the monthly rent of a cramped one-bedroom apartment, there really is no competition.

These are common arguments for the suburbs through American history back to the founding of some of the earliest suburbs in the mid-1800s: they provide green space and more nature, the ability to avoid “urban issues” like underperforming schools, and affordable housing compared to dense cities.

I have to wonder if her perspective is skewed just a little bit by growing up in Eden Prairie. As she notes, this is a community often marked as one of the nicer American suburbs. Not all suburbs are like this as they range from inner-ring suburbs adjacent to big cities to industrial suburbs to edge cities with lots of jobs to more exurban areas with bigger lots. Not all suburbs would have these three traits she claims are most important and others may offer features she does not discuss. On the whole, her arguments about the merits of the suburbs may be marked by a particular higher-end experience of American suburbs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s