06.28.11

A City Mom’s Suburban Solution

Posted in Monthly at 9:21 am by Pasha

By Pasha Holiday

A few weeks ago I opened the Sunday Tribune to see a cliched column written by a new mom who is biding her time in the heart of Chicago, whilst knowing eventually it will end. It seems that most former city gals, turned city moms, eventually concede and move with the masses miles outside of the city they once loved. Once a belly blooms and then toys take over every square inch of a condo, most moms really don’t see another way to survive with sanity intact but to move to the suburbs.

But there is another way. A sort of suburbia, right smack dab in the middle of the tenaciously diverse and active city of Chicago. It is called, a neighborhood. And the neighborhoods are filled with options beyond a condominium or high-rise building.

Like London, and unlike New York, Chicago has these fabulous neighborhoods that are in the city limits, are on all the mass transportation lines, and offer so many of the amenities that the suburbs do. Namely, and most important, the housing is a lot like what you get thirty miles south on the interstate. The homes in the city are older (more character) and offer smaller square footage (less to clean, I say) and smaller yards (less to mow!) They are unlike the burbs, where house after house in a neighborhood is almost identical to the one next door. Most city houses are constructed with plaster walls, brick facades and basements with seepage issues. In many of the suburbs, the homes are so new you can still smell the paint. The lawns are certainly more cookie cutter. And you might not have to worry as much about rats in the trash cans. Still, you don’t need suburbia to own a house, with a lawn and a garage.

Chicago has a variety of neighborhoods, each in varying price ranges, too many to recognize them all. For a cool million in Lincoln Park, you can buy a 2500 square foot home, complete with old historic charm and rewired electrical. You probably won’t have a damp basement with that kind of price tag, either. Or you can find a more moderately priced house, maybe around $500,000 in uber kid-friendly neighborhoods, like Roscoe Village and Lakeview. If your budget is still limited (as most of ours are) there are still options for you to have a little all your own in the city, including excellent neighborhoods like Logan Square and Rogers Park. The homes might need a little more TLC and the demographics are a little more diverse. But for about $250,000, you can live the American Dream, right inside an American Dreamin’ City.

Some folks move out to the suburbs once they have kids for a bit more peace and quiet, a little slower way of life. I wonder, though, if life really ever slows down after the first child! Whether you are on a sleepy east/west street shaded with trees in the city or a gated community in Naperville, peace is how you make it in your world. When the kids are screaming from cabin fever and you have to get out of the house, where do you take them when you are in the burbs? I do not have any experience of living outside of a city, so maybe I just have not been enlightened, but it seems that shopping or a strip mall provides most entertainment beyond the city limits.

In Chicago there are so many different ways to calm your cranky kids and get the peace and reprieve that is so well-deserved. Museums, public pools, shade tree in the park, cafes that cater to small tots: they are all here. And chances are they are a short bus ride from your front door.

Maybe the number one reasons moms and dads pack of their children in exodus to the burbs is for a “good” education. Really though, a good education is subjective. To some, a good education comes in the form of experience, watching others around you, diversity and life’s lessons. For those who simply believe that education is taught inside of a classroom, the public schools in the city do leave a bit to be desired. Unlike the sprawling playgrounds and unlimited gym equipment, musical instruments and art classes of the suburbs, there are so many schools in the city that have cut arts and music all together.

Still, there is a way. Children can win lotteries to the better schools in the city, the schools that offer some of the best arts programs. Parents can, of course, pay for catholic, private or Montessori school. Or, parents can offer their children an alternative education at a co-op driven educational center in the city. While the suburbs have a whole lot of stuff, the city has a whole lot of options.

Surely there is a case to me made for the burbs: the lawns are greener, the public services are more efficient and kids can ride their bikes all around the subdivisions. But I think that the city has its own special charm. A dead end street becomes a city-kids cul-de-sac and the corner store its language class. There is less keeping up with the Joneses and more keeping true to yourself. It is the neighborhoods that make up Chicago that are the cooler, older sisters of suburbia.