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Big City Burbs or Smaller City Core?

A friend of the blog posed this question to me recently:
Would you rather live in the suburbs of a big city (say, in New Jersey, 15 miles northwest of Manhattan) or the core of a smaller city (say, Downtown Kansas City)?
I think the answer is more complicated than a simple either/or. On-balance, my answer would be Kansas City. A neighborhood is the place were you spend the majority of your time. Being close to Manhattan is neat, but there's still a 15 mile buffer between you and the city. You might visit once or twice a month, but your experience will be limited to that of a 'weekender'. As I recently noted, being close to something 'by car' does not mean you will experience it the same ways that a true local does.

(from Flickr user jonathan_moreau)

But like I said, it's rarely so simple, and brings up another question I've been wanting to address: reverse commutes. In a tough recession, beggers can't be choosers. Maybe you find a job in the suburbs of a big city, say, 15 miles from its downtown. If you're like me, would it be better to live in the same (potentially uncool) suburb as your job? Or would it be better to live in a hip urban neighborhood and drive your car out to the suburbs and back every day.

In this case I would say that it's better to live in the suburb where your job is located. The reason is twofold. First, reverse commutes don't really exist anymore. The typical flow of cars into cities in the morning and into the suburbs in the afternoon is becoming a thing of the past. Now people are driving every whichway at all times of day, so the idea that you can avoid traffic is becoming a fallacy. Second, the added cost and stress that you take on by living far away from your primary responsibility (in this case, your job) refutes much of the benefit of living in a hip neighborhood. If you're exhausted every night from making a long commute, it doesn't matter how much awesome stuff you're coming home to in the evenings. Presumably, you're paying a big premium to live in the neighborhood with cool amenities, but if you can't take full advantage of them, then it might not be a good value.

That said, this is a highly debatable question. If you think about these situations as a fluid long-term phenomenon, instead of as a fixed period in time, then you're in a position to say, "sure, I don't love living and working in the suburbs, but my long term goal can be to find another job in a more ideal area and work my way in from there." At least that's how I would try to think about it.

Comments

Dave Reid said…
From my point of view you do the reverse commute. The job is just part of your life, once ur done for the day living in a dense neighborhood still has all the advantages of walkability, mixed-use... so on that you can take advantage at night and on the weekend. Then find job closer to home.

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