Living in the city vs. the suburbs

Household 4 min read

Are you a city dweller or a suburbanite? Depending on which category you fall into, you may have a strong opinion about which one is better. Because I grew up in the suburbs, but have been living in the city for the past eight years, I always feel torn about which one I prefer.

I love the tranquility of the suburbs, not to mention the fact that everything’s so much cheaper. But I also love the excitement of city living and being able to order takeout at 1 a.m. like it’s no big deal.

To find out which one reigns supreme for once and for all, let’s take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of each locale.

Space

It’s no secret that you’ll get way more space for your money if you live in the suburbs. That’s the biggest reason why millennials and Gen Xers are moving to the suburbs in droves after years of living in the city.

If you want to raise a family or have pets, you need space! It can be difficult to do all that in a two-bedroom apartment downtown. You need storage, multiple bedrooms, a garage, and a yard. Unless you have seven figures to spend on a house in the city, you won’t be able to get all that without being house poor for decades to come.

As an example, let’s compare how much space you can get for $400,000 living in the city of Chicago vs. the suburb of Naperville (a one-hour drive away).

In Naperville, you can easily find a house for $400,000 or less with three beds and two baths in a 2,190 square foot house on a 9,951 square foot lot (Zillow).

In Chicago, it’s slim pickings. Most houses in desirable Chicago neighborhoods cost half a million dollars or more. That being said, you could find a house in the Humboldt Park neighborhood under $400,000, but it may only have 1,634 square feet and sit on a 3,123 square foot lot (Zillow).

Suburbs = 1

City = 0

Time

Having ample space isn’t the only thing you consider when looking for a home though, is it? Your commute is just as important, if not more important. That’s why so many people choose to live in micro-condos downtown. They may not have space, but they only have a 10-minute walk to work!

If you were to live in that house in Naperville, you would have to spend over two hours in the car to commute downtown for work every single day. That’s 14 hours per week, 56 hours per month, and 728 hours per year. Just let that sink in.

Whereas if you lived in that house in Humboldt Park, your commute would only be 22 minutes to Chicago’s downtown core, or 36 minutes by public transit.

This is, of course, not including traffic for either scenario, but I think you get the picture.

Suburbs = 0

City = 1

Safety

Safety is something you shouldn’t take lightly when house hunting, and it really should be one of your top priorities when considering where to live. I remember a few years back when my husband and I first started house hunting. We thought we found a hidden gem in the city under $500,000 and couldn’t believe no one had snatched it up! Then I talked to a friend whose brother was a cop, and she informed me that that neighborhood was known for its high crime rate. Needless to say, we didn’t buy it.

In Humboldt Park, you may get less space for your money, but who could argue with a 22-minute commute to downtown Chicago? That may be a big selling point for you, but don’t forget to check what the crime rate looks like. According to Trulia’s crime data, Humboldt Park is considered a less safe neighborhood than the average neighborhood. That means you may be paying higher property taxes and are at risk for a home invasion, vandalism, or other crime near where you live.

An hour away in Naperville, Trulia’s crime data shows that it’s a safer neighborhood than the average neighborhood. So, not only are you paying for more space in the suburbs, you’re also paying for peace of mind.

Suburbs = 1

City = 0 

Lifestyle

Aside from the shorter commute, another benefit of living in the city is the lifestyle. Restaurants, clubs, festivals and concerts! There’s always something exciting to look forward to when you live in the city. When you live in the suburbs, although you may have all the amenities you need, you may not get the same unique experiences you could get in the city. Just ask my parents. They left the suburbs to visit me over the summer, and it was as if I took them to Disneyland—they were awestruck by how many options there were for restaurants on my block alone!

Suburbs = 0

City = 1 

Values

We’ve gone over four different things to consider when weighing the pros and cons of living in the city vs. living in the suburbs. Although these are important considerations, you’ll have probably come to the same conclusion as I did that neither is better than the other. Why? Because we all have different values. Where I’m at in my life right now, I value my commute and lifestyle. But in the future, when I start a family, my values may shift and I may value space and safety more.

You may have different values, so make sure to take an account of what’s most important to you, then plan accordingly.

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