I got a haircut from a new person last weekend. He was in his mid-20s and lived on the far north side of Chicago in the Edgewater neighborhood. He told me about how he used to live in Lakeview (or Lake View), which, anyone familiar with the city knows, is loaded with people in their 20s, who love to get loaded at the ubiquitous bars. (Note, I also once lived in Lakeview and had a great time).
The barber (or stylist, hairdresser, whatever you want to call him) told me that he grew up in the suburbs, but loved living in Chicago. When he wanted to find a cheaper place to live, he moved up to Edgewater. However, his friends who also lived in Lakeview couldn’t afford to live on their own in Lakeview, so they moved back home to live with their parents. (Note, I also now live in the inner-burbs with my family near our parents and have a great time).
This story made me happy and sad for two reasons. Happy: The barber wanted to stay in the city, and found a place of dwelling that worked for his budget, even if it wasn’t in Lakeview; he found a new neighborhood that makes him happy. Sad: His friends couldn’t afford Lakeview on their own, and didn’t want to move to a less trendy neighborhood, so they moved back to the suburbs.
The so-called boomerang generation has been well-documented, and U.S. adults living with parents is nothing new. But is it people moving back home because they want to be close to home and/or save money with free/minimal rent? Or is it they don’t even entertain the idea of living in another part of the city, a part that has most of the same ammenities but just fewer young adults, fewer bars, or (let’s be honest) more of “those people.”
The conversation I had with the barber made be think of my numerous friends and coworkers who have either moved to the suburbs or are seeking to move to the burbs. When I simply ask them where and why they want to move to said burbs, all of them have said a comment along the lines of “I’m not going out to the bars every night, so why do I need to live in the city?” This type of mentality is so prevalent that even Bloomberg alluded to it in an article, with the statement “trading city nightlife for the good [suburban] public schools their newborn son will one day attend.”
As if it was a zero-sum game.
Is City Living Only for Drinking and Partying?
I feel this is a flawed argument, that if you’re not partying week and/or living near the social scene, then there’s no point to live in the city. My experience with this is anecdotal, but I have several observations.
- The mindset assumes that the city is only useful for going to bars and clubs, getting wasted, or at least doing social events like trivia nights or rec league softball.
- Everything people do in the city can also be done in most suburbs, though to a lesser degree.
- “I don’t go out to bars anymore” is often the first reason I’ve heard people state for wanting to move. But there are many, many reasons why people want to leave the city, from economic issues, to perceived safety of another place, to owning larger property. Alcohol should not be the leading part of the conversation.
- There’s the assumption that people cannot happily live a full life, raise a family, and send their kids to school in the city. It’s like, if you have the economic means to have a family life in the city or suburbs, why would you ever stay in the city?
- All of the people from whom I’ve heard this argument all have lived in the bar-oriented post-college areas of Lakeview and Lincoln Park. They were the same people who considered Foster Ave, near where I lived, “so far north,” even though the city limits were another three miles (and several neighborhoods) north from my apartment. Yet, for most of them, they did not want to consider a different neighborhood when they wanted to leave their current address. It was suburbs only.
Yes, Suburban Life Is Also Great, But…
I want to make clear that I am not knocking on the suburbs. Many of the Chicago suburbs are great places to live. Many of the public schools are solid, and people can likely live in a larger home and/or larger lot compared with the city. There are many good restaurants, theater/concert venues, and well-run public events, such as festivals in the summertime. Also, some suburbs are better connected with transit to downtown than some of the outlying Chicago neighborhoods.
Hanging out in the city when you’re young and single and then moving to the suburbs for family life is nothing new, of course. It seems to be the norm (or at least a norm) for much of the middle class for at least the last 50 years.
But all within Chicago city limits, there are plenty of families raising kids, plenty of suburban-like townhomes and single-family homes, and plenty of kid-friendly activities such as soccer, baseball, basketball, art/music classes, and pools. The city also has plenty of movie theaters and playhouses, museums, and festivals to pique anyone’s interest; attend these and you’re bound to see kids as well as adults well beyond the weekend bar scene.
It’s a predictable exodus to the burbs from trendy city neighborhoods that is not going to stop. And I’m not saying people should forgo their desire to live in the burbs for a city neighborhood. However, even though they no longer go out to bars, young city residents unsure of their next residence should take an open mind to the city amenities and neighborhoods before heading to the suburbs, or at least the stereotypical suburbs.* By taking a closer look, they may see that the city can offer much more than Jagerbombs.
*In Chicagoland, there are many city-like suburbs, such as Evanston, Cicero, and Berwyn. Likewise, there are many suburban-like city neighborhoods, such as Beverly, Kenwood, and Sauganash. Bucktown, Kenwood, Palmer Square, and Edgewater also have some streets full of magnificently wealthy mansions not often associated with a stereotypical city.