Sunday, July 25, 2010

Where To Live

"Where is the best place to raise a family -- city, suburbs, or small town?"

My wife and I have wrestled with this question dozens of times since our oldest child was born.  Many friends have joined in the conversation as well, bringing their own perspectives on pros & cons of various places to live.  Most of the opinion is swayed by experiences / baggage from each person's upbringing.

The question arose again this afternoon when taking a drive through the country.  We came across a beautiful home in a tiny town, about 25 miles from where we work.  The house is currently owned by a bank, after the owner went bankrupt.  It was built in 2002 with 2,000 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 4-stall garage, 1/2 acre lot with a neighborhood sweet corn patch next to it...all for less than $100K.  Obviously, the allure of buying that kind of home for way below market value (and the possibility of living debt-free) is more than a little enticing.

But what about the rest of the stuff that comes with it?

The town has fewer than 1,000 people and has consolidated their school with a larger, growing community nearby.  We met some of the neighbors, who appeared genuinely friendly (sipping beer while tending their flower beds on a Sunday afternoon, waving at the crop-dusting airplane that flew overhead).  Across the street from the home is a park with lots of grass, some swings, and a big slide.  Simple, quiet, not much to look at...sort of like the town.  The focal point of the community is a grain elevator in the middle of town.  There are no gas stations, restaurants, or even a business district.  It's nothing more than a little bedroom community with a slowly blossoming group of young families moving in.

We have lived two years in a rural area, four years in the city, and the last three years in the suburbs.  There was a charm about living in a small community, though I often felt suffocated by the "everyone-looks-out-for-each-other" mentality.  The city was enjoyable for its diversity and proximity to downtown, though rising crime rates and deteriorating public school funding were concerns.  Our time in the suburbs has been wonderful, and we are by no means seeking a move.  We love our neighborhood, the close proximity to everything, the excellent schools, and (above all) our home...and yet, there are aspects of suburban living that are making us spoiled; and not in a good way.

My wife grew up in a small town of 2,500 people, whereas I lived most of my formative years in a community of nearly 100,000.  Both of us had positive experiences and would be comfortable raising children in a similar community...and both of us can see the benefits of trying something different.  In a way it's good to have lots of options, but it would be much easier if the answer were staring us in the face.

Which brings us back to the original question:
"Where is the best place to raise a family?"

There are so many variables in life (and in the lives of our kids) that it's impossible to predict the "right" decision.  Will Isaac want to go to a big school so he could compete against high-caliber basketball players, with the hope of playing D-I hoops?  Will Anna wish she had gone to a smaller school so she could participate in a variety of activities without narrowing her focus at a young age?  Will Evan wish he had gone to a academically diverse school that gave him an opportunity to take a full year of college-level courses before graduating high school?

At the core of this question is a desire to create the best possible scenario for our children...but it is also a futile attempt to exercise some measure of control.  There's no way to anticipate which teacher, friend, coach, or neighbor will make a positive or negative difference in our kids' lives.  I'm reminded of this every time I watch Finding Nemo.  The dad, Marlin, is a neurotic, over-protective parent who learns that letting go comes when your child is very young.  He also discovers that trusting his kid's ability to navigate the turbulent waters of life can be rewarding beyond words.

So here's what I think -- at the end of the day, our kids are ours to teach, love, discipline, nurture, and empower...and that can be done no matter where you live.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the the good/bad aspects of living in different kinds of communities.

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