Why We Flee To The Suburbs (Glamour, January 1988)

Why We Flee To The Suburbs (Glamour, January 1988)

In recent years, urban redevelopment has accelerated and shows no sign of slowing down. As neighborhoods continuously gentrify and rents keep going up, more people are making a move to the suburbs. As a native New Yorker, I can tell you that the subways have only raised prices with a decline in service, rents are skyrocketing, and for those with families, the cutthroat competition to get into schools is insane. Here's an article from 30 years ago about young urban professionals who left the cities for the 'burbs. The reasons sound very familiar. 

Why We Flee To The Suburbs

from the January 1988 issue of Glamour

by Sharon Lee Ryder

Why has a generation of young people committed to city living gone packing to the suburbs? For the Kresz-Bieruts it was value for money, a four-bedroom house for the same price as a two-bedroom co-op. For Pam Satran, not enough space meant stuffing too many clothes onto a too-small shelf just too often. For others, the cultural attractions of city living are now outweighed by crowds, noise, crime, graffiti, long lines and rude help. And the litany goes on. 

Suburban life, however, isn't all paradise. For new arrivals, it means spending $500 at a store, not on a great new suit or coat, but on weather stripping and new gutters, and devoting weekends to home repair. Others take a more philosophical view. Says architect John Ike, "Even people who spend $1 million on a house have leaks in the roof. I didn't want to be overwhelmed by it, so I just think of it as improving my property."

But beyond the negatives lie the changes that take place as people mature. Andrea Olstein wanted to invest in something, Kim Marcum feels she is putting down roots and becoming settled. And for the Kokorises, it was just a qualitative change, being in a place where the daily activities of living were easier and more convenient. As Pam Satran so aptly sums up, "It's not so very different, just a lot nicer."

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Space Is What Sent The Reeds Packing."It's quite captivating," says Christine, point to a living room so cavernous it could easily contain a small Cape Cod house. Having moved from a three-bedroom, two-bath row house in Chicago, the Reeds found the perfect spot for all the antique furniture they had collected and stored. 

What they acquired is palatial by anyone's standards: 6,800 square feet of house with seven bedrooms, 4½ baths, a living room, dining room, family room, den/study, a large attic and a giant basement. There is also a room over the garage. But nothing says "palatial" quite so clearly as their rococo-decorated ballroom. Yet, for all of its apparent grandeur, their present house cost them a mere 10 percent over the selling price of their Chicago house. "Here we also pay less taxes for more services," adds Christie. "In Chicago, the only service you could count on was garbage pickup."

The move to the North Shore suburb of Wilmette is conventional by any measure, especially for two urban pioneers who bought property near Lincoln Park long before it became a more fashionable neighborhood. "Your needs and expectations change when you have kids," Christie says, "You get tired of all the dirt, trash, gangs and graffiti, a new restaurant a week and no parking." 

A confirmed city dweller born and bred on Chicago's South Shore, Dick swore he'd never move to the North Shore. "When I was growing up, I thought everyone from there was too snooty," he muses, having found himself now living in one of the posher towns. "I love the peace and quiet. You can't reach out and touch someone."

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Kim Marcum describes her first apartment in a 1,000 unit complex in Dallas as located at the corner of a four-lane street and a six-lane highway, the only place with trees that she had been able to find in the few days she had free. "A real singles scene," she says. The traffic drove her nuts; the crowds of people drove her nuts; the notes from blaring stereos drove her nuts. So did the fire sirens from a nearby station and a lone Harley-Davidson that roared around the neighborhood. "At first it was exciting because it was all new," says Kim, "But after eight or nine months, it looked a lot different." 

Although single and only twenty-six years old then, Kim decided to move to the suburbs and buy a house. After another eight or nine months of researching and narrowing her choices, she bought a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a two-car garage (this has the highest resale value, she says) and moved in on April 1, 1983. "I thought this must be some kind of bad joke," she remembers. "It was so quiet." Her new neighbors didn't think it strange that a single woman moved in; there was already a single woman living next door. But her friends certainly did, to say nothing of her mother who kept asking her what she would do if things broke down. "I'm not handy. I've learned to mw the lawn, but that's as far as it goes," she says. "But even when the air conditioning  and the hot-water heater broke down on the same 100-degree day my sister was visiting. I didn't consider moving back to an apartment in the city. Once you have the names of repair people, it's okay, although when you're singe, it's harder to have the work done. They work they same hours you do." 

Having lived in her own home for over four years now, she feels that buying a house has changed her attitude. "I feel settled in," she says. "My goals have changed. No more Calvin Kleins for me. Now I want a washer and dryer." But in spite of the transformation in the quality of her life, some things do stay the same. "I still have a single mentality about shopping," she says. "I only go to the supermarket when I'm out of everything."

The Kokorises wanted everything: the sophistication of a city without the dirt, noise, crowds and inconvenience. They also didn't want the hassles of homeownership yet. Their choice? Move to a larger apartment one block from the lake in Evanston, an older town just north of the Chicago city limits. Their strategy? Try it out before making the financial commitment to buying a home. Evanston has a lot going for it: proximity to their jobs, a major university that lends a lively and youthful air, older, well-built houses and apartment buildings, arching trees, broad lawns and curbside parking. "More bang for the buck," as Jim cogently describes it. 

What they wanted and what they got was a qualitative difference in their life-style. After a year they are still convinced it was the right move. "We don't do as much during they week as we used to, but we enjoy the weekends more. We have the best of both worlds - a touch of the city without the boredom of the 'burbs."

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For Pam Satran, the supermarket is a metaphor for her whole move to the New Jersey town of Montclair. "The supermarkets in Brooklyn were nuts," she claims. "They were out of everything you would want; the aisles were piled with boxes while the help lounged around smoking joints; people would start fighting with you if you bumped into them, and the lines to the checkout took forever. Their attitude seemed to be 'if you're perverted enough to want groceries, then we'll put you through this hell.' I came out feeling like a maniac. Here they realize that people actually want to buy food and they make it easy for you. What's even better is that I don't have to lock the car between trips to bring in the groceries."

Their move was a long time in coming. In a desperate attempt to stay in the city at any cost, they had moved into the further reaches of Brooklyn to an area she describes as beyond the fringe. "It was ten subway stops into Brooklyn - as far from work as any suburb," she claims, adding that it had all the disadvantages of the city and none of the advantages. Even then, the thought of suburban living struck terror. "It was like going full circle. Moving to the suburbs means embracing the kind of life your parents had, after all those years spent trying to break out of those roles. I had a real 1950's vision of women, and thought I would become like all the mothers I had known: overweight, clothes out of style, wearing aprons and spending all my time cleaning. A real housewives' ghetto."

None of her worst nightmares has come true. Having chosen marriage and children in addition to a career, she feels that the pleasures and conveniences  of the city don't make sense. "The things we want and that matter are available in the suburbs/ There is a lot that is sensible about it - like sensible shoes. And they don't have to be ugly, either."

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What brought two diehard city dwellers to the suburbs? "Desperation," muses Michael Winkleman, who still thinks of Hastings-on-Hudson, a short thirty-five minute commute from midtown Manhattan along the Hudson River as the upper, upper, upper west side of Manhattan. "We had a day a year of suburban panic when we were afraid we would end up here. But we'd get over it and decide the city was where we wanted to stay." The problem was that everything they looked at was either too small or overpriced, required total renovation, or was located next to a third-rate car repair service. Both finally saw the suburbs as a viable alternative. 

Embarking on an exploratory trip, they made an offer on the first house the broker showed them the next day. It was walking distance from the train station and village, had good light and lots of land. One half hour later, with the bid accepted, they found themselves about to be homeowners, and a year later they don't think they could have found another location that would have better suited their needs. "Being able to walk to the train and to the village to shop has meant we don't need a second car and don't have to coordinate our work schedules," says Andrea. "It's made all the difference." With the move out of the city, they have also found themselves in the enviable position of having an easier commute than from where they previously lived. "In Brooklyn, it was hostile, crowded and exhausting - like getting into a garbage can," says Andrea. "Now, there is always a seat, you can hang up your coat, look out the window at the river, and read the paper." 

Seeing themselves at first as reluctant suburbanites (it's difficult to counter two years of graduate training that ingrains the virtues of city planning), Michael and Andrea discovered they really had suburbs in their genes. "We both grew up in the suburbs," explains Michael, "and these experiences go really deep. It feels very natural to get in the car and drive. It's been an easier adjustment than we thought."

Maintenance-free living is what brought the Cownies to Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, a two-mile-square Victorian-era town on the Hudson River north of New York City. "I can count on one finger the times Steven has spent working on the house during the two years we've lived here," says Audrey of their decision to purchase a condo rather than a single-family home. "He's put up shelves and likes doing things around the house, but once a year is enough. We can even plant shrubs and flowers and the condo's gardeners will take care of them." Being a two-career family, they spend their free time with three year old Ben on a close-by playground, tennis court and pool. 

A condo has other advantages for the Cownies. They bought prior to construction (with the benefits of a "presell" purchase price), picked most of the interior finishes they wanted, and then had a year to plan for the move while the unit was being finished. "We didn't have to wait to buy, but didn't have to move util we were ready," says Steven. "We gave up the benefits of our own home for the convenience of a condo, but it is worth it in every way," adds Audrey. "I don't feel isolated here the way I might in a single-family house."

With the smell of salt air and blush of gentle sea breezes, it's easy to understand the appeal of Manhattan Beach, California Just ten minutes south of Los Angeles airport and only a half hour from Art Bartholomew's office in Beverly Hills, its front yard is the Pacific Ocean. For two transplanted New Yorkers determined to partake of the casual California life-style, it had just the right combination of ingredients: a touch of urbanism in an area better known for its sprawl, along with clean air, mild temperatures and a great outdoor life. With its diminutively sized houses standing almost shoulder to shoulder, it is picturesque and unpretentious, its facades washed in soft pastel colors. "It's just kind of a magical enclave," says Art, who grew up in the Bronx and who describes these houses as upscale tenements, because of their proximity. 

For Jeanne, who now works part time and cares for their almost year old son, the convenience of not having to use a car takes top marks, as does the informality and family centeredness of life here. "I have everything here I need. I put A.J. in the stroller and do my shopping. There are lots of other young mothers and plenty of kids, so I don't feel alone or swallowed up by the city." And compared to most people who work in the region, she has a relatively short commute, a mere fifteen minutes. Quite a different style of life than many are accustomed to, even in Southern California. 

Before moving into their own home six months ago, they had rented an apartment for nearly two years., just to see if this was really where they wanted to be. "I was looking for the perfect place," admits Art. "But if it existed, it would probably be too expensive. You have to sit down and figure out your priorities. Manhattan Beach has a town center and a street life. It's hopping until 1 A.M. If it weren't for this place, we would have moved back. "

After purchasing the property, Walter Braswell proceeded to have his court built, undaunted by the physical and mental feats that had to be performed to turn the hilly terrain in West Orange, New Jersey, into a singles court. When they discovered that city ordinances precluded their paving more than 60 percent of their backyard, the Braswells opted to install a clay court. When a tractor trailer pulled up in front of their house at 5 A.M. carrying two tones of clay, Walter had already lined up tennis-playing friends to help haul the 550 odd bags down to the backyard. When the retaining wall collapsed with a roar on Thanksgiving after only one season of play, the contractors were called and Walter was back on the court the following spring. 

With such commitment of energy and money, it's clear where their priorities are. After his work as a lawyer, tennis is Walter's thing. Does she feel like a tennis widow? "Definitely not," says Adele who can hold her own on the court. "We spend our vacations going to tennis camp."

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