Updated on 12.06.13

The City Versus Rural Debate: Which Is The Better Place To Live?

Trent Hamm

wheelbarrowIn the past, I have made many references to my preference for living in a small town over living in an urban area. For me, there’s no question – the advantages of small town rural life far outweigh the advantages of city living.

That’s not to say that I think city living is foolish – there are many benefits to living in a city that simply aren’t available in a rural area. The difference is priorities – which aspects of life are most important to you? The answer isn’t the same for everyone.

Earlier this week, when we looked at Kathy’s decision to move away from Washington D.C., it was clear that Kathy was ready for a change from her urban environment – and that’s a great thing to have really figured out what you want. She just needed a bit of encouragement.

However, there are a lot of people out there living in urban areas who are unhappy with their environs – and there are also a lot of people in rural areas who yearn for something different (I live very close to at least a few of these folks – they lived in a small town because they thought it would benefit their children, but they’re not happy with the tradeoffs).

Having said that, I tried to build a list of the most positive aspects of both urban and rural life, based on the aspects of each that I find most appealing. I’m quite sure the readers will throw in a lot more factors for each side.

One key thing: if you’re feeling unhappy with your environs, think of making a change. Read through this list and ask yourself which factors are most important to you. They’ll likely point you one way or another, either towards appreciating what you have now or encouraging you to make a move.

So, let’s get started.

Trent’s Top Advantages of City Life

Public transportation One of the biggest leashes around my neck is the requirement of owning a car to get anywhere. For example, I do not have a grocery store of any kind within walking distance of my house. The ability to just walk and use public transportation to get where you want to go is invaluable.

Cultural life If you value going to diverse concerts, attending art galleries on a very regular basis, and other such cultural trappings, city life is for you. I enjoy galleries, but I’m fine with just visiting two or three on a vacation. I do regret the lack of top-shelf concerts in Iowa, but it’s not quite as bad as it sounds – I did get to see Prince.

Diversity You get to meet a huge variety of people on a daily basis. Although it’s not a whitewash, most of the interior of the country is not incredibly diverse with the exception of the college towns. In smaller towns in particular, if you just glance at the surface, you’ll not see a wide diversity of opinion (it’s there, but not obvious).

Trent’s Top Advantages of Rural Life

Cost of living I fired up a cost of living calculator to get some real numbers:

To maintain the same standard of living, your salary of $85,000 in Boston, Massachusetts could decrease to $52,759 in Des Moines, Iowa
Stated another way, it’s 37.9% cheaper to live in Des Moines, Iowa than Boston, Massachusetts.

Enough said. I could go on and on about the inexpensiveness of the housing market, the fact that lower salaries means less of your money goes to the government, and so on. The difference is huge.

Space and nature From my house, I have cornfields directly to the west, a large wooded area to the northwest, a giant park several hundred feet due east, and there’s enough space between the houses in my area that kids play sports games between houses, let alone in their own backyard. I’m close to nature – it’s right out my back door – and I have plenty of room to do whatever I wish. The air is clean and never smoggy, and I can literally sit on my back porch with the lights off and see the Milky Way at night. All this and the low cost of living – I own this 2,000+ square foot house for less than $180K.

Independence In rural areas, you’re generally left alone to do whatever you want. There’s a strong libertarian streak in almost every rural area I’ve lived in. I have a giant compost bin in the back yard full of rotting material that I intend to put on my garden. I have the room to do this and the people that live near me don’t care too much.

Community At the same time, I’ve only lived in my current house for about three months and I already know about one hundred people on my block, many of them well enough that I talk to them several times a week. If I ever need something in a pinch, anything from a tool to a cup of sugar to a helping hand, I can practically just shout out what I need from the driveway and someone will help.

Hopefully, you can sit back, compare these lists (and the ideas that readers offer), and figure out for yourself which side of the fence appeals to you more. If you’re living on one side and you yearn strongly for the other situation, make the move. You’ll never regret it.

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  1. Elaine says:

    Strong communities exist in large cities too. Last weekend I went to a couple bike community breakfasts at people’s homes. Think 30+ people, many of them previously unknown to the host, in relatively small houses. Everyone pitched in, made rafts of food, cleaned it all up, put a buck or two (or more) in a jar, and left the house sparkling. Just one example… it’s easy to find communities in the city.

  2. Johanna says:

    In a rural area, you may be closer to nature, but living in a large free-standing house with a big yard means there’s less space for natural areas for you and others (not to mention animals -“nature” itself) to enjoy. You may have cleaner air, but you’re contributing far more to air pollution than is the city person who can get everywhere she needs to go on foot or by bus or train.

  3. dong says:

    I echo Elaine’s sentiment on communities in the city. The difference is that in the City is that you have to find yours. In a smaller town it comes pre-packaged.

  4. s says:

    I think the “disadvantages” of Urban and Rural living are equally important to weigh in when doing this sort of comparison. Some are implied from a benefit of the other (like the higher cost of living in an urban area). But others are not.

    For instance, rural areas have less condo living (if you’re into that sort of thing), and in my experience, have a lot more “town gossip”. You also can end up in a situation where you are not “accepted” — say, you’re not Christian and move to a community where that is not accepted as an “ok” choice. That sense of community quickly become uncomfortable.

    On the other hand, in an urban area, the crime rates are often higher. It’s common to get stuck in traffic jams, even if you can avoid a bad commute to work. And some people view diversity as a disadvantage.

    One other thing to note is that not all these advantages/disadvantages apply to all urban and rural areas. There are places where you can “have it all” or at least come very close.

    I live 10 minutes (any time of day) from downtown Portland, OR, I have a 15 minute commute, access to public transit, and I can walk to the grocery store and several good restaurants. BUT, My house backs a creek and forested area, so I have nature nearby (and privacy). I have friendly neighbors who I would feel fine asking for sugar. I don’t think anyone would complain if I had a compost bin (or solar panels), and many people on the street have vegetable gardens. I’m also less than 90 minutes to the beach, lakes and rivers, backpacking and hiking trails, ski resorts, and rock climbing hotspots.

    The only thing I can’t argue with is cost of living. It does cost more. But I think it’s worth it for me, at least right now.

  5. Neil says:

    If you live on a block then your definition of rural is different than mine. Rural, to me, is country roads, pastures, corn fields, etc. Blocks only exist in suburbs and urban areas.

    I agree with Elaine: in some areas of Portland, OR there are very strong communities.

    I disagree with Johanna: rural doesn’t imply large house and large yard. Near my rural property, there are numerous small houses and small lawns surrounded by pasture, trees, and uncontrolled brush. I wouldn’t say that the rural person is causing more significantly more air pollution than the suburbanite.

    This is a pretty silly conversation actually. Some people are more comfortable in the city and some people in the country. One just has to determine what their preference is and go with it. There are trade offs everywhere.

  6. DJ says:

    Question: Trent, have you ever actually lived in an urban area for an extended amount of time?

    I ask just to get a better grasp on where your perspective is coming from.

  7. Marcus Murphy says:

    I live in Souther California. My neighbors and I share tools, feed each others pets when we are out of town, etc. I have a backyard with a compost bin. I am about 10 mins from the clean vast ocean (think surfing). I am another 45 mins from a mountain range with trails and clear blue skies. I am also 10 minutes from downtown, and have all the cultural activities one could want. Plus perfect weather almost year round. If I need to see the change of the seasons, again another 45 minutes away. If I want to go snowboarding, its an hour away.

    The only real advantages I see in a rural setting is the quietness it offers, the potentially better school environment for kids, and ofcourse, the cost of living.

  8. Kat says:

    I also live in So. Cal and have a great community. I know my neighbors and they know me. We watch out for each other, as well as lending items or help. I do not have a compost bin, but I am a member of my community garden.
    We have parks and nature. I live near the largest park in the country, along with many smaller ones. One near my house has concerts every Friday in the summer. It allows you to meet even more of your neighbors. I have the beach, the mountains and desert.
    The trade off for me is, for some of nature I have to drive to, but I can walk to the store, library, coffee shops, restaurants all while interacting with my neighborhood.

  9. Heather says:

    I live in the city, yet have a 60-acre forest a block behind my house to stroll through. I live in the city, yet my neighborhood is known for having a small-town feeling – where everyone is aware of what goes on in the neighborhood, they work together to support and build improvements. I walk fewer than five minutes and can reach a library, multiple parks, a grocer, a pharmacy, a coffee shop, multiple restaurants, etc.

    I think you have simplified the decision to the point of being irrelevant. It’s not really an urban vs. rural decision. Where do the burbs fall in this anyway?

    Smaller cities (city pop. of around 300,000; greater metropolitan area pop. of around 1-2 million) offer a great way to get the benefits of both worlds: higher salaries and more jobs, significant cultural establishments and events, walkable environments, as well as quieter streets with a variety of housing styles/types and neighbors who know each other.

  10. Josh says:

    It is possible to have the best of both worlds. I currently live in the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. In a year, when I get married, the future wife and I intend to move to small town of about 30,000 people thirty minutes outside of Dallas. The great thing is, we are close enough to the big city to enjoy all of the benefits like concerts and shopping while living in a more rural lower crime rate place that we feel is a better choice to raise children in.

  11. Ryan says:

    In my opinion the areas right outside of the city are the best, yes the burbs! Access to most of the advantages of both urban and rural living.

  12. Amy says:

    I’m watching a bunch of my friends go through their “quarter-life crisis” and crisscross the country trying to find the place that’s right for them. The problem is that they tend to pretty much recreate the same life that was making them unhappy in the first place in their new location.

    Thing is, cities aren’t completely lacking in nature, and community, and independence, and rural areas have a good chunk of culture and diversity, if you know where to look. So whatever it is you’re moving to add to your life, the question you need to first ask yourself is “Why isn’t this a big part of my life right now?” And unless you’ve already invested a big chunk of time and money, or made some significant tradeoffs to make that thing part of your life, I think the answer is most likely either that your lifestyle is really comfortable enough as it is now that you’re just not motivated to make any big changes, or else you don’t really want that thing in your life, you just want to be the sort of person who wants it. I think that the majority of the time, when people say “That thing is too hard to find where I live right now” that’s an excuse they’re using to cover up the hard truths inherent in those first two reasons.

    To be concrete, I had a friend, call him Tim, who moved from the midwest to the Pacific Northwest because he wanted to spend more time in the mountains. When he moved, he was already spending 1-2 weekends a month driving 3-4 hours to places to rock climb, hike and camp, and saving all of his spare money to take vacations in the Sierras and Alaska. He’s been where he is for three years now, spends 1-2 weekends a month in the fantastic mountains a short drive from his house, and now has spare money and time to explore other interests.

    By contrast, I had another friend, call her Jill, who moved to New York from a mid-sized midwestern city because she wanted to experience more culture. However, despite the fact that there was a university that put on lectures series, concerts, and plays right in her backyard, and a thriving jazz scene, a great regional theater company, and a not bad symphony orchestra within an hour of where she lived, she had gone to perhaps 1-2 cultural events a year. When she got to New York, she continued to go to 1-2 cultural events a year, claiming that everything in NYC was too expensive for her, and moved on in two years, looking for a place where people were friendlier.

  13. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “Question: Trent, have you ever actually lived in an urban area for an extended amount of time?”

    I lived in a city for about eight years. I couldn’t wait to leave.

  14. Emma says:

    Having lived in both rural Maryland and Washington, DC, I agree with the posters who point out that strong communities exist in cities too. For me the difference was that in the city, I could choose the communities I wished to belong to, while in the rural area, I was stuck with what was around, and if I didn’t fit in, too bad. In the city, your community may not be your immediate neighbors, but this has its advantages. I actually think it gives you more independence, because in rural areas I found that people are more likely to be concerned with what you’re doing, and if it meets their standards, than in a city.

    In all cases, what matters is the crowd you run with–I for instance, in seven years in DC, never had the problems Kathy describes, because that wasn’t my lifestyle, and wasn’t my friends’ lifestyle either.

  15. guinness416 says:

    Great post Amy (11:45am). Lots of people were making the same point in the “Kathy” post – you can have community and volunteerism and alternative work arrangements in a city if you want. I think half her issue was that she was living in the suburbs and NOT the city – the long commute and bedroom community certainly sounded depressing. You can make the lifestyle you want anywhere, but big changes (a cross country move) are often easier in many ways to make than small ones.

    I’ve only briefly lived outside of a major city and certainly hope to live in cities for the rest of my life. Some other points for me are cheap air travel (I’m an immigrant); a wide range of full-time, part-time and casual work opportunities; a wide range of community and volunteer opportunities; all the parks, rinks, pools, trails etc you can ever use; smaller homes; ethic food!; great architecture; neighbourhood stores rather than big boxes; free festivals and cultural events; and just the energy and contact that comes with engaging with people on public transit and the streets every day.

  16. It’s all about city life for me. Although I enjoy time in rural areas; I prefer urban living and the opportunities it presents.

  17. dp says:

    I know that other posts have dealt more directly with the question of city vs. country from a strictly financial perspective, but I feel it should be noted that urban vs. rural isn’t the only question when it comes to cost of living. Within the US, there are huge regional differences. I recently relocated from outside Boston to outside Chicago. I did tons of research over the course of several years before taking that step, and found that when you compare Boston/Chicago or Boston ‘burbs/comparable Chicago ‘burbs, the financial advantage lies unequivocally with the latter in both cases. In fact, I could be living in any of a number of decent neigborhoods in Chicago at a substatial savings over what it cost me to be in the far outer suburbs in MA. My reasons for the move weren’t financial, but it’s an added bonus.

  18. Laura says:

    I have to chime in that it’s very true that big cities have a great sense of community, they’re just usually restricted to small areas of the city. I get the sense that Trent never experienced this when he lived in the city and doesn’t believe us! But it’s so true for many people. I love the city of Vancouver I live in and one of the reasons I never want to leave is the community here. I also love this city because I am in an urban setting and yet have a huge park with nature trails and a river a block behind our house. This can be city living. Which is not to say it’s better than rural living; it’s just that you have been making the point that you can only get these things with rural living.

    I think the list is missing one of my favourite things about city living: you always can get whatever you need quickly because everything you need is in one place. Yes obviously there are restaurants, retail stores and cafes. Those are everyday things. But whenever you have some unusual need, you can get it taken care of immediately – such as when I got engaged and my ring was too small, but we wanted to get it resized before going to see my family a few short hours later so I could wear it. We had to hit up 13 different jewellers in a row to find one who could resize the ring on the spot, but we got it done. I don’t think this would be possible in a small town, you’d probably only have one or two (if that) to choose from.

  19. Meg says:

    There are actually three general “environs”: urban, rural, and suburban. All three have distinct advantages and disadvantages (or simply differences, depending on your perspective). Which one is best for you depends largely on your career and whether or not you have kids.

    The materialistic pressures of the city are unreal compared to rural life (suburban materialism equals or excels urban). There’s just so much more you can (and are expected to) spend your money on. And the communities, while they may exist, are NOT as strong in cities, no matter what urbanites claim. However, you may need to live in/near the city to find decent work. Educational opportunities are almost certainly better in the suburbs until the college level, when cities win out.

    I grew up in a unique blend of all three. Technically I lived in rural Alabama. I didn’t live on a farm, though, but rather in a typical neighborhood with 20 or so other homes (white picket fences and all). So it was a tight-knit community much like you’d find in suburban neighborhoods. But rather than being near the busy roads, endless strip malls, and chain restaurants of suburbia, the neighborhood was in the middle of the woods down a highway 7 miles off the inter-state and 15 miles from the nearest grocery store, post office, or school. But we also were only 30 miles from Birmingham, a relatively large urban center with plenty of culture, shopping, etc when we needed/wanted it. Best of all 3 worlds in my opinion.

  20. I agree with a previous commenter, if you have a block it is not really rural.

    That said this problem kind of a choice that plagues me. I really enjoy the space, nature and freedom further away from cities, but I also enjoy the access to more culture, people, and opportunities in city living.

    And Amy’s response is awesome, take responsibility for you life and happiness whether you ‘live’ in the exact right spot or not.

  21. plonkee says:

    I’m a city girl through and through. The countryside smells, public transport is non-existent and you need to live in the area for 20 years before they stop thinking of you as in incomer.

    The biggest advantage of a city in terms of community is that I’m more likely to meet people with similar political/religious view to me. Last time I was in a village I was cornered by a rant on illegal immigrants despite the fact that I hadn’t seen any immigrants for miles.

  22. Debbie M says:

    Amy, very interesting point. I like it. And thanks for the examples, too.

    Yes, I agree with others that suburbs are a whole different category. My understanding of those advantages would be:

    1) You have lower housing costs and taxes than in cities.

    2) You can have space for a big back yard so you have a place for your kids to play and to let your pets run around. Also, it’s quieter than the city and supposedly safer.

    3) You can still drive into the city for jobs, culture, etc.

    4) You can choose a neighborhood where people still have standards (aka czarist homeowner associations).

    For, me, living IN a city or in the country both beat living in a suburb by a long shot. To me, suburbs are the worst of both worlds: you have to drive to both nature and culture because suburbs having nothing at all but houses and schools.

    I agree with guinness416 about the advantages of cities. I don’t care about museums or concerts, but in cities, you have people getting together for all kinds of reasons. When I first moved here, I hung out with college students, Girl Scouts, and Red Cross volunteers. Now I hang out with ballroom dancers and people who do yoga. I’ve also hung with people in the SCA, folk dancers, and jugglers.

    In rural areas and small towns, you can also have fun, but your social choices are much more limited. For example, if I lived in the small town my sister was stuck in for several years I would be in the SCA, the only group I saw that looked fun to me, because I am not into tricked-out cars and trucks, the military, hunting, being a teenage mom, church, or anything else I saw. (Okay, I do kind of like tricked-out cars and trucks, but I don’t want to actually make them and fantasize about them, etc.)

    I really hate city traffic, though, and if my city gets too big I’m seriously thinking of leaving it. It’s definitely better living downtown than in a suburb, but traffic still sucks often. And my city has pretty mediocre mass transit as well and extremely bad bicycling conditions.

    My favorite places I ever lived though were pretty terrible from an objective viewpoint: 1) a platform tent in a woods full of bugs and snakes and 2) the largest dorm in the country which looks like a prison from the outside. It was all about the people who were always organizing fun activities. To this day I’m inclined to follow my favorite people around wherever they move, or live where the biggest group of them is living.

  23. Jim says:

    A lot of these advantages are very subjective and some have to do with what you are comfortable with. And those can change.

    My niece grew up in the city, and when she visited the country, there was “nothing to do”. No mall, only one movie theater and it was showing something she had already seen, no water park, no skating rink…

    My nephew who grew up in the country visited the city, and there was “nothing to do”. He couldn’t build a fire to roast marshmallows, couldn’t go swimming in the river, couldn’t ride the ATV up the hill or build a fort down in the hollow, couldn’t go ride the horse…

    Well, now my nephew lives in the big city and he has found things to do. Of course he’s older now so sometimes it involves getting together with family or friends and playing “Settlers of Catan” or what not, but you learn to adapt. And there are things you can do in both places. Read a book. Surf the net. Play on your Wii. Watch Mythbusters.

    My major beef with the big city (besides the high price of homes) has to do with animals. We have farm animals. There are places in or near the city where you can have farm animals, but they were way out of my price range. My major beef with the country is the job market. I have a pretty big commute. I’m looking for a closer job even if it pays less, but they’re less plentiful in the rural area.

    So we compromise. We live in a rural area, and I commute to the city. My children get to grow up with responsibilities of farm animals and crops, and I’m the only one who has to deal with the penalty of the commute. Except that I’m not around as much as Trent.

    The “Libertarian” mindset is a major reason why we’re where we are. When we lived in the city, one of my boys “escaped” once and took a walk down the road in our subdivision. My wife was out frantically looking for him, and the attitude was “Can’t you take care of your kids? Are you an unfit mother?” I know it isn’t necessarily a big city/small town issue, but we have found a place where the people are much more likely to cut us slack when things happen that they disapprove of. If they even know about it. If I don’t mow my lawn for a week, anyone who even knows about it couldn’t care less. We have enough land now and the neighbors are so far away that is isn’t as much of an issue.

  24. daria says:

    Don’t forget career. I have far more opportunities in a big city and I earn 3 times (at least) what I would in a smaller town or city. That’s not true for everyone. But for me, the quality of work and quantity of pay is far more here. Someday, we may move somewhere else, but for now we are saving like mad in a way we couldn’t in a smaller town.

    And to put in a word for community. I am apparently a city person at heart. As a result, when I moved to the city I made more friends more quickly than I had anywhere else I lived. If you love the city, you will find other people who love it, too, and you will create a community.

  25. Elaine says:

    ugh, who brought up suburbs? There’s nothing I hate more than sprawling materialistic car culture.

  26. Gigi says:

    After living in Des Moines and mid-Missouri, I’ve discovered that I really enjoy the anonymity big cities provide. Being a Muslim woman living in the mid-west brought an intense amount of scrutiny. I didn’t feel any sense of community, I was more like the town’s freak-show. In my experience, a sense of “community” is easier felt in the country-side if you’re not a minority.

  27. !wanda says:

    Diversity in opinion is all well and good, but I don’t think it substitutes for the more conventional type of diversity, that of racial and ethnic backgrounds. I would have serious concerns about raising my children in a place where white people (and “American culture”) were normative, when that’s not true of the world as a whole. No matter how well I raise them, I can’t block out a whole community’s influence, and children are especially good at picking up community norms because they are poor at analyzing them.

    Besides, I’d die a little inside if I lived somewhere where it was impolite to be an atheist. I’d shut up and never let the neighbors know, but it would bother me a lot.

  28. Jeff says:

    Good Post. Public Transportation, Space & Nature, and Independence are the big ones for me. Access to public transportation is huge for me, as I hate to drive and love to walk or ride everywhere.

    And I actually rank Space & Nature and Independence as a negative factor for living in a rural area. All that open space, very few neighbors, that stuff freaks me out. I would much rather be in a busy neighborhood, surrounded by people. Maybe that will change when I have children or maybe I’ve just read In Cold Blood too many times.

  29. kazari says:

    I guess I’m spoilt. We live in Canberra, the capital of Australia – population roughly 350,000. It’s got all the benefits of a big capital (cultural activities, well-paying jobs), but it’s so small that we can go bushwalking in national parks half an hour away.
    My commute is 10 minutes. We pay a premium for rent, but the pay is really good to entice people away from Sydney and Melbourne.
    Surely there’s similar towns in the US? Maybe based around universities or defence installations or outdoor sports?

  30. Susan says:

    Another vote for the burbs!! And yes I love my car! Sprawl sure beats living with your neighbors in the same building.

  31. Siena says:

    I feel I live in the best of both worlds. San Francisco is an hour away from me–I can take BART and not deal with traffic–and yet the area I live in is fairly rural. There are a lot of farmers and no traffic. My town is very reluctant to growth which I like.

  32. Meaghan says:

    I think you can’t take those cost of living calculators too seriously. They assume you will be living exactly the same way in either area. They don’t take into the account that, yes, maybe the driving-a-car lifestyle is more costly in a city, but what they don’t take into account is that in a city, you can make a choice not to have a car, with no decrease in your quality of life.

    Not to mention, I believe most calculators go on an ‘average’, not a median, which might be more meaningful. Sure, the average apartment in Manhattan rents for $3000+. But I don’t know anyone who pays anywhere near that much. My guess is that the median, what a typical, non-celebrity, non-hedge fund manager pays for an apartment is much, much lower.

  33. Lisa says:

    Many wonderful comments here and I need not repeat the same thoughts.

    However, I feel moved to share my opinion that a view of cultivated, monoculture, sea of Zea mays for as far as the eye can see is not what I would call nature. People don’t even eat that stuff.

  34. vh says:

    Where you are is where you’re at. You take your personality and habits with you. If you’re unhappy in the big city, you might very well find youself no happier in the ‘burbs or a small town, unless you change your habits. Possibly the yeasty challenge of making a move–no matter where–forces some people to change habits, and so makes them feel different (happier or less happy) in the new environment.

  35. Monica says:

    I agree with Debbie who said that the suburbs are the worst of both worlds. You have neither the advantages of the city nor the advantages of the country. My idea of hell would be to live in suburbia! (Plus it’s so unsustainable… )

  36. Kay says:

    I did the move away from a lifestyle like Kathy’s two years ago — I had spent a decade in the technology industry in Northern VA and was sick of the long hours, high stress, and prevalent values that considered soulless McMansion developments appealing.

    Two years later (and off three medications I had to take for stress-induced hypertension), my family and I live in a small city outside Detroit. House prices are not cheap here, but the quality of living is wonderful. My husband rides his bicycle to work less than a mile away. There’s a grocery store 2 blocks down the street. We can ride our bikes or walk to the library, theatre, movies, parks, and loads of stores and restaurants. On warm nights the streets nearby are lively and fun, even just to walk around and take in the sights. There are plenty of things to do free or for little money.

    Our neighborhood is mostly 80-100 year old bungalows on .2 acre lots. Squirrels, chipmunks, and birds fill the trees and run along our fences. People are truly neighborly and look out for each other without being busybodies. Developers have been buying up some of the older, unrenovated bungalows, bulldozing them, and replacing them with huge new homes, but those are by far the minority and frankly, they help our property values and tax base. We can’t blame people for wanting to live in our pleasant area but have a little more elbow room than the average 1100 sq foot house provides.

    From my perspective, a typical suburb with strip mall after strip mall would be miserable. Big cities are too inconvenient. Rural areas are pretty to visit, but I find them boring (I grew up in one). A small city in a Midwestern metropolitan area fits the bill.

  37. Ed says:

    I disagree that the suburbs have “neither the advantages of the city nor the advantages of the country.” Let’s analyze this. City – no or little space, no or little yard, most likely only an apartment that you don’t even own, high cost of living. Suburbs – spacious houses and large yards, lower cost of living then city, same salary, quieter. Rural – boring, no culture, far away from everything. Suburbs – 10 minute drive to the city.

  38. talisker says:

    I grew up in Seattle and love cities. I was stationed in the Bay Area for a few years in the mid-80s and loved every minute of living near San Francisco.

    I spent four years working as an EMT in a rural town in northwest Missouri with a population of 1200. The county, 250 square miles, had a population of 8000. I thought it was going to drive me crazy, and I spent a lot of my free time driving in to Kansas City to keep at least some city life in my blood.

    But I came to really appreciate living in the small town. If I forgot my checkbook, the grocer just told me to bring it by later. When we had bad accidents to work, folks around town would ask me about it and they’d ask how I was doing – even people I barely knew. When we had a huge ice storm, those with power were very accommodating and welcoming to those without.

    I live in Seattle again, and while I still love being here and while we live on a street with a fairly strong community, I miss the slower pace of the small town and the way you’d see people you knew everywhere you went that always had time to strike up a conversation. I miss the rodeos and ballgames where the town would turn out and make them celebrations not only of the event but in a way of the community itself.

    And small town football games… I don’t like football, but I loved going to those games.

    My wife’s work pretty much means she needs to be in a city, but I would love to live in a small town again.

  39. Jennifer says:

    Community? In rural areas? Sure, if you don’t in any way, shape, or form break the idea of NORMAL. Rural communities are some of the most closed minded places on earth. I grew up and lived in a farm village in Northeast Ohio that was 45 minutes from the nearest city for my first 22 years. I would still be living there had it not been for one thing: If you are disabled, a person of color, homosexual, or otherwise outside the mold, you are shunned. I personally am deaf. I am fully employable and speak just like a hearing person (I became deaf in my late teens). However, my job search in this area left me with a foul taste in my mouth. NO ONE WANTS TO HIRE SOMEONE WITH A DISABILITY IN RURAL AREAS. I am bright and could easily run the entire town with one hand tied behind my back, but was never given a chance becasue I am *gasp!* different.

    Ok, so that experience sent me to Washington DC. Here, I got a college education and had job opportunities galore because people are used to diversity in big cities. They are open minded. They see the PERSON, not the disability. I HATE DC with a passion, because I hate the rude people, the hurry hurry attitude, the me-first, me-only mindset, and the traffic and crime. However, I am stuck here instead of living happily in some backwater, a place where I would be forced to sit on my bum and collect Social Security because no one will hire a disabled person.

    My personal dignity is worth more than being able to afford a house, having no traffic, experiencing a laid back pace of life where everyone knows everyone else, and where you can trust the food you eat because you know the guy that produces it all wrapped up in one.

    Such a shame how small communities exclude people…out of fear or ignorance. Those of us who are in any way different than the norm are stuck, unwanted where we wish to be and not wanting to be where we ARE wanted (or at least tolerated, smiles).

  40. Kat says:

    Hate to break to the suburb lovers, but you aren’t going to get a lot of land with your house these days. Lots are getting smaller and the houses are getting bigger.
    AS the suburbs continue to expand, you will have to drive farther and deal with more traffic to get to the city and your job.

  41. Helen says:

    I’ve noticed similar issues in the country, both personally and through acquaintances – minorities can have it tough. Forget being pagan in a ‘good Christian’ town. And 10 minutes drive to the city? Last time I lived in a city, it was 40 minutes to work on a good day, and a further 15 minutes into the city itself.

    I find a happy medium in a good-sized rural city – the town I live in has a TAFE and university, theatres, art galleries, a good sized shopping strip and several supermarkets, and a multicultural feel thanks to many immigrants and refugees bringing their diversity. The semi-rural outskirts are 15 to 20 minutes away at most, while central and suburban housing is still affordable.

    Public transport is still a problem.

    Most of the suburbs I see being built these days are not attractive at all – oversized houses squeezed onto small, treeless blocks. No footpaths, and with everyone working to pay their huge mortgages, you hardly see the neighbors.

    I’ve found this an interesting conversation, as we are weighing up our options for the future. I think you have to figure out what your personal priorities are, and how you would fit the particular limitations of each environment.

  42. Susan says:


    That’s why it is better to buy in an established suburb rather than a sprawlburb.

  43. guinness416 says:

    I live in a big city (Toronto – 2.5million people) and have all the advantages in the original post: subway, streetcar and 24 hour bus lines all within a 5 to 10 minute walk of my house; work is 15 mins door to door to midtown on the subway, and I don’t drive; professional baseball, ice hockey, basketball, etc teams, major concert venues and a vibrant theatre and art scene available within a few minutes via transit; and the most diverse population in North America. We have a major international airport down the highway. And so forth.

    But I also have a detached house and nice garden (not that there’s anything wrong with condo living) with neighbours who share tools, mow each others lawns, pick up each others mail, barbecue for each other, and have annual street parties – and I bought it last year for a shade over $300,000. Yep, more expensive than Trent’s house – but I have a big city salary/bonus package to pay for it. I volunteer to clean up the beach and for city festivals. We shop locally, rather than drive to big boxes, and know all the local business owners. I can bike to the beach/boardwalk in 5 minutes, and the city is criscrossed with ravines which are regarded as a local treasure. I do work the professional grind with long hours, but am very well rewarded for it, and have multiple non-profit and governmental options on my doorstep should I ever get sick of the corporate treadmill.

    So I don’t recognize the urban stereotype some commenters are describing. And lots of people live like me! Just a thought.

  44. Corinne says:

    I live in NYC where living expenses are HUGE and apartments (tend to be) SMALL. Two things this type of living has forced me to do: budget, budget, budget every penny, and record where every penny goes (sadly never did this when I lived back home in the ‘burbs of Ohio, and WASTED more money as a result), and stop spending on things I don’t need, as my studio really doesn’t have any space for many things beyond normal housewares. I now save for retirement, and for emergencies, and have disposable income, which I apply to the two DRAWBACKS I see of living in such an urban way: the appeal of staying up-to-the minute fashionable, and thus clothes shopping, and the social aspect of urban life that necessitates spending money drinking and dining out. On the whole, even as a very urban dweller, I am financially stress free, even in an environment where debt, consumerism and overspending could become a very slippery slope.

  45. Rob says:

    Don’t underestimate the environmental impact of living in the suburbs. Johanna’s point is spot on. In fact, one could argue that it’s environmentally irresponsible to live in the suburbs.

    David Owen, author of the First National Bank of Dad, reviewed on this site just a few days ago, wrote an article for the New Yorker called NYC Is The Greenest City In America.


    “By the most significant measures, New York is the greenest community in the United States, and one of the greenest cities in the world. The most devastating damage humans have done to the environment has arisen from the heedless burning of fossil fuels, a category in which New Yorkers are practically prehistoric. The average Manhattanite consumes gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn’t matched since the mid-nineteen-twenties, when the most widely owned car in the United States was the Ford Model T.”

  46. Coy says:

    I just wanted to respond to Meg’s post above, to say I totally agree! I also grew up in a bedroom community of Birmingham, and having relocated to a truly rural area for a job, I really notice the difference. My experience was quite similar to yours in that I got the best of all three worlds.
    My folks talk about how great the country is when in truth they could not deal with not having the conveniences of urban and suburban life.

  47. Coy says:

    oh, and I also want to add that as soon as I can, I am getting the heck out of dodge to live in the city life. Urban life is for me. I work in the media, and my first job post-uni is in a small market. But I cannot forget what I want.

  48. country boy says:

    I couldn’t help but just crack up laughing at Robs quote from, http://www.walkablestreets.com/manhattan.htm, yes it sounds great, but he doesn’t explain WHY, it’s like that. A New Yorker might say, “oh i never use gas, i don’t even own a car!” Um…ok buddy so how do you get to work? “Oh, I take a cab, bus, train, etc.” Well now, ain’t that the bees knees, I could have sworn they needed gas to travel by. All in all, New Yorkers DO use gas in an extended fashion, just not in their OWN car. In addition, its a PROVEN fact that people in New York throw away more garbage per capita then any other city in the USA. Maybe some of you will remember an incident where they tried to send their garbage somewhere else, because their landfills were getting pretty tight. Walkable streets my foot! Another thing, why don’t all you “city” people look out your window at night. You know, look at the thousands of stars in the sky, and listen to the owls hooting, and coyotes howling in the distance. Oh wait, you can’t. All the light pollution blocks out the faint light from hundreds of stars, and the lack of habitat leaves no room for my little friends. Well, maybe you enjoy a nice walk down the street, just be careful not to get mugged since the crime rate in large cities is extremely higher than that of small towns. Well, I guess you can go to the mall, the place that used to be habitat, until it was cut down for stores, just don’t expect too much charisma from the strangers you see there, its a PROVEN fact that people are friendlier is small towns because you see the same person more than once due to the small population. If you still think the city is better, thats ok, I’m just a country boy and don’t give a hoot what you think. Have a nice day folks.

  49. Pam Munro says:

    My husband and I lived in a more or less rural beach town for a year and I did find downsides – No affordable therapy/counseling available – Couldn’t break into the tightknit community, even emails went unreturned! – Lack of local art – except for CHILDREN – I tried very hard for a year to get involved – but it was extremely alienating. I just read and walked on the beach a lot (& that was nice).

  50. Furious George says:

    Well Pam Munro, it seems you ran into some uncommon bad luck. There are proven statistics that people in smaller towns are friendlier since you see a person much more often, until it becomes second nature. I’m curious to know where in America(if thats where it was) that you moved to. I can’t say anything about northern towns, but southern towns tend to be very inviting.

  51. sarah says:

    I’m amazed at some of the vitriolic responses. As someone who loves both urban and rural life (and can see why others enjoy suburban life), I cannot believe how angry people can get while defending their personal choices.

    After having grown up in the suburbs, and having spent several years in a very rural environment, I’ve now lived in NYC for the past decade. Anyone who argues that one area is “more” friendly or has “more” community than another has not had the experience that I have. Granted NYC is different from many urban areas, but anyone who’s lived here will tell you that it’s really no more than a collection of small towns. Ask a New Yorker where they’re from, and they won’t say, “Manhattan.” They’ll say “The Upper West Side,” “Chelsea,” “Inwood,” or another neighborhood. (Or, for all my borough buddies, “Williamsburg,” “Long Island City,” and “Woodlawn.”) Our neighborhood identities are strong because we are such strong communities.

    Some of the comments have suggested that people are friendlier in small towns because you see people more often. Again, this is something that New Yorkers (and perhaps other urbanites) can respond to. Everyone in my neighborhood knows me, often by name. At least once each block, someone says hi to me and asks how I am. Everyone in my apartment building knows each other by sight, if not by name. And every morning on the way to the subway, I see the man who works behind the counter at the corner bodega. He says good morning to me, asks how I’m feeling when I’ve been sick, and asks how my marathon training is going.

    On the flip side of this, there are diverse and open-minded rural areas. One of the towns I lived outside of, in northern Maine, had an incredibly open and supportive environment for diversity. As a result, diverse people flocked to it, which gave us a vibrant GLBT scene, amazing ethnic food, and incredibly interesting music (I’ve never heard better raggae than I did in Maine, believe it or not). The town limits had fewer than 5000 people in it; I lived outside the town with no other houses within eyeshot and gorgeous ocean views.

    All that’s just my two cents…

  52. Henry the 8th says:

    Sarah, I’m very curious to which suburbs you lived in. Like Furious said, southern small towns are almost always very inviting. Mainly Texas.

  53. Sky says:

    I grew up in a suburban area of Tennessee, and the South is not very inviting if you’re different (suburban or rural. It’s easier to get by in a Southern city), as many others have said about rural areas in general. The South is very polite on the surface because it’s polite to not disagree with (or hate) people to their face. Therefore, it seems very nice and kind. The South could possibly be the back-stabbing capital of the world, haha! Also, this lower crime rate is still very scary when you consider the rise in hate crimes and massive school violence. Yes, urban schools have school violence, but they aren’t like Littleton or Peducah, KY. I’m almost more comfortable with the idea of a random crime being committed against me in a city, rather than someone targeting me specifically for my differences. Unfortunately, it’s not just the crimes, but more importantly, it’s being overlooked for promotions for being female, the snide remarks, the parties you will never be invited to, and most importantly, the lack of compassionate friendships. You can feel really alone.

    And if you are different, your children will suffer for it in the South/rural areas. Being the child of atheists was a pretty rough way to grow up when the entire social structure relies on church membership. At your church, you have your social groups, sports teams, maybe a school or gym, and everything goes back to that. Many schools are effectively segregated by race. It’s the idea that you have your own social group, and the races still rarely mix so the children grow up without spending time with people of other races, and the cycle continues. There are “white” areas and “black” areas, and everyone else shouldn’t even be there to begin with! Therefore, we end up with schools that are 97% white or 97% black.

    The suburbs are particularly vulnerable to this “church-centered” life with the growth of Mega-Churches. I have also lived in SC and a Mega Church there had an unofficial policy of only using the services provided by people who attended the church, and if you were discovered going to a non-member mechanic, for instance, you were shunned as not being “one of us” and for not being as committed as other members. The peer pressure is enormous, and you don’t have anywhere else to go socially, so you HAVE to conform or lose the only social network you have.

    One very strong argument for the city that I haven’t seen here is the possibility of getting a new job if, for some reason, you lost your job. There are likely to be other opportunities in your field of work or even in a new field if you decide to change sectors. In a rural area, you will have less (if any) choice between employees in many fields, and therefore, also a reduced ability to negotiate raises, benefits, and other aspects of your job. After all, from your boss’ perspective, you can’t quit because you’d have to move somewhere else.

    Wow, that ended up a lot longer than I expected. It’s unfortunate that so many people feel excluded from rural/suburban areas and by not moving there, they perpetuate the cycle. But at the same time, who really wants to be a martyr when you can live comfortably somewhere else?

  54. Macinac says:

    Thank you Sky for mentioning the job problem. I worked at a large employer in a small city. It was highly technical and challenging, but if you left that one employer, there was no alternative in town. I suspect it was intended that way 50 years ago when the company set up there.

    Also want to mention that I like my car. This is not about luxury or hot rods or tricked out trucks. What I enjoy is the freedom to go when I want to, using whatever route I prefer, and carrying any baggage I fancy. If I see an interesting sideroad I can explore it right now. If gas becomes too expensive I’ll downsize, but I want to keep cruising.

  55. Sean says:

    This is a great subject. One that requires serious contemplation. I grew up wayyyy out in the country. But after the military I ended up in a big city and have spent most of my adult life in the suburbs/city. And for quite a while it was ok. But over the past 5 years or so I have grown more and more restless. I feel like I am in a form of “lock-up” now. Claustrophobic almost. I hoped that I would get over it but the feeling only grows. And I have this uneasy feeling that someday we will REALLY be trapped here or really have to flee. But my wife doesn’t have this feeling or desire to leave at all. She could stay put right here, as the city grows and grows and deterioriates around us every day. I see it getting worse and worse and she almost sees the opposite. She sees all the increased conveniences while I see the increased congestion and crime. I really want out B-A-D! Maybe this recession/depression will FORCE us to get out of here…

  56. Heather says:

    We live in a small town a 1/2 hour from a small city (50,000). Our small town is 2,000. Our kids go to the little rural school (148 children) and then have to bus to The city for high school. Friends are limited as the country provides lower cost living so you also get “lower income” families and some have issues here. We debate moving but the closest city is having a huge problem with first nation crime and disrespect and uncaring about clean areas. We live on 3 acres with a nice home (nothing fancy) and a huge yard you can play ball/football/golf. My husband/I do not have many friends in the area…we are feeling somewhat isolated. We had a chance to move but it was so far north and I got scared and said no and now I’m regretting it. How does one live with this guilt!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  57. Al Justice says:

    For me the debate is not where one finds happiness, but how much that happiness costs the broader nation. Can urban areas, especially with sprawl, maintain infrastructure, or is this a slippery slippery slope?

    The use of fossil fuels to keep the lights on, seems an extraordinary drain on places like central Appalachia where thousands of miles of mountain streams are being buried to produce cheap electricity.

    Finally, the drain of talent and resources from rural regions in the spirit of opportunity keeps human resources expensive in urban regions, and absent in many rural regions.

    We all go through changes in temperament and lifestyle choices over the span of our lives. While the urban:rural question becomes obscured in this context, the drain on rural resources remains an issue, as does the sustainability of urban resources–most profoundly simple things like infrastructure and even clean water.

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