Thoughts on the New “Quasi-Urban Suburbia” — What Do “Millennials,” “Young Professionals,” and “Empty-Nesters” All Have in Common?

It’s funny.  When I started writing this blog about my experiences moving from the city to the suburbs about seven (!) years ago, I thought my desire to retain a certain urban sensibility was unusual.

After all, I’d seen my city friends leave for the glories of suburbia, one after another, without ever apparently looking back.  So I sort of thought that my desire to maintain a walkable, urbanist lifestyle, my own “SUMA,” was unique, almost quixotic.

But either I just wasn’t tuned in to the world around me, or I was a bit ahead of my time.  Because now I keep reading how developers are trying to build multi-use, multi-family suburban communities that retain a certain urban sensibility.  Here’s an article from this week in the Times by Marcela Susan Fischler:

Some suburbs around New York City are becoming decidedly less suburban, as new apartment buildings and condominium communities close to mass transithelp expand the downtowns of these villages and towns. Multifamily housing is also popping up near highways and main thoroughfares.

Young professionals seeking more space than they can afford in Manhattan or Brooklyn, empty nesters looking to downsize and leave the snow shoveling to others and, to a lesser extent, millennials moving out of their parents’ basements are leading the charge to a more urbanized suburbia.

What’s interesting is not just that people are looking for that urban experience in the suburbs, but the TYPES of people looking for it.  As the Times notes, it’s not just millennials who are loathe to give up the urban lifestyle — we’re also seeing the appeal to “young professionals” and “empty-nesters.”

Now, of course, one of my main themes in this blog is that NO ONE who lives in a city  ever WANTS to move to the traditional suburbs, any more than people WANT to buy a minivan.  It’s a choice borne out of circumstance (or even desperation) when you have kids and you simply have to accept that you have to give up the urban amenities for a more child-friendly lifestyle.

That is, think about what “millennials,” “young professionals,” and “empty-nesters” all mostly have in common — NO KIDS. And that makes sense. If it’s just you, or you and your new spouse, or you and the spouse you’ve had for a while, then a two-bedroom with no back yard but with a short walk to trains and downtown makes a lot of sense.  Once you have a couple of kids, though, and that second kid is sleeping in a closet, and they’re driving you ABSOLUTELY FREAKING CRAZY when you’re cooped up with them all day, then you’re going to want a bigger place.  Go break things outside for a while, kids!

So what’s my point? That there are limits to this new urbanist suburbia, and that it’s not a replacement for the traditional suburbia, at least not for the vast majority of people who decide to move (however reluctantly) to the suburbs in the first place. And as much as I absolutely love that developers are responding to urban exiles who want to retain at least some of that lifestyle, I don’t think it means the end to the traditional suburb.

Anyway, tradeoffs do not have to be absolute.  I gave up my 2,000 square foot apartment on the Upper West when my wife and I decided to have kids, but I’ve retained at least a semblance of my former life by finding a place that’s a seven-minute easy walk to the downtown of Nyack.  I don’t have the full suburban experience of a one-acre lot and all that, but I’ve got a backyard and a small pool.  And I’m surrounded by people with that same sensibility, who are willing to take that same “half-step” of moving to the suburbs, getting the bigger house, but keeping just a touch of that walkable urban sensibility.

Millennials will move to the suburbs when they’re ready, just like everyone else…


As an early Gen-Xer, I have to roll my eyes every time I see a think piece about Millennials and what they want out of life.  The Gen-X curse is to grow up in the shadow of the the most solipsistic generation in history, the Baby Boomers, and now in middle age to endure the entitled brats they raised.

And so we see it again in a recent article in my local suburban newspaper about — wait for it — what local suburbs are doing to attract Millennials to live there:

Faced with aging populations, stagnant post-“great recession” economies and static or declining tax bases, local villages, towns and cities are eyeing millennials and young professionals as potential saviors. It’s the same story across the nation as communities look for ways to attract 18- to 34-year-olds.

With an estimated 75.4 million people in that age group, the Pew Research Center says millennials surpassed the nation’s 74.9 million baby boomers last year, making them the largest generation in the U.S. Their numbers alone suggest that millennials will soon drive the economy and culture, and that the communities they choose to call home will reap the benefits.

So what are these suburbs doing to try to attract 20-somethings to come live there?  All the stuff that, say, people like me would have liked 20 years ago, the stuff that 20-somethings ALWAYS like: affordable rental apartments, nightlife, restaurants, entertainment, recreation, hiking trails, mass transit to the city.

I mean, are they hiring EXPERTS to tell them this, that young people want affordable housing?  That young people want restaurants and nightlife?  Do we really need a focus group of Millennial Panelists to tell us that they like going out at night?

My god, these people drive me crazy.  There’s nothing special about them, nothing new in the attitude that they want to live in the city and hate the idea of moving to the suburbs.  These 25 year olds are like all 25 year olds, going back to when the suburbs were invented.

Let me save everyone a lot of time and money: Millennials will move to the suburbs when they grow up, just like everyone else.  

So stop wasting your time.  You’re never going to get a 25 year-old to move from the greatest city in the world just because you have an artisanal “home-decor shop that purveys mono floral honey produced by nomadic beekeepers in Sicily.”  No matter what they do in New Rochelle, or Mount Vernon, or Dobbs Ferry, or Hastings, they’re never going to create anything that’s more than the faintest, palest imitation of what Millennials can get in Manhattan. And why settle for downtown White Plains when you have the real thing 20 miles away?

If you don’t believe me, here’s what a Millennial herself had to say about these efforts:

Developers try to convince millennials of the “value” of these new luxury developments by installing high-end appliances, but value isn’t just having a dishwasher and Sub-Zero fridge. They also try to recreate the convenience of New York City by building “urban villages,” but, to me, transit-oriented, mixed-use developments are little more than ersatz recreations of what comes naturally in big cities. All the amenities might be there, but, at the end of the day, they’re just another suburban development that feels too sterile and artificial, closer in spirit to a retirement community than somewhere a person in their 20s wants to live. And really, if all I wanted was to live in an overpriced, luxury apartment on a block with an artisanal coffee shop that’s not too far from a train station, I’d live in Manhattan.

If you can get past the self-centeredness of a 25 year old typical of a generation taught by their Baby Boomer parents that Galileo was wrong, you can see the problem.  There is absolutely nothing that developers or planners can do to attract young people to the suburbs by trying to compete with the city.

Millennials, like all other young people, are only going to move from the city if one of two things happen.

First, they’ll move if they can’t afford it. And mostly they can’t, not anymore. When I was 25, my first apartment in the city was $700 a month for a studio on 34th street right above the Lincoln Tunnel, which represented about 30% of my monthly income.  You know what that studio rents for right now?  $400,000 a month.  Seriously.  It’s very expensive in the city.

Even then, though, young people will do anything to avoid moving to the suburbs. Even move to Brooklyn, which is basically a suburb but don’t tell anyone or you’ll kill the market.  And now they keep going deeper and deeper into Brooklyn until they eventually they’r going to realize that they’re living in Coney Island and it’s actually further from midtown than White Plains.

Second, they’ll move to the suburbs when they get married and have kids, and  realize that they need closet space.  After all, that’s basically why the suburbs were invented — as a place to settle down.

But here’s the good news for these suburban towns: Most people grow up.  The baby boomers thought the only time they’d go to the suburbs would be to dance in the mud at Woodstock, and they eventually settled most of the Hudson Valley.  Generation X never thought they’d move to the suburbs, and here I am.  And Millennials don’t think that they’ll ever move to the suburbs, but they will.

But not because they opened a new artisanal pickle shop in Dobbs Ferry.  They’re going to move to the suburbs for the same reason that everyone does — because babies make noise and you can’t sleep in the same room as them.

Are the Suburbs a Good Place to Grow Old? Not So Much…

A very funny piece in the Huffington Post last week by Jane Gross got me thinking about the possibility of growing old in the suburbs.  She writes about how getting the flu, and then having to deal with an infestation of rats in her home, made her realize that the suburbs might not be the best place for an older, single female:

People our age who choose to live alone belong in cities, with plentiful take-out food options, friends close by, and apartment building superintendents to deal with rats in the basement.

It raises an interesting question: should older people live in the suburbs, or should they move to the city?

Take my experience.  I’ve lived in the suburbs at two points in my life: first, when I was growing up as a kid, from ages 0 to 18, and then as an adult anticipating HAVING kids, from ages 42 til 45 (now).

For the most part, I think that’s kind of worked out.  I had the pretty stereotypical suburban life growing up: walking to school, my best friends all lived on my block, backyard baseball games, sports leagues, etc.  And now that I’m a parent, I kind of see the advantages of raising kids in the burbs — the convenience of having a car, better public schools, all that stuff.

And like a lot of people, I lived in the city during the “young and single” part of my life — Washington DC for college and law school, then mostly New York City (and a little San Francisco) for my 20s and 30s.  And that worked out for me as well.  I got to spend almost 20 years living in the big city, drinking muddled drinks and playing pool and chatting up women with body tattoos and all that.  I loved that time in my life.

So I’ve had what I think is kind of the best of all worlds: suburbs as a kid, city as a young adult, back to the suburbs as a parent.  I think that’s the perfect cycle.

Now, I’m sure city people would disagree with me, telling me all about how much they loved growing up in the city around ALL THAT CULTURE, when really what they mean is easy access to buying pot in the Village.  But that’s okay.  If you grew up in the city, and loved it, that’s great.  And if you’re raising kids in the city, I don’t know how you survive, but more power to you.  Fight the good fight!

But for those of us who live in the suburbs for our parental years, we rarely stop to think about what’s next.  What do you do when the kids have grown?  Now, that’s a ludicrous question for a guy who has a two-year old and an infant at home, and won’t have time to think about his retirement until the (gulp!) 2030s.  But just as a thought experiment — would I want to stay in the suburbs once I’m getting ready to retire?

The answer?  Probably not.  In fact, almost certainly not.  I don’t see how that would make sense.  In fact, I don’t understand why retired people immediately flock down to Florida for their golden years, just because of the weather.  Have you been to Florida?   The food stinks, it’s hot, mosquitos everywhere, and it’s filled with other old people.  That’s a high price to pay for a little golf during the week.

Indeed, if cost is not an issue, I can’t imagine NOT wanting to spend my retirement living in a big city.  So if anyone reading this is thinking about retiring to Florida, or living out in the suburbs during their golden years, here are some reasons to buck the trend and move into the city instead:

  • You don’t have to drive. Old people shouldn’t be driving.  Seriously.  No offense, but I’ve seen elderly people try to operate remotes to the television, and it scares me to think that we you can pass a driving test at 16 and then hit the road for the rest of your life with impunity.  But if you live in the city, you don’t even have to own a car!  You get to walk around, get all that exercise that doctors tell you that you need, and you can take taxis or the subway anytime you need to go more than 20 blocks or so.
  • You can eat out.  When you’re young and living in the city, you can’t afford to eat out. When you have kids, you REALLY can’t afford to eat out.  But now that you’re retired, you can actually go to all those great restaurants you read about in the Times.  Even better, you can probably get a table, because even the fanciest, trendiest eateries are pretty empty at, say, 5:30, which I understand is the standard elderly-person meal time.
  • You can go do stuff.  I lived in the city for almost 20 years, and made it out to like four museums.  Too much stuff to do, what with earning a living and all, plus all the tattooed ladies who need chatting up.  But when you’re retired, you have nothing else to fill your day but go check out a new exhibition at the Met.  Even better, I’m sure there are all sorts of senior citizen discounts, so it’s cheap!  Not to mention all the movies, theater, etc. — all the stuff that people say they live in the city for, but never actually go.  But when you don’t have to work, you can!
  • Lots of eye candy.  You really want to live out in Florida, where the average age is about 97?  Or do you want to walk down the streets of Manhattan, teeming with young, attractive people with energy and drive and firm, supple limbs?  I mean, when you’re 85, I figure that anyone under the age of 35, no matter how homely, is pretty good eye candy. And when you’re 75 and harmless, it’s okay to stare, people will just assume you have cataracts and can’t see anything anyway.
  • No stairs.  I’m assuming you’ve learned enough in all those years of living to NOT buy a walkup.  So instead of staying in a suburban house, with all those stairs, you get an elevator.  And maybe a doorman to hold the door for you.  I think about how slothful I am now, and I can’t imagine the deep levels of lethargy that I will reach when I get older.  I’ll be one of those guys in a Rascal riding around the streets, not because I’m infirm, but just because I’m too lazy to walk.

Seriously, why would you want to live in Del Boca Vista Phase Four when you could be living on the upper west side surrounded by great food, public transportation, young people, and things to do?  And if you’re not going to Florida, why would you want to maintain a big house, with a lawn, and a second floor that you never actually visit, when you could get a sweet place in the city with takeout food and young people to leer at?

So are the suburbs a good place to grow old?  No.  They’re the place to be a kid, or raise a kid.  But if you don’t have kids, either because you’re young and single and having a good time living life, or because you’re old and retired and having a good time cheating death, you should live in a city.

Another Hurricane! Seriously? That is so NOT the deal……..

It’s just not fair.

As I write this, the northeast is preparing for our second major hurricane hit in the last two years.  And if that wasn’t enough, we’ve also had an earthquake and an October blizzard in the past year.  None of this is particularly heartening to a guy who lives in a condo surrounded by glass on the eighth story of a building constructed on landfill at the end of a big river.

That’s not the deal.  When you live in the northeast, you accept certain tradeoffs, particularly with the weather.  As I’ve often said, people that say they love living in a four-season climate really mean that they love the first snowfall of winter, the first week or so of spring, about one week in the summer before it gets too humid, and the two weeks of peak fall foliage.  That’s like one good month out of the year.  For the rest of the year, we endure lousy weather: too cold in the winter, too rainy in the spring, too hot in the summer, and too grey in the fall once the leaves are gone.

The tell is that our favorite time of year is when the seasons change – we absolutely LOVE that first snowfall, the first warm day of spring, the first beach day, the day the leaves start to turn.  Basically, we get sick of our seasons fast, and can’t wait until the fresh novelty of the next one.

But it’s okay. We live with it.  We laugh good-naturedly when our California friends call us to“ complain” that they have to put on a light jacket in February because the temperature dipped below 75 degrees.  We endure those Facebook posts with pictures of people playing volleyball on the beach while we’re huddled in front of our fireplaces like cavemen.

Why? Because we accept the tradeoffs.  We get mostly crappy weather, but at least we don’t have hurricanes.  Or earthquakes.  Or mudslides. Or any of the other natural disasters that plague other parts of the country. In other words, we take the small everyday inconveniences instead of the big life-threatening catastrophe.

That’s why this is so unfair.  WE ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO GET HURRICANES.  Hurricanes are the tradeoff that people who live in Miami are supposed to make.  They get all that beautiful weather all year long, and get to post all their bikini photos on Facebook, and I get to laugh at them when Anderson Cooper is standing in front of their home in a windbreaker.  Those people in California?  Okay, they get to enjoy 80 degrees and sunny for 350 days a year, but once in a while their homes fall down from earthquakes, burn up in wildfires, or slide into the sea during a rainstorm.  That’s the tradeoff: great everyday weather, occasional cataclysm.  That’s fair.

None of this makes sense. I’m getting emails from friends in Miami WISHING ME LUCK GETTING THROUGH A HURRICANE.  These people live in Hurricane Central, they actually have sports teams and alcoholic drinks NAMED AFTER HURRICANES, and THEY ARE PITYING ME.  This is just no good.

So that’s why I’m bitter. It’s like a guy who runs five miles every day and eats nothing but steamed vegetables keeling over with a heart attack at 45.  It’s just cruel and wrong.  That’s not the deal.

Stay safe, everyone.

Reasons You’ll Hate Living in the Suburbs: Because you don’t need all that extra space!

Space.  It’s why people move to the suburbs.  They need space. Space for their kids,. Space for their dogs.  Space for all their STUFF.  More space.  People like this guy love talking about all their extra bedrooms, and their closets, and all their square footage.

But why?  How much space do people really need? For about 10 years, I lived in about 600 square feet. Then, for a few years, about 2,000 square feet.  And now that I’m in the suburbs, about 4,500 square feet.  But even with all that space, I’m not sure that my everyday life is all that much different.  Whether I’m in 600, or 2,000, or 4,500 square feet, I spend about 90% of my time in only about 300 square feet in total: kitchen, couch, bed.  I eat, I lounge, I sleep.  That’s my life.

Indeed, I’ve been reading about this new “micro” apartment movement – the proposal to create affordable sub-300 square foot apartments in Manhattan.  Think about what 300 square feet is – about a 20’x15’ room, including space for closets and a kitchen.  As long as there’s a wall where I can put a flat screen, I think that would be fine.  For me, I mean.  I’m not sure what I’d do with the kid and the wife. Or the dog.  Then again, if I suggested to my wife that we go live in a 300 square foot space, I’m pretty sure she’d divorce me and take all my money, so a micro apartment would be all that I’d need or could afford.

So a micro apartment might be a little extreme.  But on the other hand, so is 4,500 square feet. For example, let’s examine all the basically useless space in my home:

  • Living room.  It’s the nicest room in my home: lovely couches, a fireplace, floor-to-ceiling views of the Hudson, just gorgeous. And I’m never in there.  No TV.  I don’t spend a lot of time in rooms without TVs in them.
  • Dining room.  Big table.  Seats 10 people.  But we’re not 10 people.  It’s me, my wife, and my kid, and my kid sits at his own chair.  That’s like two-and-a-half people.  (The dog isn’t allowed to sit at the table, but try telling him that.)  So the dining room has pretty much become an expensive place to put the mail, at least until my wife agrees to my proposal that we eat at opposite ends of the table, like fabulously rich people with servants do in the movies.
  • Study.  Beautiful wood-paneled library/study with bookshelves and two separate desk spots, where I keep the desktop computer that I never use because 99% of the time I open up a laptop sitting on the couch.
  • Guest Bedrooms.  Two of them for the guests that we never invite over.  Part of it is that we dramatically overestimated the number of people who would be eager to visit us in the suburbs.  The other part is that I hate guests.  (If you’re a friend who is reading this and has stayed over at our place, let me make clear that I’m not talking about YOU, I’m talking about those OTHER guests).

You see my point? I have a lot of places in my home where you could hide a dead body, and I wouldn’t discover it for weeks.  For all I know, there’s a dead body in my guest bedroom right now.  I really should check.

And you know what you need to do with all that space? You need to fill it with expensive furniture that you’ll never actually sit on.  And you know how you get that expensive furniture? You hire a decorator/designer, most of whom like to be paid for their work.  So much for all that money you save living in the suburbs.

So why do we do it?  Why do we feel compelled to get a big home with all that extra space?  I’ll tell you why.

It’s to make all you city people jealous.

We need all that extra space so on the rare occasion when we get you all to come out to the suburbs, we can see the look on your face when you see that our closet is bigger than your bedroom.  The suburban shock and awe.  That’s what makes everything worth it.  “Look, I have a room just for my computer! Suck on THAT!”

Suburban space is the ultimate extravagance, the real estate equivalent to dangling a $25,000 watch on your wrist.  You don’t need it, but you get it and flaunt it because you want everyone else to envy it.  Suburbanites will never admit that we never eat in the dining room, or that we use our pools about three times a year, because we need to justify our move to the burbs.  If we left the city to get a perfectly usable and unimpressive 2,500 square feet, we’d never have anything to hold over the heads of our city friends.  All that extra space is the solace we take for not having good bars.

All that said, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: if you live in the city, and come visit me, you absolutely need to marvel and gush over all the space I have or you’re not going to be invited back.  It’s only polite.

Reasons Why You’ll Love Living in the Suburbs: Because the bedrooms are actually, you know, bedrooms.

You know why you’ll love living in the suburbs?  Because the bedrooms are actually bedrooms.

If you live in the city, you know what I’m talking about, right?  That “two-bedroom” apartment where they carved up the living room, or put a wall down the middle of one bedroom? You ever live in one of those?  It’s really great if you don’t mind being able to hear EVERYTHING GOING ON IN THE OTHER ROOM.

How do you know when you’re dealing with a fake city bedroom?

  • The bedroom doesn’t have a closet.
  • The bedroom IS the closet.  It’s a bad sign if you can still see the imprint of the brackets for the closet rods.
  • The bedroom doesn’t have a window.  Bedrooms without windows are more properly called “cells.”

On the other hand, it’s also a bad sign if your “two-bedroom” apartment doesn’t have an actual living room.  As in, it’s two bedrooms and a kitchen.  Builders don’t make a lot of apartments like that, so it’s a pretty good sign that your second bedroom is actually the living room.

But it’s not just the fake bedrooms.  You can’t believe anything you read in a Manhattan apartment listing.  Take square footage estimations. Anytime you see square footage listed, just modify it by about 25%. If the apartment is listed at 800 square feet, it’s really 600 square feet.  And the one listed at 600 square feet is really 450 square feet.  If you took out a tape measure, you wouldn’t get to 600 square feet unless you counted the walls.

But the system works, if only because everyone has internalized the inflation.  You go see a “1,000 square foot” apartment that is really 800 square feet, and you marvel at how roomy it is compared to the “800 square foot” apartment that is really 600 square feet.  And once everyone has bought into the “Manhattan Modifier,” you can’t really opt out  If a broker listed apartments at their actual square footage, everyone would complain that they were overpriced.

For example, when we rehabbed our Manhattan place a few years ago, we ended up with about 2,000 square feet.  That was actual square feet.  We had the floor plans and everything to prove it.  So when we sold it, we advertised it as 2,000 square feet, and everyone who came to look at it said they were amazed at how roomy it was.  Why?  BECAUSE IT WAS ACTUALLY 2,000 SQUARE FEET.  If we’d used the “Manhattan Modifier,” we’d have advertised it as 2,500 square feet, and people would have said, “hey, this is so much roomier than that 2,000 square foot apartment we saw yesterday!”

You don’t have that problem in the suburbs.  You don’t have to carve up your bedrooms, because you already have four or five of them.  You don’t have to lie about the square footage, because you have enough space already.

And that’s also why city people are so amazed by the size of suburban homes.  We tell them we live in, say, 3,000 square feet, and they come thinking that it’s a “Manhattan” 3,000 square feet.  So then they’re shocked by how big it is, because it’s ACTUALLY 3,000 square feet.

Real bedrooms with closets and windows. True square footage.  Basically, space.  One of the reasons you’ll love living in the suburbs.

Reasons Why You’ll Hate Living in the Suburbs: You Don’t Get to See Celebrities Out in the Wild

You know what you’re going to lose when you move to the suburbs?  Celebrities. You’re going to miss that moment when you’re on line at your local Starbucks and realize that —  HEY, the guy trying to order a coffee while corralling a couple of kids is John McEnroe!  Hi John! You’re getting a cinnamon latte?  Really?  YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS!  HAR!  See what I did there?

If you live in Manhattan, you can’t help but run into celebrities.  The city is lousy with them. Unlike LA, where celebrities live in upscale enclaves, Manhattan is incredibly dense and integrated, so even if you live in a 500 square foot studio walkup, you can still live on the same block with some zillionaire movie star. You don’t have to be a star-effer to feel a certain validation – “I might be a total loser, but I live right next door to Howard Stern.  I must be doing SOMETHING right.”

Now, I’m not talking about when you’re at some hot club and see Chris Brown and Drake throwing glasses at each other or Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg.  Or when press up against the rope line at some move premiere like  star-struck out-of-towner at Rock Center waving a sign at Matt Lauer so your cousin from Des Moine can DVR you.  No, it doesn’t count when you actually TRY to go see a celebrity, or when you run into them in their natural habitat.

Rather, the fun celebrity sightings are when you see them out in the wild, doing the same everyday crap that you have to do.  For example, I once saw Jerry Seinfeld walking down 83rd street toward Broadway.  That wasn’t particularly unusual, since he lived in the neighborhood (as did the “Jerry” of the Seinfeld show – COINCIDENCE?).  What was interesting was that he was carrying a Banana Republic bag, and there’s a Banana Republic store on 86th and Broadway. But he wasn’t coming back from the store, he was going TO the store.

In other words, JERRY SEINFELD WAS SCHLEPPING OVER TO BANANA REPUBLIC TO RETURN A SWEATER. I love that. I mean, seriously, wouldn’t you think that Jerry Seinfeld, when he gets a sweater that doesn’t fit, would just toss it in the garbage?  It’s like the old joke about whether it makes sense for Bill Gates to take the time to stop and bend down to pick up a hundred dollar bill.  You would think that it wouldn’t be worth 45 minutes of his life to save a few buck, but there he was hoofing it over to beg for his money back..  Good for him!

That’s one of the great things about living in the city. I used to live next door to Bobby Cannavale, who would sit out on his stoop chatting with the neighbors and couldn’t have been a nicer guy.  On the day after 9/11, I shared some hard-to-find copies of the NY Post with Billy Baldwin.  I once asked Barbra Streisand to move down a seat at the movie theater so I could sit next to my date (Streisand was NOT happy).  I hit on Jane Krakowski, back before she got Ally McBeal and got even further out of my league.  All very cool.

So I sort of miss that stuff now that I’m in the suburbs. Not to say that we don’t have our celebrities.  After all, I’ve made it my mission to catalogue the various celebrities who are rumored to joining me in suburban idyll, like Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Jay Z.  And just in my village of Nyack, we proudly count Rosie O’Donnell, Jonathan Demme, and Stephen Baldwin, who has been working very hard to keep my village free from porn. I’ve actually run into Bill Irwin on the streets and William Hurt on a golf course, where he thought I’d stolen his friend’s golf bag (I admit NOTHING!).

But it’s not the same. Really, it’s just because you don’t run into people as easily in the suburbs – whether those people are celebrities or commoners.  You’re in your car all day, you park in a lot, you come in and out of stores. You don’t really wlak the streets. And on top of that, you don’t go out as much at night. After all, I’m very unlikely to run into a celebrity when sitting on the couch in my family room, which is where I spend most of my time now.

So that’s one of the things that you’re going to hate about living in the suburbs. Unless, of course, you’re a celebrity, where you can relax in your suburban anonymity behind the blacked-out windows of your SUV and return a stupid sweater without some jackass writing all about it…..


Reasons You’ll Love Living in the Suburbs: Your Life Becomes Much Less Garbage-Intensive

I miss a lot of things about living in the city.  The energy of the streets.  The restaurants. The take out food.

But you know what I don’t miss? The garbage.

Garbage in the city is a nightmare.  First, there’s the smell.  Oh, Sweet Jesus, that smell.  I forgot all about that smell until I spent a night in the city a few weeks ago.  Woke up bright and early to get some coffee, walked out of the midtown hotel, and it hit me.  The smell of 1.6 million people crammed into about three square miles, of dumpsters in alleys, of overflowing garbage cans on ever corner, of storekeepers with dirty mops splashing water around on the pavement, doing nothing more than just re-animating the stink. It’s everywhere, and when you live in the city, you just kind of get used to it, the way you get used to the noise and the crowds and everything else that comes from urban living.  But, boy, if you’ve been away for a while, it’s like a slap in the face. A big smelly slap.

And it’s not just the garbage on the streets.  Dealing with garbage in your home is one of the worst parts of living in the city.  As usual, it’s all about the small spaces.  When you live in 700, or 1,000, or even 2,000 square feet, every inch of your home is precious.  So it’s just simply appalling how much of that space gets given over to garbage.

To start with, you got your garbage can, sitting in the corner of your kitchen and blocking your access to your cabinets.  And if that’s not bad enough, you’ve got ANOTHER can for your recycleables, because God Forbid you mix bottles in with your more pedestrian garbage and kill all the dolphins, or whatever.  On top of that, you’ve got your pile of newspapers piling up in a corner.  All of that stuff, taking up your precious real estate.

But that’s not all, because at some point you end up with more garbage than can fit in the cans.  Alas, it’s not yet garbage pickup day, and you’re not allowed to just put your garbage out on the street any old time you want because that would be URBAN CHAOS, so you have to pull out the bag and store it on the floor for a few days, where various moist discarded products seep through that thin layer of polypropylene to add a little urban ambiance to your apartment.

So now you’ve got your garbage can, recycling can, a pile of newspapers, and a seeping bag of filthy garbage cluttering up your small apartment.  Think of how expensive that is.  Manhattan real estate is about $1,200 per square foot.  A standard garbage can is maybe 2’x2’, which is four square feet (disclaimer – not good at math).  So one  garbage can is worth about $4,800 in space.  Add another one for recycleables, and then a few feet for the pile of newspapers, and another spot for that decomposing bag of refuse in the corner, and you’re talking about over ten grand just to keep the garbage in your home.

But it doesn’t end there.  Bad enough you have all this garbage in your home, you now have to get it down to the street.  Now, maybe that’s not so bad if you live in an elevator building, or if you’re blessed with one of those garbage chutes.  I was lucky enough to live for two years in a garbage chute building, and I miss it to this day.  Walk down the hall, open the hatch, fling the garbage down, and listen for the clunkety-clunk-clunk as it careens down 15 flights.  Just awesome.  I loved throwing stuff down that chute. I looked for things to throw out just to hear what it would sound like when they hit bottom.

But for most of my years in the city, I lived in a walk-up.  Which is also a walk-down.  Which means walking down laden with garbage – the seeping bags, clanking bottles, the bundles of newspapers that I had to tie up with twine in one of the worst chores of my week.

Here’s how it typically went:

  • Come home after a long day.
  • Realize that the apartment was filled with garbage and that the pickup is the next morning.
  • Explain to wife that I’m too tired to carry it down, promising to do it first thing in the morning.
  • Wake up to the sound of the garbage truck pulling away from my building.
  • Run down in my boxers and sandals carrying fistfuls of garbage.
  • Chase truck down the street.
  • Throw garbage directly into truck.
  • Endure disapproving stares from sanitation workers.
  • Walk back to apartment.
  • Endure disapproving stares of neighbors.
  • Get back to apartment.
  • Realize I forgot my keys.
  • Buzz up to my wife to let me in.
  • More disapproving stares.

This happened a lot.

In fact, I remember one time that I promised to bring the garbage down in the morning, woke up too late, and rather than admit to the wife that I had failed in what is a fundamental husbandly duty, I pretended to take the garbage down when I left for the morning.  But since the truck had already come, I instead carried the garbage to the corner and stealthily dumped it into a public trash can, looking nervously around for the garbage cops to come take me away.  Walking away from that trash can, having gotten away with dumping my personal trash in the public can, I felt like I was one of Ocean’s Eleven. OUTLAW!

I rode that high all day.  Then I come home, and my wife immediately confronts me with, “Did you throw our garbage in the can on the corner?”  To this day, I don’t know how she caught me.  Women are sneaky.

So that’s another reason you’ll love living in the suburbs – your life becomes much less garbage intensive.  No more garbage cans cluttering up your limited space, because the spacious kitchens all have built in refuse cabinets.  No more garbage bags in your hallway, because everyone has garages with trash cans all your own where you can dump the bags, then joyfully roll them out to the street for pickup.

And, of course, no more garbage stink on the streets, the smell of teeming, anxious masses who partied too late and too hard. No, instead you smell…nothing.  Nothing bad, nothing particularly good, just the faint scent of, well, blandness — the distinctive fragrance of the suburbs.  But in this case, bland is a LOT better than the alternative……


Reasons You’ll Hate Living in the Suburbs: Losing Your Urban Identity

Everyone who moves from the city to the suburbs makes the same promise to themselves: I won’t become a suburban person, I’ll keep my urban sensibility, I’ll come into the city all the time.


Take, for example, this jackass writing about his decision to move from the city to the suburbs:

So I’ve convinced myself that I’m not leaving.  No, not me!  I’m just moving to a new section of Manhattan, a hot new neighborhood like Dumbo and Nolita and all those other acronymic (is that a word?) Manhattan neighborhoods that magazine writers or real estate brokers are always discovering.

I’m just moving to “Suma,” the “SUburbs of MAnhattan.”  Just like “Tribeca” is the “TRIangle BElow CAnal” or “Nolita” is “NOrth of LIttle ITaly.”   Just another neighborhod of Manhattan!  Really!

Suma is not a neighborhood per se, of course, but it’s a state of mind, the state of mind that I might be moving to the suburbs, but I’m going to retain my Manhattan sensibilities, pretentious though they may be.

I’m not going to give in.

I’m not going to get a cookie-cutter house.

I’m not going to become the organization man.

I’m not going to eat every meal at a franchise restaurant.

I’m not going to stay in on weekends.

I’m going to find my Suma.

That was three years ago, when I first contemplated my move to the suburbs.  And, of course, I’ve totally sold out.

Going into Manhattan.  I promised myself that I’d come into Manhattan often, at least once a month.  I’ve probably been to the city three or four times a year, at best.  Why?  It’s tough to explain.  We want to go into the city, check out a new restaurant, go see a show, hit a few lounges, but then the simple mechanics get in the way — the 45 minute drive, the potential traffic, finding parking, worrying about drinking when I need to drive us home. We think about it, and then it just seems so much easier to drive ten minutes to the mall to watch Liam Nisson growl and kill bad people. What amazes me is that I did that same drive every day for about eight years, when I was living in the city but working in the suburbs, but somehow what was once my daily commute now seems like an endless death march when I contemplate schlepping in for a night on the town.

Staying a city person. I promised myself that I wouldn’t become a suburbanite, that I’d stay a “city person.”  But strange things are happening.  The last few times I went to the city, I got disoriented by the little things. I walk uptown when I’m going downtown. I forget the order of the avenues — “is Park before or after Madison?”.  I forget which way the one way streets go.  Even worse, the last time I was in the city, I was walking to get a cup of coffee and I kept getting passed by people.  I became one of those people who clog up the sidewalks, walking too slowly for the rush of pedestrians trying to get where they’re going.  That was humiliating.

Keeping my “sophisticated urban sensibility.” This may be the worst realization of all.  You’d think that in the information age, you’d be able to stay in touch with what’s happening in the city. I read the Times every day. I surf the city lifestyle blogs.  But it’s not enough.  You just can’t stay in touch when you’re not actually there.  Reading about it isn’t the same.  In just three years, the city has changed.  Food trucks?  Really?  And what’s with these Vietnamese sandwiches everyone was talking about last year.  Are they still hot, or did I totally miss it?  Honestly, I have NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON ANYMORE!

Now, of course it’s easy to simply blame this on the suburbs.  Certainly, I like having something to blame besides the fact that I’m simply getting old and unhip.  Indeed, one could argue that it’s almost a little undignified for someone of my advancing years to bemoan the loss of an urban sensibility, when really I’m just getting cranky that I’m not 35 anymore.  Even if I was living in the city, it’s arguable whether I’d be any more tuned in than I am now, particularly since I’m now a father.  But it still hurts.

And here’s the worst part.  Slowly but surely, I’m starting to feel myself becoming a suburbanite.  I’m fighting it, but it’s insidiously working my way into my psyche.  I drive my new crossover into the city, and feel that twinge of superiority when I pick up my city friends who don’t own a car.  On those rare occasions when urbanites visit us in the suburbs, I silently bask in the sense of awe they have when they see my closet.  SO BIG!

It scares me how easily I’m being seduced by big closets and affordable restaurants and my guest bedrooms, how I find myself going weeks without even thinking about taking a trip into the city.  I’m getting — I can’t believe I’m saying this — used to it.

So that’s another one of the reasons that you’ll hate living in the suburbs.  No matter how much you might want it right now, and regardless of how many promises you’ll make to yourself, you’re going to find yourself going over to the bland side.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you….


Reasons You’ll Love Living in the Suburbs: The Pressure is Off!

One of the great things about living in the suburbs is that the pressure is off.  What pressure?  That unrelentingly guilty feeling that you’re always missing out on something, that you should be going to more concerts and theater and museums and clubs, and bars, and hot new restaurants.  That nagging voice in your head saying that if you’re living in the city you should be taking advantage of living in the city:

What?  You’re going to stay home and watch The Voice? What’s wrong with you?  Artcat just posted that a series of Sara Swaty portraits exploring gender identity and the body is opening this weekend at the Leslie-Lohman Museum!  The 37th Annual Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Play Festival is in previews on Theater Row!  And you’re going to watch TV?  What a plebian! What a vulgarian!

Sometimes, living in Manhattan can be mentally exhausting.  There’s just TOO MUCH to do, too many choices, too many decisions to make, and you’ll never get to everything.  Even if you go out every night, you’ll never even scrape the surface of all the shows you should be seeing, art you should be appreciating, food you should be trying.  Think of it this way — New York City has 24,000 restaurants.  Even if you eliminate the half of them that are the various warring Ray’s Pizza chains, that’s still 12,000 places to eat.  365 days a year, 3 meals a day, it would take you almost 12 years to try them all.  That’s a lot of miso-glazed cod.

Another example: right now, at this moment, there are about 25 shows playing on Broadway, and almost 60 off-broadway.  That’s 85 shows.  Go see one a day, and you might get through them in three months, at which time about a third of those shows will have closed and been replaced.  And that’s not even counting off-off-broadway.

It’s a cultural treadmill, and the guilt trip never ends.  Just pick up a copy of the Times, and you’ll see pictures of society events you never have the time to go to, reviews of restaurants you’ll never try, profiles of bands you’ll never hear.  And, even worse, it seems like EVERYONE ELSE is somehow finding the time to get more out of the city than you ever will.  You finally get out to a club, only to be told that you REALLY should go there on Tuesday nights.  Tuesday nights?  People go out Tuesday nights?  Seriously?  What do they do all day?

That’s what’s nice about the suburbs.  Yes, like everyone says, there’s not a lot to do.  But in a lot of ways, that’s a blessing.  Fewer choices, fewer decisions, easier to focus.  Rather than trying to stay afloat in an unrelenting cultural stream, you have to actually seek out opportunities for interesting theater, art openings, new restaurants.  They’re out there – even in the suburbs, there are some good restaurants and galleries and concert halls. Not as many, of course, but that’s the point.  Because the choices are fewer and further between, you don’t have that pressure to ALWAYS BE DOING SOMETHING.

So you get to give yourself a break.  It’s not your fault.  You’re living in the boring old suburbs!  So what else are you going to do but sit on your couch, put your feet up, and guiltlessly watch some lowbrow reality tv?