It takes a city
It was a question I asked myself daily for weeks. I’d think of it when I’d see kids waiting for the school bus, or come across some unfortunate remnants on the sidewalk from a night of partying at the bar down the street, or spend endless minutes looking for a parking space. I’d think of it when walking just about everywhere: to church, to CVS, to the post office, to the grocery and liquor and hardware stores. I’d think of it as I passed homeless people and drunk people and friendly neighbors walking their dogs. I’d think of the nitty gritty practicals and my deeply-rooted dreams. All the while, this question accompanied me: Would I want to raise children in the city?
Now, I realize it’s rather premature to be thinking of this, seeing as I’m not married, or anywhere close. But my penchant for dreaming of what life might be like one day brought up this persistent pondering in my mind. Of course, like with anything, there are pros and cons. And I’m sure what works splendidly for one family could be disastrous for another. And I suppose I can’t make up my mind too firmly, seeing as my husband and children still exist merely in the imaginative, hypothetical realm. But it’s a question worth asking, I think.
I recently visited a friend for tea, and this topic came up. We sat around her table, china laden with freshly-baked scones as her three- and one-year-old sat politely at the table, asking for more marmalade, please. As I marveled at her children’s impeccable behavior, she told me of a talk she’d heard entitled, “It Takes a City to Raise a Child.” Intrigued, I soon hunted it down and listened attentively.
Tim Keller, a Protestant preacher, lived in New York, of all places. He and his wife had raised their three boys there. “In many ways,” the tagline read, “cities are the very best places to raise children. The city plays a crucial role in raising children who embrace the Christian faith.” He began with a few cons (cost of living, physical logistics, educational complexity), and rounded out his argument with many more pros. He spoke of the rich diversity found in cities, of the confidence and self-reliance they breed in kids, of city life pushing families together and helping kids start to process the real world from a young age. He spoke of the city, New York in particular, as a college campus on steroids.
Now, I had a very happy childhood in the quiet suburbs, with a driveway and a yard to play in and little crime to speak of. There are certainly immeasurable benefits to raising a family in the suburbs, and it makes perfect sense why so many chose to do so. But, I suppose there’s at least a little piece of me that loves to be a contrarian.
There’s something thrilling about the thought. I love the idea of walking my baby to the coffee shop down the street, being greeted by tourists and locals, strangers young and old. Of letting my kids live beside people of all ages and walks of life. Of approaching hard topics that naturally arise from our urban surroundings with age-appropriate answers, helping to develop compassion and curiosity and critical thinking skills in their little minds. Of taking my family to museums and plays and concerts.
I think back to the culture shock that was my transition from a nearly all-white, middle- to upper-class Catholic grade school to public high school that was radically diverse in every way. It’s not that it was a wholly troubling transition, and I’m sure everyone experiences such a shock, in varying degrees and stages of life. But I love the idea of bringing up kids in a veritable melting pot, of teaching them from the start to love people of all sorts, from the homeless man on the corner to the tourists taking up the sidewalk to the neighbors whose music is too loud.
But of course, this is a single lady talking. I know that if and when my protective motherly instinct kicks in, I may want to flee from any source of possible danger or confusion I might needlessly expose my offspring to in the city. I may long for the white picket fence and cookie-cutter house on a quiet cul-de-sac. I may want a driveway and carpool line and spacious parking lots at the grocery store. But until then, it sure is fun to dream.
Where did you grow up? Is it crazy of me to think of raising kids in the city? Am I missing any serious cons, or any delightful pros? Do tell.