Brooklyn vs Westchester: Why We’re Staying Put!

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Happy Brooklyn Baby

Local parenting blog Wee Westchester posted a smackdown-style piece about why they think it’s better to raise kids in the suburbs. As Brooklynites, we couldn’t pass up the chance for a little (friendly) debate.

I grew up in Westchester, so I certainly agree with some of their reasons: Yes, there is some gorgeous scenery, especially along the Hudson River, and no, you don’t have to ensure that moving your car fits in with your plans for the evening. Although I have to take issue with their third reason, “Drunk people don’t pee in our flowers.” During high school and college, my friends and I went to enough parties to know that if there are teenage guys around, even the most bucolic setting will not protect you from incidents of drunken public urination. I’m at that bizarre point in my life where I’ve spent almost as much time living in Park Slope as I did in Westchester, so I consider myself a bit of an expert in the whole suburbs-versus-city debate. Here’s why I’ll continue to bump my stroller up our brownstone steps, even with two kids in tow.

1. When it comes to parenting, there’s strength in numbers.

I moved to Brooklyn in 1997, but it wasn’t until I had my first daughter twelve years later that I understood why so many families lived here. I joined a new parents’ group through a list serv, and a quick “Is anyone around? I’d love to get out of the house…” email could easily turn into six or seven moms sitting in a coffee shop nodding sympathetically at each other’s stories of sleep deprivation and ill-timed diaper explosions. Everything was new and raw and terrifying, and I was so grateful to have others who understood exactly what that felt like at that moment. My group had 60 local moms of kids all born within four weeks of each other, which meant that I had lots of chances to befriend women I really connected with, not just those I happened to meet because our children were the same age. Now that the kids are older, we meet at bars after bedtime and texts look more like “She’s melting down and I’m counting the hours until she’s asleep–want to hit the long meadow?” These are also the women who have lent me their gear, listened to me rant, and slept with their phones next to their pillows when I was days away from giving birth to number two, ready to come watch our older daughter in the middle of the night. The circumstances have changed, but the underlying support hasn’t wavered.

2. The Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Transit Museum, Jane’s Carousel, and Coney Island are just a few ways that our kids can soak up a bit of history while having an insanely good time. And we can get to all of them by subway, with hardly any advance planning required.

3. Manhattan is just over the river.

I love having the big bad borough close by for a number reasons, and it’s not just because my preschooler never gets tired of visiting the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History or jumping into the ball pit at the Children’s Museum of Art. When I worked in midtown, I felt calmer knowing that I could get home quickly if my daughter needed me. Now that I’m a freelance writer, I can meet editors for coffee without much logistical hassle. (I realize this second perk is more about me than my kids, but if Mom isn’t feeling happy and fulfilled, no one is, right?) And my husband, who works in Manhattan and usually makes it home for bedtime, says he would hate to be constantly worrying about a commuter train schedule. He lived in New Jersey while working in Manhattan for a while, and notes that missing a subway might result in at most a two- to ten-minute delay during rush hour, as opposed to 20 or 30 minutes for a commuter train.

4. We don’t need a car.

I realize that for some people this would be a total deterrent, but with two kids and one cantankerous cat, I’m happy to have one less thing to maintain. I love stepping outside and knowing that almost every basic need (food, bank, dry cleaner, and yes, the $10 manicure) is within a five-minute walk of our stoop. When we do need wheels we use Zipcar and though it’s not cheap, that fee also covers gas and insurance. I just wish the car seats would magically appear in the backseat each time–that’s one point definitely in Westchester’s favor.

5. I’d be ten pounds heavier if I didn’t live in a city.

The CDC recommends that all adults get 150 minutes of physical activity (such as brisk walking) each week. Without even counting my regular workouts I’m already fitting in 90 minutes weekly just rushing to and from my daughter’s preschool, usually while wearing a 16-pound baby and pushing a stroller packed with 35-plus pounds of kid and assorted stuff. I’m also lucky to live in a neighborhood where there’s at least one exercise class that welcomes babies every day, which has made for a much saner maternity leave. Being in better shape means that I sleep better, suffer fewer mood swings, and have more energy to chase my girls (both for fun and to keep them from injuring themselves and others). I’m thinking everybody wins here.

6. We own culture.

Even if you never rode the subway to Manhattan (which happens to be a worthy, kid-pleasing pursuit on its own), you still probably couldn’t try every Brooklyn-based activity before your child gets to high school. In the last few months I’ve heard about a Grammy-nominated Broadway actor teaching a music class for babies, four-year-olds studying Pollock and Picasso at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Twyla Tharp mentoring teenage dancers at a local ballet company. And while my daughter’s chances to appear in a music video (shot by a classmate’s dad in Crown Heights) and visit one of our artist friends during open studio hours in Boerum Hill could have certainly happened in the suburbs, there’s something about both experiences that feel very Brooklyn to me.

7. There is a ridiculous number of highly qualified childcare providers.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from my friends who’ve decamped for the ‘burbs is that the childcare options in their new town are much more limited. Brooklyn wins thanks to sheer population density: Whether you’re looking for a smiley twentysomething who’s getting her masters degree in early childhood education or a career nanny who isn’t phased by your baby’s distaste for the bottle, your perfect babysitter has to be here, or at least somewhere in New York City. (If she isn’t, I’m here to tell you that you’re being too picky.) The same logic applies to daycares and preschools. When I was looking at schools for my toddler, I trimmed my list to part-time programs that were a maximum 15-minute walk from my apartment, and I was still left with more than 10 places to consider.

8. Our kids would be more likely to win in a fight.

Maybe I’m reaching here. But at the very least, “born in Brooklyn” or “raised in Brooklyn” should give them enough street cred to last a lifetime, right?

9. Our food kicks ass, and we never eat it in strip malls.

My older daughter is an adventurous eater. It’s just a part of her personality, and I’m not about to presume that being raised in Brooklyn, or even anything we did as parents, had anything to do with it. But as a food writer, I love being able to expose her to what I crave from our borough, like South Brooklyn pizza, Bark’s griddle-roasted hot dogs, and Talde’s oyster pad thai (she devoured a bowl of it and asked for more). Another nice bonus of eating out in Brooklyn with children? Rather than the same basic chains, the kid-friendly restaurants here (I’m looking at you, Dizzy’s, Bogota, and Blue Ribbon) are places that adults can appreciate as well.

10. Really, a Brooklyn mom doesn’t need an article like this defend her decision to stay here. We’ve got 36,000 residents packed into every square mile: How can that many people be wrong?

Lexi Dwyer began her career in publishing as an editor at Epicurious and later worked as both a travel editor and contributing editor at BRIDES magazine, where she scouted honeymoon destinations and reported on topics like food, party planning, beauty, and fashion. She has also blogged for BonAppetit.com, written a daily cooking newsletter for iVillage, and worked as a contributing writer for NYMag.com. She lives in Park Slope with her husband, two daughters, and their three-legged teenage cat.

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13 Comments

  1. Having lived in Westchester for 4 years and in Brooklyn for 5 years before that, and Manhattan 5 years before that, I feel I can debate some of your points…

    1. When it comes to parenting, there’s strength in numbers.
    Um, listservs, moms groups are not new in Brooklyn or Westchester. Yes you have more numbers, but isn’t it about quality not quantity?

    2. The Brooklyn Bridge, the New York Transit Museum, Jane’s Carousel, and Coney Island
    We have all of these things too – because we have a car, it’s just a ride away. We enjoy it on nice weekends when we want a change of scenery.

    3. Manhattan is just over the river.
    It’s the same for Westchester. I can get to midtown faster then I could when I lived in Brooklyn and not have to deal with the subway…a stroller and my kids in tow

    4. We don’t need a car.
    But having one is such a luxury. One Brooklyn summer, we had one and it felt like I finally had legs. Such a great convenience. And lets be real, I walked around my nabe so much, it got stale. And so did the subway.

    5. I’d be ten pounds heavier if I didn’t live in a city.
    This was quite the opposite for me. I ate out so much in BK that when I finally learned how to cook in the ‘burbs, I ate healthy and delicious food! The weight I gained from all the restaurant eating fell write off.

    6. We own culture.
    I don’t want to do a tit for tat on which celebrity is schooling which kids, because that does not define culture. Culture is so much more then that. It’s art, music, dance and trust me, it doesn’t just live in BK.

    7. There is a ridiculous number of highly qualified childcare providers.
    I can’t even answer this, it’s so inaccurate. For nannys, preschools, daycares, etc. And the cost is so much lower…not because it’s less valuable, but because the demand is less…this is where your numbers work against you.

    8. Our kids would be more likely to win in a fight.
    Oy.

    9. Our food kicks ass, and we never eat it in strip malls.
    My daughters will eat just about anything. You know why? Because I actually cook for them. Delicious, tasty, spicy meal. And when we go to restaurants, they do the same. Yes we have strip malls, and I’m not ashamed to say that I go to them when I need to run a quick errand but that’s about it! And yes your restaurant food kicks ass. But I vowed that restaurants would not be a reason for me to live somewhere.

    10. Really, a Brooklyn mom doesn’t need an article like this defend her decision to stay here.
    And it’s best to highlight the beauties of living in BK instead.

  2. All good points. I would add a couple:

    - The ethnic diversity here is second to none. This is especially important because now there’s been a push by some to get dual-language immersion programs implemented in our public schools (with some success – PS9, PS133, etc.). It’s also important because of the quality of culinary options…as noted in the article.

    - We also have great sports entertainment in the Cyclones and the Nets…plus the Garden is a short subway ride away as well. I would throw in Yankee Stadium, CitiField, and the US Open, but they’re probably equally convenient to get to.

    …and in addition to the arts options listed in the article, on of my favorites was watching the NY Philharmonic in Prospect Park

  3. Sorry if this posts twice but I had what seemed like a stuck page after I hit “submit comment” and the comment didn’t appear. So again worded sort of almost the same: Suburbs supporters always list what’s better about raising a 5 year old outside the city but time flies and they don’t stay little forever. So I had to add what are my biggest reasons for wanting to stay put and make this city-living thing work out. I am terrified at the fact car accidents are the number one cause of death for teenagers. I was a sensible girl and a good driver in high school but still did plenty dumb things and I remember that too well. I also can’t forget the mindnumbing boredom of the suburbs as a teen. So I love that our son as a teen will be able to hop public transportation with his friends and find thrilling culture and entertainment anytime. And then after he returns from college or grad school he gets to live rent free in New York City while toiling away in his internship and first job. It allows him to take opportunities that may not pay much money but pay off big in career advancement. Which I really could have benefited from myself in my 20s. Except my parents lived in a golf community in South Florida which is the last place on earth I needed to be for my career goals. As for the coolness debate, I don’t think it’s about who is cooler but about wanting to know you find like minded people in the suburbs if you venture there. I would sort of think that people who are so put out by having a stoop to go up and down the mere 3 years they need to use a stroller are not folks I have much in common with. Yeah it’s not fun but whatever. There are real hardships in life and that’s not one of them. Besides, my 85 year old neighbor loves climbing the front stoop and refuses help with her bags. She says it keeps her fit!

  4. I appreciate seeing city vs suburbs debates because though we want to stay in the city we have K applications coming up next year and well, we’ll see how that goes. Wish us luck. We prefer Brooklyn/city for all the reasons listed here but I want to add a couple more that pertain to teen and post-college years. The suburbs supporters always list what’s great about a 5 year old growing up outside the city but time flies and they don’t stay little forever. I am terrified by the fact car accidents are the number one killer of teens. I remember my bad driving moments in high school I luckily escaped unscathed. And I was a good driver. I also remember the mindnumbing boredom of the burbs. So I love that a teen in the city can hop on public transportation and find thrilling culture and entertainment to attend with his friends. As for after college or grad school, if we stay put our son gets to live rent free in New York City while he toils away in his internship and first job. It allows him to take the job that may pay little but pays off bigger in other ways. An opportunity I myself would have loved to have in my 20s.

  5. Thought I would share my friendly rebuttal to Wee Westchester as guest blogger on Brooklyn to the Burbs! Ok, with a little Brooklyn attitude thrown in. Wink, wink.
    http://brooklyntotheburbs.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/i-heart-brklyn/

  6. This debate is fun to read and thought provoking… But it should be called Westchester vs. Brownstone Brooklyn. Some of us live in Brooklyn in single family homes with yards and driveways, head south of Prospect Park and you’ll find us!

  7. Thanks so much, Deirdre, Colleen, and Elizabeth! (Elizabeth- I’m a total sucker for the Cheesecake Factory…:) I am looking forward to reading more about the debate. As I said on Deirdre’s blog, when I wrote the post I was hoping it would encourage people to think about their own living situation and also maybe open up (or reopen) some dialogue with their partners, which it definitely did for me and my husband. And Colleen: Love the idea of renting for a year in the new town. So many people talk about buying a house as an end goal which is great, but renting gives you lots of flexibility and like you said, the chance to reassess.

  8. Hi, Lexi. First, thanks for taking on the friendly debate. And I’m especially glad you realize it’s a friendly debate. I didn’t write the post, but I am one of the Wee Westchester founders. We love Brooklyn. (I tried to convince my husband to move there when we left the city.) We just wanted to open up the conversation for many reasons and to see what would happen. We didn’t want to rile people up, but we figured people would have strong opinions. To live in the burbs or not to live in the burbs is definitely a choice with pros and cons on both sides.

    I definitely agree about not wanting to eat in strip malls. That’s my least favorite part about where I live. I’ve taken my kids to California Pizza Kitchen too many times! :)

  9. This was a great rebuttal. And I can tell you for a fact what you wrote is SO true for so many Brooklyn moms. I was in the city for 12 years, and moved from DUMBO in August to Darien, CT with my husband, who never ever wanted a commute and my 4 1/2 yo and 2 1/2 yo. We moved to really find out where we wanted to raise our kids and what was best for our family. And listen, after 5-months here in the burbs, I can tell you I definitely don’t hate it like I did the 2nd month. (the first month doesnt count bc you feel you’re on vacation. The 2nd month, your like oh, shit, I live here now). By 5-months, I’m actually enjoying and liking it, and gasp, acclimating! But what you say really hits home, in my now suburban rental home. We are deciding in 12-months where we will lay down our roots. And it won’t be an easy decision for us. I had to move here to CT to really figure it out. I blog with another Brooklyn mom who just made the move to Westchester, about our journey as city moms moving to the burbs @ http://brooklyntotheburbs.wordpress.com. I shared your post and Deirdre’s on our blog’s FB page. Wee Westchester definitely stirred up some emotions! And I have a very good Brooklyn mom friend who will be posting yet another rebuttal on my blog. Stay tuned!

  10. You rock, Deirdre! Thanks so much for commenting and for keeping the “debate” all in good fun. Cheers! Kim

  11. Oh boy. First of all, thank you for making me aware of that post and secondly, thank you for taking it on! My blog is all about the city (specifically Brooklyn) versus the rest of the world for raising kids. And I never claim to have taken a side or figured it out (though I am still in Brooklyn and have no plans to leave any time soon). It’s more of a resource for those who are looking, or thinking, and making a forum for the conversation. And there are arguments on all sides.

    I just really took issue with the sanctimoniousness (a word? not sure) of their post. It’s a choice, plain and simple. There are pluses and minuses of each way of life. To say, “Westchester is actually the better place to raise kids” is preposterous.

    I had to fight back, too. I took on the style issue, which is of course the very shallow end of things. But it matters to me. Again, it’s a choice.

    You can see my small rant here: http://www.bklynorbeyond.com/2013/01/29/brooklyn-takes-on-westchester/

    ps – congrats on taking over the blog! looking forward to more of your posts.

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