Cities vs. Suburbs: Which Is Better for Your Military Family?
Military installations are everywhere. You know this if you’ve already moved all over, and you’re not even halfway to retirement!
Some bases sit in remote places like 29 Palms that offer few things to do and few housing options. Others are nestled in exciting places like San Diego, Washington, D.C., or Tampa and offer ample things to do and a variety of housing options. This brings you to the overarching question of whether you should live in the city or the suburbs.
For some, the choice is easy! There’s only one contender. For others, the pros and cons of city or suburban life wrestle in their heads waging war with one another. So, let’s battle it out, cities versus suburbs. What are the good and bad of each, and ultimately which is better for you?
Cities vs. Suburbs: Which Is Better?
Perks of Suburbia
What comes to mind when you hear the term suburbia? A picture-perfect 1950’s neighborhood where the housewives go door to door selling Arbonne? A scene from The Truman Show? Even I, a person who grew up in and has never been opposed to suburban life, associate a negative image with the term. But here’s the deal. That’s not what suburbia is. Well, at least it’s toned down some! And to be quite honest, even if it were that intense, there’s no denying the positive factors of choosing life outside the city.
1. It’s cheaper. What’s cheaper? Everything. If money is a concern, then your best bet is likely suburban life. The cost of housing, childcare, gas, groceries, you name it, it’s going to cost less in a suburb than in the city. And when it comes to BAH, most of us want to stretch it as far as we can.
In a Forbes article from 2016, it's noted that "the average monthly rent in urban areas nationwide is $1,848, while the typical rent in suburban areas is $1,269 per month -- a $578 difference. Annualized, the average urban rent is $22,171, compared to $15,233 in the ‘burbs (a difference of $6,937)."
Now, a lot has happened since 2016, right? The COVID-19 pandemic has changed quite a lot in how we live. As many used their new remote work situations as an opportunity to leave the city to save money and social distance, there are a few cities (San Francisco, Washington D.C., Tampa, and more) where the rental prices dropped and a few suburban areas where the rental prices increased significantly. When comparing the cost of living in these particular areas, you may find a slightly closing gap in which one can argue that it isn't cheaper to live in a suburb right now--especially if the option to buy is important to you.
2. There’s more space. Even if rental prices in cities and suburbs meet in the middle, you’re going to find more square footage and likely more amenities for your money outside the city. Suburban living offers more space, privacy, and amenities like updated living spaces, room for a pool, walking and running trails, and free parking than a city can.
3. It's easier getting around. Want to drive right up to the grocery store, hop out, and shop? The suburbs aren’t short on parking lots, wide roads, and driveways to help you get from point A to point B. There’s no need to park a quarter-mile from your house and then carry your baby and bags of groceries. Even better, there’s no need to pay for the luxury not to. Parking isn’t often listed on rentals in the suburbs, because this amenity is assumed.
4. It's safer. Maybe it’s the fact that people live more closely together in the city. Maybe it’s the constant background noise of police sirens or how TV shows influence us, but we tend to believe that cities are less safe than the suburbs. But we’re not wrong. Trends show more property crime rates, burglaries, and violent crimes in the city than we do in good ol’ suburbia.
Perks of City Life
While dirt, crime, and questionable morality come to mind when you picture life in the city (no thanks to TV shows like Chicago PD!), the city has another fun, infectious side that lures many in and doesn’t let go.
1. Diversity. What’s one of the things we love most about military life? Exposure to new cultures that allows us and our families to develop a well-rounded view of the world. City life delivers that. Suburbia, while it might fluctuate from one duty station to the next, sometimes offers a community filled with like-minded people. But in the city? You’ll find people from all walks of life. And while it can take some adjusting, it can be an entirely freeing experience and a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the world. At the very least, it keeps things interesting.
2. Transportation. Is parking easy in the city? Generally, no. But the great thing about both living and working in the city is that you might not need a car! Relying solely on public transportation, riding your bike, or even walking means that you can save on gas money but also enjoy the freedom and lessened responsibility of leaving your vehicle at home.
3. Things to do. And not just for the adults. While nightlife is booming in most cities, there’s so much for kids to do, too. The list might not include endless playgrounds and grassy areas to run free, but Children’s Museums, zoos, aquariums, and more are often located right in the city, meaning that the whole city is your family's playground.
Which is better: city or suburbs?
Is there a perfect answer to the question? No. Sadly, the world is not always black and white. And neither are we nor our needs. So, what’s better for one family isn’t what’s better for another. Instead, each of us needs to look at our lifestyle and our priorities.
Here are a few issues to base your decision on as a military family:
- Your financial goals: How much do you want to spend on the cost of living expenses?
- Where you work: Is your military installation or your spouse's work location in the city or outside?
- Space needed: How much space does your family need?
- Community: Are you looking for more diversity or a community of similarly-minded people to fit into?
- Househunting Tips for Military Home Buyers and Renters
- 10 Tips for Finding the Perfect Rental Home
- How Much Rent Can I Afford?
- Breaking Down the Finances of Renting a Home
The fun thing for military families is the opportunity to switch things up! While one duty station may warrant life in the city in a few years, you’ll PCS and get to try something new—a huge benefit of being a military family.