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Brooklyn vs Westchester: Why We're Staying Put!

January 29, 2013

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.