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City Versus Suburbia Conundrum

We've had discussions on whether you would recommend your neighborhood and feeling a sense of community in Portland, but here's a different side to this question.  Melanie is wondering if you can find of a bit of suburbia in the city.  She writes:

Although my husband and I have lived all over Portland we always chose to stay close to the urban center, but after having kids we headed out to the burbs for lots of reasons: spacious affordable housing, wanted our kids to have other neighborhood kids to grow up with, good schools, very close neighborhood parks, strong community feel (at least in our Burb).  However, we miss living in close for all the usual reasons.  We've been batting around moving back to close in SE, but I'm wondering if I'm having a case of the "grass is always greener syndrome..."  I can give up the big house, I'd LOVE to give up the car a little bit more, but I'm wondering, do those of you that live in urban neighborhoods feel like you have a strong sense of community?  Do you know most of your neighbors, do you see your friends and neighbors at the grocery store, park, coffee shop etc?  Are there kids your kids' ages on your street?  Do most of the neighborhood kids go to the local public school or will you send them off to Central Catholic (or private school of choice) when they're older?  Those are the things I'm worried about leaving behind and would love to hear other mamas experiences with raising their families in the city.


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I live in close-in SE and feel a very strong sense of community. There are several other kids on our block (ranging from 1 - 8 years old, with several around my daughter's age of almost 2).

Winter is hard no matter what neighborhood you are in, but whenever the rain stops for 10 minutes the kids are out together. A few blocks away a close friend lives on a block with 4 families with young kids. Through them we've expanded our local network even more. Head to the park and we find it swarming with kids and parents. Chat for a minute and we find out they live within blocks of us.

We live blocks from a good elementary, 10 minutes from downtown, near groceries, parks, etc. The lots are smaller here, but I wanted my daughter to feel connected to the city. She loves going downtown, even more when we take the bus.

There is a fantastic sense of community in the Westmoreland-Sellwood neighborhood. Just last night I was thinking about all the amenities we have within a 1 mile radius of our house -- first-run movie house, several coffee shops, a Pizzacato, Saburo's for sushi, several banks, a couple of dry cleaners, an ACE hardware store, two high-end grocers, Eastmoreland Golf Course, Reed College, schools, library, community center, PP&R swimming pool, several parks, the Springwater Trail, Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge... Many of our neighbors who work downtown ride the bus into work or bike it on the Springwater Trail. We know many, many other happy families in our little community!

We're in close-in NE, and we love it. Through our neighborhood association we have a neighborhood kids club that organizes playgroups based on your child's year of birth, so we now have close connections with families who have kids the same age as ours, all within walking distance. We meet for weekly playgroups, coffee dates, moms' nights out, meeting up at one of the half dozen parks within walking distance, etc. Plus we have the benefits of being so close to downtown and other NE and SE "hip" places. We wouldn't live anywhere else. I grew up in the burbs, and it's an isolated view of city life that I don't want for my children. Also, there are many excellent local public schools in NE - Laurelhurst, Alameda, Irvington, Hollyrood, etc., so we have no need for private schools.

We live a little farther out near the Woodstock area. My direct neighborhood has some school aged kids but the schools are not great. I would send my daughter to Woodstock Elementary if I still live here and I am able. We love to go to the Woodstock Library, Mickey Finn's Brew Pub, Papaccino's, and the Island Creamery in the summer when it is walkable. There are also many parks, and quick access to Mt. Scott Community Center and pool. Pretty close to Babies R Us and the Clackamas Town Center with the indoor play area, which we utilize LOTS during the winter evenings!!

We are also close-in NE in the Woodlawn neighborhood. We have a great sense of community here, with many of our best friends within a few blocks. I love that we walk everywhere - Woodlawn elementary, several parks, my work, grocery stores, church, etc.

I'll second the post on the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood. When I moved from Eugene to Portland to be with my now-husband (then boyfriend) I thought I'd hate it. I never wanted to live in a "big" city. But living in Sellwood has caused me to fall in love with Portland. With a strong home base I am comfortable exploring in and out of the city. I love having the option of staying in my sweat pants all weekend and having anything I could possibly need or want within walking or biking distance.

The other post forgot to mention there are two elementary schools and a middle school very nearby as well. And did we mention ice cream parlor, three highly rated Italian restaurants, kids toy store (of the Swiss made toys variety), coffee shops galore, bakery, two movie rental places, etc. etc.

And kids? My parents arrived recently and could not believe how many kids are in the neighborhood. Let's see, I have an 11 year old (stepson) and a 7 month old baby girl. Next door is a 3 month old. Across the street is an 8 year old and a 10 month old. Next to them is a 5 and 3 year old. On the other side of my neighbor is a 3 year old and 3 week old. And this is just 5 houses on my street. I won't go into who lives one street over in any direction.

Can you tell I love Sellwood? :-)

lol I forgot to mention the most important thing - community. Yes I know many of my neighbors and see them all the time out and about. We also have a fantastic Community Center that my older stepchildren have grown up with and love. My husband is a volunteer Judo instructor there and organized and ran the first fundraiser when the City was threatening to close the Center down.

We're in Sunnyside and we know almost everyone on our street. There are kids galore, and every spring and summer night after supper usually finds the grownups gathered on someone's porch while the kids ride bikes up and down the sidewalk. We see our friends at the park, the library and the grocery store (and we walk to all these locales).

There is a terrific sense of community here. Almost all the kids we know go to the local k-8. In fact, it really surprises me that anyone would move to the suburbs in search of community; they always strike me as so isolating, what with having to drive everywhere, and often no sidewalks. Don't worry about moving back!

I was downtown for lunch today and as I was walking down the street, looking at all of the activity, I was laughing to myself about how much it reminds me of my toddler. One of his favorite things to do is to go downtown to see the cranes, diggers, bridges, delivery trucks, Jamison Square, coffee shops, etc. We live in North Portland, right on the MAX line, so a bonus Sunday afternoon for him is a short ride on the MAX for some shopping and lunch downtown. We've lived in the suburbs before and when we moved to Portland it was a big priority to live in the city, within walking distance to some fun things. We love the character of being in an urban environment and think it's a great place for our family.

I lived in downtown Portland with a child for eight years. It was great for me, but looking back, I see he missed out on bike rides and parks lacking hypodermic needles.

In grad school in California, we lived in a small university town. My son loved walking to school (instead of a 45 minute ride on the bus), walking to friends' houses to play, and riding his bike.

I still love downtown, but with my two younger ones, based upon my childhood and my eldest sons', I will seriously consider the suburbs.

It is also worth noting the air quality in the city limits--not so hot.

It sounds like a lot of you have great neighborhoods, though. If that can be achieved within city limits, I think it is an ideal situation.

If you do move into the city, really do research and visit schools first, and move to where the school is that you want to go to. We we lucky enough to get into Sunnyside through the lottery, and we love our school, but wish it were closer to home. Being able to walk to school and walk to a friend's house to play is so wonderful, and something that we can't do. We bike as much as possible, but it isn't the same.

Good luck!

As I sit here reading all of the comments, I long to be back in Portland. We moved to Tulsa, OK last year in hopes of reconnecting with family, a bigger yard, more spacious home and close proximity to the river trails. Now, after exactly one year, we are putting our house back on the market, trading in extended family for quality of life and moving back to (hopefully) the Hawthorne District. I can't imagine an urban area that encourages community more so than Portland. We miss it tremendously. There were always families out walking, gardening, playing. Who needs a huge house or yard when you have everything imaginable within walking distance. I say give up the big house, move back in to the city and allow your kids to grow up amidst culture and diversity. I would kill to have grown up in a community where the public transportation was a plenty and there were so many cool things to do...right out the front door. I CANNOT wait to be back and I don't think it is a "grass is always greener" situation. Good luck in your decision making!

I live in the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood and of late I've discovered quite a cool community -- everyone knows my kids at the coffee shop, and most everyone I see there has children in the neighborhood school (Grout, on this side of 39th, and Creston, on the other). I don't know every neighbor's name but I know at least a half-dozen of them and it seems that more families with young children are moving in every month!

i'd pick my neighborhood -- or one of the others mentioned here -- over suburbia everytime. and i even have a big backyard!

We moved from NE close-in to Beaverton. We certainly miss the character of NE Portland, but have grown to "like alot" the burbs. It shouldn't be assumed that there isn't a strong sense of community out here. We know lots of our neighbors, all of whom are fantastic people (maybe not as "hip" in a NE/SE sort of way, but great down to earth folks). As far as diversity, Beaverton is actually quite diverse. As an example, our neighbors on one side are Korean, a couple doors down is a mixed couple and their kids.
Families need to identify their true top priorities, not what they think they need to be happy. When we did this analysis, we needed more space, superb schools, affordability, among other things, so we chose to move and are happy with the choice.
We moved from SF, so it was quite a change to move out here... it just sort of felt good to release oursleves from what we thought we needed and embrace and just get comfortable in the burbs.

We moved to inner North/North East from San Francisco two years ago. After living in the heart of San Francisco for 11 years and raising one child there, our urban Portland home is a dream and the best of both worlds. We have a garage, a BIG yard and garden, plenty of street parking for friends to visit plus GREAT restaurants, coffee shops and a library within walking distance. I can get to Nordstrom to buy shoes for the kids or go to a reading at Powell's within 5-10 minutes.

Our oldest is now 16 and a Sophomore at Cleveland HS in SE. Its a terrific school with an International Baccalaureate program. I think there are some fantastic public high schools in Portland and lots of smart, cool parents send their kids to them. The best part about being a teenager in Portland is the ability to take public transportation everywhere (READ: Much less driving around town for mom and dad)

We also have a toddler and we LOVE all the parks and places to explore. We have found it easy to meet other families at the local indoor park or coffee house. We can't really ride our bike comfortably in our neighborhood, but that's about all we can't do. But to be honest you can't always let your children ride their bikes safely in the suburbs either.

We feel very connected to our community and love our choice. And our teenager feels the same way!

Monica, thank you for your perspective on the 'burbs. Affordability and schools mean different things to different people. The only PDX neighborhood that we could afford to buy in and not have to spend lots of time commuting to work from is also a neighborhood w/ really sad school option, no names mentioned because you'd know exactly where we live if I did name check. And yes, I know about the school lottery, but there are no guarantees... Every single one of the neighborhoods people are waxing poetic about elsewhere in this thread are just beyond our price range. We will seriously consider a move to the 'burbs for this reason alone. (Please don't chastize me for not getting involved to make our local public schools better places: I have liberal guilt to spare, and was raised in public schools myself, and have thought long and hard about this...)

I live in Lake Oswego and also long for the city life. But with a young child to think about, I realize there are other things to consider. We bought this house several years ago when prices were still affordable. LO has good schools and LOW crime rate--all those things a parent desires. But a sense community and other parents with similar interests is difficult to attain. The library events are great, but the other parents are obviously nannies or well-to-do's that I honestly feel uncomfortable around. Yet, I don't know if I could move to the city where I have to worry about higher crime rates. I've had to dial 9-1-1 two times now for my daughter's seizures, and responders were here within 5 minutes. Would I get that in the city? I guess I'm just chicken, but I think I'll take the security of the boring suburbs over the more interesting lifestyle of the city. (side note--are there any other UrbanMamas in LO???)

We live in Burlingame and adore it. We've had absolutely no problems with crime (in fact, I've accidentally left the garage door open all day while we were gone with our golf clubs, bikes, etc sitting in plain view and not had a problem). There's great sidewalks, lots of kids around playing, a nice park, grocery stores, coffee places, Chez Jose, etc. And a 10 minute commute to downtown! The schools in the area are also pretty good. We may send our child to Dunthorpe just because it's so close, but we have some time to decide that yet.

As far as schools go, I don't think you have to choose your neighborhood based on the schools there. Portland has some unbelievable charter/alternative schools. Emerson, Metropolitan Learning Center, the soon to open Village School, Sunnyside, the Creative Science School, Buckman, and the Opal school. Since a lot of these have their own lottery, we were pretty confidant she'd get into one. When we bought our house in Montavilla we knew there was no chance our daughter would go to the neighborhood school with all of those amazing options and that was a big weight off our minds when house hunting.

Grant Park is a great neighborhood--good schools and the park is like having a country club next door (with the pools, tennis courts, playground, track). We love summer evenings when all of the kids are playing games on the fields and our kids are in the play area. It is the epitome of community--we love it!

If you want community, if you want to be able to walk to everything, if you want playgrounds close by, big houses, neighbors who care and pay attention, liberal attitudes, environmental awareness, a fantastic school... Sunnyside neighborhood is the way to go. Hawthorne and Belmont, brightly painted houses, regular clothing and goods exchanges, instantaneous childcare help... I moved (back) over here after 7 years in the Hollywood district and I will never live anywhere else again.

Clementine is absolutely right that the magnet schools are all fine schools. My only point is that we all have different ideas about what's best for our families. In our case, at this time, we would rather have our child be able to go to a decent neighborhood school than to have her go to a school that is in another part of town. This is in no small part due to the fact that I was shipped to an elementary school out of my district when I was a kid while the rest of the kids in the neighborhood - and including my siblings! - went to the same close-by one. You have to decide what makes the most sense for your child...

Anyone else out there who lives in SW Portland? Burlingame, Hillsdale, Multnomah Village, near Gabriel Park, etc? We are thinking of a move from Alberta to those areas (closer to my husband's work and more house for same money). As someone who has lived in SE or NE for 10 years, it feels like a move to suburbia for me. I would love to hear more from mamas in that area. Thanks.

We definitely have that in our neighborhood here in John's Landing. With Fulton CC closeby, I frequently see the moms, dads, & kids in the neighborhood, and plus, our neighborhood has sidewalks, so we meet & greet neighbors all the time. Sidewalks are key. We can walk to many services--coffee, restaurants, grocery stores, parks. The Greenway bike path is nearby, easily connecting us w/ the East bank. We have the Sellwood Bridge within 2 minutes of our house, so feel closely connected w/ the Sellwood neighborhood. Good luck! Some things aren't greener--they're better! :) Karli

We have some people in SW who come over to our playgroup in Sellwood--maybe they just haven't clicked in with their community yet, but it seems like more of a struggle. More on Sellwood-Moreland--there are 100+ families of children three and under in our playgroup association, and we're just one of the groups for young children in our area. I think it is a great indication of the direction the neighborhood has taken in the last few years. I don't think I've gone to the grocery store in several months without running into someone I know. Or even for a walk, for that matter. It is, in my opinion, the absolute most fantastic place to live in terms of community. Good luck in your search!

We live in npdx and the sense of community is remarkable. As I was biking to work this morning, I passed our local bakery, and the baker - who knows me and my girls by name - waved enthusiastically. It's a great feeling to know that there are people who know your name at 6:45 AM. When we go to one of our three nearby coffee shops, we almost always bump into friends from down the street. When we walked over to New Seasons on that big snow day in early January, everyone was there! We must have spent an hour just milling about the store catching up with people.

There are like-aged kids on our street. We don't know them all that well, but we know them well enough to go biking around the block together or to go sledding together on a snow day.

PPS has great schools and great options. We know many neighbors who go to our neighborhood school. We have opted for a charter school, and we have children in our neighborhood who also go to our charter school. In fact, a little boy about five doors down from us goes to the same school as our older daughter. Families at the school from N.NE neighborhoods have gotten together to get to know each other more and get a more neighborhoodly sense about our school. We are impressed with PPS options - neighborhood schools and alternative schools (magnet, charter, and immersion programs). We don't know a whole lot of families who intend to send their children to private schools.

We moved to South Burlingame a year and a half ago, and there are more than a dozen families in our immediate neighborhood with young children, and those that are old enough to babysit (always a bonus, in my book!). People here are really friendly, like most of Portland, and I regularly run into families at the park that's 2 blocks from my house.

At first I did feel like I was living in a suburb in the middle of the city, but that's more because this area is not on a set grid pattern, there's rolling hills, and I don't feel like I'm in the middle of the city, even though downtown is only a 5 minute drive. There are several cool places that are a quick walk or bike ride away. And if you're a runner, the Terwilliger trail is excellent.

We also love Woodlawn, close-in NE. Four beautiful parks within walking/biking distance, good library branches nearby, family freindly shopping and restaurants. It is an urban, ethnically diverse neighborhood, which has good and bad points. It can get a little loud, but our daughter has attended great public schools and has friends from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and there are terrific (and family-friendly) restaurants! You do have to educate yourself on the schools, but PPS has many options: alternative schools, language immersion, magnet programs with a particular focus area, and some strong neighborhood schools, too. Every so often we think of moving, but we would only be willing to go a little more upscale (Irvington, Alameda) in the same area, which we can't afford, so we're happily stuck. Did I mention the big yard with roses and fruit trees?

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