The city is the place for us

The Empire State Building and Manhattan

Around the time Fiona was born, a lot of people asked us one question: “So, are you going to move?” Some of those making this inquiry were undoubtedly thinking of our one-bedroom apartment. In that context, the simple answer is yes. We would eventually like for Fiona to have her own bedroom. But when babies are small, they wake up so much during the night that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to leave them in another room. Besides, our current apartment is rather large for a one-bedroom place, so we have more than enough space. (In fact, if we could rearrange the walls and squeeze in another bedroom somehow, this apartment is actually a great size for us.)

But others, no doubt, had this apartment’s address in mind—in the heart of the District of Columbia, one of the most urban places in this country. See, in America the mindset goes something like this: it’s great to live in the city when you’re young, but as you begin to settle down (they always use the phrase “settle down”) and have your own family, you need to move to the suburbs. For the children’s sake. Since, of course, they need a yard to run and play in. Oh, and the schools are better. And it’s just not good to grow up around all that crime and all those strange people.

There are millions of families who are perfectly content with their suburban lives, surrounded by acres of perfectly-manicured lawns, shuttling from one cul-de-sac to the next in minivans, and filling their McMansions with all manner of fine furnishings and other products stamped MADE IN CHINA that they bought at the big-box store in the local strip mall.

That is definitely not the life we want for us. Or for our children.

As of this writing, Fiona has never been in a car. We hope that using a car for day-to-day activities is as foreign to her as taking a bus or subway is for a suburbanite. She clearly enjoys riding the bus. Being able to be free from a car seat and sit in our laps as we ride down the street looking at all the interesting people and buildings passing by—what a life! The dark inside of a subway tunnel isn’t quite as interesting, but seeing a loud, colorful subway train come roaring into the station, with all those lights shining through its windows, is always a thrill.

Running errands on Saturday morning is a joy, not a chore. We’re able to walk to get all the basic necessities we need, and what a treat it is to step out into the fresh air on a warm, sunny Saturday morning to run up to the farmer’s market to buy fruits and vegetables and freshly-baked bread or to stop by the bank to deposit a check or to pick up an item from the dry cleaner. On our way, we pass by plenty of people who are like us: young professionals who enjoy life in the city. But we also pass by plenty of people who aren’t like us. They are of different religions (or none at all) and political opinions. They are of different colors and nationalities, and some of them speak different languages. Most of them have homes; some of them do not. But we’re all there together. Fiona sees that, and she sees that people who don’t look like her are just fine, too.

Then there is the sublime beauty of the city—quaint and majestic, organic and geometric, embellished and unadorned. A walk down a simple sidestreet can be a tour through history, with the architectural styles of centuries at your feet. The view from the bus as it crosses Pennsylvania Avenue NW reveals one of the grandest and most sweeping vistas ever conceived. The intersecting vaults of Metro Center, block after block of colorful rowhouses, the Great Hall of the Library of Congress—all create a place that fills our lives with beauty.

Yes, indeed, the city is the place for us.

This article appeared on page 18 of Issue 1 | January 2011.

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