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For someone who loves the hustle and bustle of city life, it can be hard to imagine a quiet Friday night on the couch in the suburbs. On the flip side, someone who loves to jog around their sleepy neighborhood with their dog each morning may never see the appeal of living in the city. When you're buying a house, whether you should live in a city or a suburb is all in the eye of the beholder.
Not sure where you want to call home? Keep reading to learn more about the differences between suburban and city life. There are key advantages and disadvantages for both options, and we have a feeling you’ll notice that one sounds more in line with your desires than the other.
Difference between city and suburb
The distinction between a city and suburb isn't clear-cut. While a city is the core of a metropolitan area, a suburb is the area on the periphery of city limits. Generally, cities have large populations over a small area, but suburbs can have even larger populations of hundreds of thousands or a million residents — just spread across a lot more square miles.
Because city life tends to be more renter-friendly (and to some more exciting), many young people live in cities and eventually they move out to the suburbs once they want to buy a home and start a family. That being said, there’s no right or wrong answer for where you should live no matter what stage of life you’re in.
Let’s compare the pros and cons of both city and suburb living to give you a better idea of which option may best suit your needs.
What is a suburb?
There is no official legal definition of what constitutes a suburb. The suburbs are usually located close to the city, which is why people choose to live in suburban areas and commute into cities for work. Some suburbs may only be 15 minutes outside a city and some may be a bit further away.
Most people view suburbs as homogenous, residential areas that are less dense than cities, but not as underpopulated as the rural countryside. However, studies have shown that in recent years the suburbs are becoming more diverse as people move around the country, and the makeup of suburban residents looks much different than it did decades ago.
There are a lot of advantages to living in a suburban area and a few downsides worth keeping in mind.
Pros of suburban living
- Less expensive: Generally, it’s much more affordable to live in the suburbs and you can get a lot more bang for your buck when it comes time to buy a home.
- More space: Larger homes with yards can be much harder to afford in the city. If you want multiple bedrooms, room for a home office, a yard, or a garage, you'll have better luck in the suburbs.
- Healthier: Suburb living tends to come with less polluted air, more options for healthy outdoor activities, and less noise pollution, traffic, and overall stressors.
- Less crime: Generally, suburbs are known for having less crime than cities and for being safer.
Cons of suburban living
- Less job opportunities: There are great jobs waiting for you in the suburbs, but there may be fewer career opportunities (especially corporate ones) compared to the city.
- Quieter lifestyle: If you’re young, single, or looking to have a good time, you may find the suburbs a bit quiet for your liking.
- Longer commutes: If you need to work in the city, living in the suburbs can lead to a longer daily commute. You may also have to commute on the weekends to do things like attend concerts or enjoy the restaurant scene.
- Less population density: Since there aren’t as many people packed into one area, you may have fewer opportunities to meet new people and will have to consciously seek them out.
What is a city?
Unlike with the suburbs, there is a more concrete definition of what constitutes an urban area or city based on population density. The Census Bureau also designates all non-urban areas as a rural, saying nothing about suburbs.
Cities are similarly based on population density and have set boundaries. They may also have governmental powers. (A town by contrast may not, depending on the county and state.)
For this article, we’re going to focus on the sensibilities of cities and city living rather than their legal distinctions in urban planning. People love to wax poetically about living in a big city, and for good reason, but there are also some pain points that city-dwellers are all too aware of.
Pros of urban living
- Cultural and social diversity: In many cases, cities are much more diverse culturally and socially than suburbs and tend to have larger immigrant populations. Raising children in a city can also help them learn more about a wider variety of cultures and people.
- Public transportation: Cities often have affordable and convenient public transportation options. Taking public transportation can be a lot cheaper than buying and maintaining a car. You may even be able to walk to a lot of places you need to go.
- More job opportunities: Cities tend to have much more job opportunities than suburbs do.
- More recreation options: From museums to parks to concert halls, and a wealth of restaurants, cities tend to have it all.
Cons of urban living
- Expensive property and rent: Spacious homes and apartments can be hard to come by in the city, which can lead to sky high rents and home prices. Property taxes can also be higher in urban areas and cities as opposed to towns.
- Higher cost of living: Essentials, like groceries, and non-essentials, like movie tickets, can cost more in cities than the suburbs.
- Less safe and healthy: Cities can be worse on your health and more dangerous than a quiet suburb, but it always depends.
- Traffic and limited parking: Cities are built for mass transit, and having a car can be inconvenient and stressful.
Related article: Renting vs buying a home
Is living in a city worth it?
There’s no right answer when it comes to whether a city or a suburb is better than the other. The more important question to ask is which place aligns with your current — and future — goals, values, and preferences.
If you are young and just starting out in your career, you may appreciate all of the career and recreational opportunities that a city has to offer. The convenience of public transportation, the density of people, and the cultural diversity that comes with a city may be a worth the steep cost of rent and the smaller space.
However, the COVID pandemic and the opportunities for remote work have changed what people value in a home and how they view city living. People looking for open spaces or larger spaces with a big backyard, or even with a pool, may feel a pull towards the suburbs. You may even be able to find a large town that combines aspects of both city and suburban living.
Keep in mind that cities can vary across the country though — pockets of the city can be calmer than others, and not all major cities are as busy as New York City, for example. Certain cities are also more affordable than others, and some suburban neighborhoods can be as pricey as urban ones. Both cities and suburbans can have their share of green spaces, too.
You'll have to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each, but chances are one will meet your needs better than the other.