Backyards. Open spaces. Swing sets. Swimming pools. Each child in his or her own bedroom. Perfect high schools with tons of funding for sports, music and art. Sounds like a suburban nirvana, right?
I have all that in Hoboken. Okay, not the high school (yet). But I also don't have property taxes at the level of Montclair (easily double the $11,000 I currently pay in annual property tax). For an additional $14,000 per year, I could send a kid to the Hudson School and still break even. Sure, we have to share the backyard, swing set and swimming pool, but socialization is good for kids. I would have to supervise them even if we had a private backyard, and the Sky Club pool is much nicer and far less dangerous than a private pool would be.
Everyone is always amazed that I am choosing to raise a family in Hoboken. The prevailing belief is that you need to move to the suburbs to give your kids the start they deserve to be successful and happy in life. But last time I checked, the suburbs weren't nirvana. High drug use and teenage car accident rates, lack of job opportunities, and a lot of hanging around malls because there is nothing else to do. And in the current recession, a lot of poverty that suburban services are ill-equipped to handle since the population is spread so thin and there are few existing social services outside of urban areas.
By temperament, I am not a risk taker. Even though the purchase price of our 2,100 square foot four-bedroom condo gave me heart palpitations when we bought it last year, I calculated the odds for our family thriving long-term as being much higher in Hoboken than if we move to the suburbs. Increased access to job opportunities, short commute, much more time spent with the kids, all this added up to offset the purported benefits of the suburbs.
The cost of living is also lower in Hoboken than in the suburbs. Our PSE&G bill is low because we live in an energy-efficient condo, plus we simply don't have as much space to heat or cool. We only need one car because we live one block from the Light Rail, and food and clothing are downright inexpensive in nearby Jersey City (3.5 percent sales tax). We also have FreshDirect and free delivery from every local grocery store, which is a nice bonus on weeks like these when I am trapped in the house with a streaming cold.
Studies have shown that children of affluent, educated parents tend to perform well in school regardless of the school's reputation. Middle-class parents are more involved with parent-teacher associations, more inclined to donate needed school supplies and generally improve their child's educational experience, which also benefits the rest of the school.
I spent today outside planting terrace window boxes with basil and tomato seeds. My two toddlers spent the entire morning digging in the dirt and racing outside to water their plants just once more. Tonight their father will get home in time to share homemade lentil soup and put them to bed. I highly doubt my children's happiness and intellectual development could be bettered by a move to the suburbs.