Is it Grassier on the Other Side?

By: Julie Gamberg

I’ve been having that particularly urban mini crisis lately called: Should I move farther out of the city so I can have a yard (or insert other desirable non-urban element here)? I have been fretting over my one-bedroom apartment and keeping a running pro/con list in my head. (Do those ever help?) Which is more important: Being able to walk to the library and shops, or being able to walk to the park? Having great restaurants nearby or being in an environment which pushes me to cook? But it’s the yard, that ubiquitous patch of lush green that keeps me up at night. And thinking about the yard leads to thinking about fresh air and then that kind of thinking quickly deteriorates until soon I think I should move to a goat farm in Alaska. If a little nature is good, more must be even better.

Then I think about all of the things I love about my apartment building – like my awesome upstairs neighbor with a baby seven weeks older than mine and our pool (!) which, while small, has been great for swimming lessons this summer with a small group of local mamas and their wee ones– and the things I love most about the neighborhood: the amazing mamas and their babies I have come to know here, as well as how I can walk to nearly everything I need on a daily basis, like the library, post office, and supermarket, a fantastic independent bookstore, an independent movie theater, an independent health food grocery, and great restaurants and cafes.

Which is all fantastic. If you’re an adult. (And I didn’t even mention the great bars and lounges!) But then I look at my little one, just about nine-and-a-half months and having already taken her first independent steps and all I can see is lawn. As a crawler/cruiser, she roams around the apartment pulling herself on furniture, opening and closing drawers, circling a very small and known territory. And I could swear that she seems a little bored already. As a walker her vantage point will change and the already-known territory will lose all elements of surprise. You can’t be curious about what’s coming around the bend when you can see what’s coming around the bend.

My parents both grew up in apartments in New York City. I’ve spent much of my life in apartments. Not a huge deal. And that’s not to talk about people all over the world who live in a wide variety of conditions, many of which make a one-bedroom apartment seem like the height of luxury. When I turn the glass one way, I feel absurd for even worrying about such trivial concerns. My baby is fine. She is well loved, and happy and healthy. And she has community! Because the other thing I love about my neighborhood is that when I walk out my front door, I’m bound to run into someone I know, or strike up a conversation with another family. Maybe my baby likes that too. Perhaps she enjoys the feeling she must have – that we know everybody. That everyone in the world knows and cares about everyone else in the world. What a pleasant way to think about human relations.

And then, and then, and then … I see little ones running around in a yard and it just seems like, in some ways, the absolute minimum. It should really be woods they’re running around in … fields and rivers, and lakes and caves and desert, and a sense of the natural world as something endless and worth investigating. And so the yard seems like a mere stand-in for that. Like some sort of synecdoche that lost the whole it was once associated with. And when I think about the yard like that, we have to move this second.

I have a few dear, dear friends in Portland. They seem to get the best of both worlds. Yes, there’s a little rain every once in a-nearly-every-day, but otherwise perhaps they seem to have it all. (Any Portlanders reading? Is it true?) And so I fantasize about moving to Portland. So the list goes: moving to some nature-y area that is most definitely not officially the suburbs but “out of the city” here in Los Angeles, or moving to Portland. Or to a goat farm in Alaska. Poor goats in the long winter. Oh urbanites with littles, how did you resolve this?


  1. says

    We moved to a house when our firstborn was 10 months for all the reasons you listed. We had just the neighborhood you have and the yard and the street in front. Now my son who is 39 just moved back to my street to raise his three kids. His wife has never lived anywhere else besides a suburb in Chicago. They moved into their house when the twins were born. They are now 6. I think whatever you choose is where you are suppose to be.

  2. says

    Julie we moved to the burbs when Tatiana was 2 years old. We have a yard and more parks and pools than we could ever use. It has been wonderful. I even wrote about our neighborhood in one of my last posts here on next fam. It’s amazing, we love it, and we wouldn’t change it for the world. However, that being said….it’s amzazing because of the people and the community we have all built around here. We all know each other and no matter where we go we ALWAYS run into friends. It sounds like you already have that and have built that in your “little slice of the world.” Kids need community, and whether you can walk to parks that they can play in, go out the back door and run around on the grass, or swim in pools in your complex, what really matters is the love you are giving them and the community of people around them. The rest of it just is what it is and we make the best of it. Ironically my daughter who is 16 in a couple of weeks would DIE to live in the heart of the city now! So there ya go….greener?

    I am from Portland originally (Lake Oswego to be exact) I moved back there from San Diego in ’92 to be closer to fam. I got a loft downtown right on Broadway and loved it….but then came the weather……9 months later I moved back to San Diego!! =)

    Interracial Fams

  3. Tashia says

    Weather is certainly a consideration to keep in mind. My now 11-month-old daughter and I moved from west LA to Olympia, Washington over 5 months ago, and while it is true that where we live now is so wonderfully full of nature compared to LA (our back yard is quite large and surrounded by very tall evergreens, with a steep wooded area behind them, and there are lots of nature areas and parks nearby), I am not going to be able to enjoy the outdoors a whole lot longer, once the dreary fall/winter/spring weather here in the Pacific Northwest arrives soon. I’m actually dreading it, because my daughter is very much an outdoors baby, and I fear she will really dislike being cooped up inside so much when it’s raining and cold. At least in LA you can enjoy being outside pretty much all year long!

    I think at this age you daughter probably is not “missing” that much by being in a heavily urban area. But as they get older and more independent, I do think it’s important to give them as much natural space to play in as possible. Even if you stay in the neighborhood, you can still enjoy the parks, beaches, mountains, etc. that aren’t really ever that far away in LA.

    One thing to think about – if you move to a truly “nature-y” part of LA, you’ll likely be in the danger zone for fires!

    I mainly moved to Olympia to be closer to family, but one of the big pluses for me is that I personally feel like overall my daughter will have a better qualify of life here, for many reasons – less crime, less pollution, lower cost of living, better schools and a culture that I think is more kid-friendly. I agree that LA is wonderful and fun for adults, but I think now that I have a child of my own, it is much less important to me to be some place that I find fun than to live in a place that I think would be good for my kid. There is definitely a lot less to see and do here than in LA, but my life is currently so busy raising my child that I wouldn’t really be taking advantage of those things even if I were still in LA.

    But that isn’t to say that you can’t stay in LA and still provide a wonderful, fun, and happy environment for your child. It sounds like you already are!

  4. says

    I think I’m too biased to comment here given that I am one of the having-it-all Portlanders you refer to (at least I think I am!), and I would love to have you and your wee one here. But the truth is that I get a huge case of the SADs from November through June, and that’s just too damn long. Sure we can walk to everything (including a local grocery store, 3 parks, 8 cafes, a movie/pub theater, and dozens of restaurants), and everyone other person is a hip mama or papa, but sunshine, sweet starry sunshine, should not be undervalued.

  5. Kristy says

    Obviously I’m catching up on your posts in reverse order… I totally gave Pdx a plug in my last comment!

    Yes, Portland is definitely the answer! In fact, it doesn’t really matter what the question is. For example, Where does the rainbow end? Portland, Oregon, of course! And, what’s the capital of Texas? Why, Portland, Oregon!

    Seriously, I don’t think any of us ever have it all. It’s true that M and I are close to all kinds of wonders, urban and natural alike, and that we have the much-coveted yard. That said, we recently went to M’s cousin’s house to hang with her and her twin 7-year old boys in Multnomah Village/far Southwest Portland. We’d been there many times before, but we had never realized that the woods at the edge of their backyard was a 99 ACRE PARK! We walked about 100 feet from their front door onto a path into the woods. Watching the boys + a friend of theirs running across bridges and taking familiar turns onto well-known trails, I felt like we were in a movie set about childhood, on our way down to the swimming hole or the old tire swing. Ten minutes later, the woods opened up into a beautiful grassy meadow containing an orchard with dozens of types of fruit trees, and… their enormous community garden. Suddenly our bountiful yard seemed like a sad imitation of the “real thing.” Yet, we have no desire to live in their neighborhood! The more urban things we love are NOT walkable from their home, and that is too much of a plus for us to be swayed by the idyllic natural setting.

    Wherever you are there’s a trade-off. Our kid(s?) won’t grow up among the diversity of people found in your neighborhood. I don’t just mean that in the sense that Portland is incredibly white for a city of its size (which it definitely is), but also in the sense that your hood boasts a good blend of housing for people of different income levels, and that LA is also much more international. And if you come here, you’ve got to be able to embrace the 9 months of drizzle–light-boxes, waterproof pants, and all.

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