Care and Feeding

Diversity Matters

I love NYC, but my family needs more space. Is it wrong to move somewhere that’s going to be less socioeconomically and culturally diverse?

A family packs stuff in a box.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock/Getty Image Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have lived in NYC for the past 15 years—happily so, until recently. Although we have a decent-size two-bedroom apartment (as far as New York goes), with growing 4-year-old twins, it’s starting to feel like we’re all living on top of one another with no escape. As an introvert, I find this particularly hard to deal with.

We first began exploring other places to live a few years back and have recently been presented with a somewhat unexpected opportunity to move to a medium-size city on the West Coast that we all love. We could have an actual house with a yard there! Alas, there is one big catch: The area isn’t diverse at all. Coming from NYC, the homogeneity feels like a shock to the system, to say the least.

Our twins currently attend a school that we love, due in part to the fact that it’s socioeconomically and culturally diverse. They would remain there for the rest of elementary school if we stay in New York, but we’re not sure what would be best for them overall.

Housing in NYC is out of control and we feel extremely grateful to even be able to have a two-bedroom place; it’s highly unlikely that we’d be able to afford anything larger anytime soon. If we move, we’ll have plenty of space, but my children will mostly grow up with people who look exactly like them, from middle- to upper-middle-class backgrounds. I never thought I would second-guess a chance to leave NYC, but now that the reality is staring us in the face, I truly don’t know what we should do. Should we suck it up and stay here? Should we hold out for an opportunity in a more diverse, but spacious and affordable, city? Am I overthinking this?

—Should We Stay or Should We Go Now

Dear SWSSWGN,

You aren’t overthinking this at all. A cross-country move is a huge decision for one person, let alone four, and this one is likely to change your lifestyle drastically. You have so much more to consider in addition to local schools and community diversity; you’ll also be parting ways with people, places, and things that were a regular part of your existence for a very long time, including those that may help you remain connected to who you and your husband were before you became parents (and perhaps even before you became a couple).

Living in a large city like NYC often means valuing what happens outside of your home more than the comfort you enjoy in the place where you rest your head, which is more likely than not to be somewhat inadequate in terms of size. It’s impossible to be enthusiastic about that choice 24/7, especially with the subpar public transit, the high price of everything, and the cramped quarters. However, if you’re not a homebody by nature, it’s unlikely that a spacious new crib will be enough to hold your attention on evenings and weekends, which means you and/or the family will be looking for fun in the streets.

Does this pale middle-class enclave have great restaurants, shopping, and museums? Parks, beaches, community centers? Would you enjoy living there if you didn’t have children? Will your kids still be “in love” with this place when the newness wears off? You need to assess the livability of this place independent of how much more spacious your home will be and figure out if you’ll truly be improving your quality of life … or upending it for little more than higher ceilings and a backyard.

As a mother who recently departed a bigger-than-average-yet-not-big-enough Brooklyn rental for a larger space in a far less diverse part of California herself, my attitude regularly shifts between “I have space! Two bathrooms! A parking garage! Local grocery stores that have fresh produce and no cats! Who needs NYC?” and “I miss my friends, I miss the dirty-ass train, I miss the diversity, I miss the bodega cat, I miss Pizza Rat—take me back!” It’s too early in the game for me to say that I’ve made the right choice, but I can say that literally everything about our day-to-day lives has changed, for better or worse, and that alone can be overwhelming for parents and kids alike.

As you deepen your exploration of the current relocation option on the table, also take time to consider some alternatives. There are other cities and towns that feel like a comfortable middle ground, and depending on the line of work your husband and you are in, you may be able to transition to somewhere that won’t make you give up everything you love about New York. I’m still too much of a Brooklyn snob to suggest such a thing, but I have heard that some people enjoy living in New Jersey. (Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to wash my hands after typing that.)

P.S. Tony! Toni! Toné! wasn’t lying about the lack of rain Southern California.

—Jamilah