Bucking the trend: Making a move back to the city

March 20, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

I am fleeing the suburbs for the city. Yeah, I'm the one. And the answer to your question is: No, I don't think you need all your car windows. If you think that way, pal, you might as well stick to the burbs.

Not me. I am headed for the land of stolen cars and failing schools and spiraling murder rates. Where you pay twice the property taxes in return for half the services. Just enough, as Stevie sang, for the ci-tay.

And get this: Some people say I'm nuts.

In fact, when I mention the move to my suburban friends, they get a look of, well, alarm. It's the exact same look the villagers had when Frankenstein's monster got loose.

They ask if I really want to live where people have an intense working knowledge of burglar alarms and motion sensors and where 911 comes built into your telephone speed-dialing.

You see, you can't just move to the city. You have to explain why.

And I've got a ready answer. I tell them . . . because.

Still, they don't get it.

Why move to the city? It's not for the coming mayoral election. Or curbside recycling. And even as we speak, they're building coffee bars all over the suburbs.

You don't make a move just because the city has the comedy channel on the cable. Although that was definitely a consideration.

There are more compelling arguments, however. Who wouldn't want to have a shot at living in a city that thinks it can attract tourists by carving a field into the shape of a crab, which you can see only by helicopter? You see that kind of creativity in the suburbs?

And, if you're within the city limits, you presumably have a much better shot of bumping into Michele McCloud.

You certainly don't make the move out of any desire to become a statistic, even though that's exactly what many of my friends have become. Everybody seems to have a story, one scarier than the next. You wonder if they try these out on suburbanites simply to see what kind of reaction they get.

A partial list: One friend has his car stolen. One has his car window smashed; small change is all they get away with. One has her purse snatched. Two actually get held up at gunpoint.

Crime is the subtext here. Crime is why people leave the city. Crime is why many want to put a fence around it.

You don't have to live in what is popularly called the 'hood to meet face to face with crime, although I'm told it helps. I'm not moving to the 'hood. I am moving to a neighborhood that, if not for some arbitrary boundary lines, would fit neatly into the suburbs.

There are lots of trees and quiet streets and BMWs.

And yet, there are differences: fewer garages, more burglar alarms and many more Clubs. (If you're thinking Christmas present, I could use a couple of those Clubs. I'd especially like the Tonya Harding autograph model.)

I am leaving a suburban neighborhood packed with lawyers and bankers for a city neighborhood packed with . . . lawyers and bankers.

There is more of what we euphemistically call diversity. But there isn't that much more.

So, why move at all?

Some of my city friends think they know why -- to get away from the brain-numbing suburbs where Ollie North lives next-door and your children will inevitably grow up to vote Republican.

They figure any right-thinking person would want to get away from malls and movies in multiplexes, even though they now have malls and multiplexes downtown.

They point out the restaurants are better, the bars are cooler, the clubs are hipper. As if I now lived two hours from the city and was moving next door to a blues club or if Baltimore was anything like Paris in the '20s.

The reason I moved to the suburbs in the first place was for the schools. I wanted my daughter to attend public schools, and I moved to the place that would provide the best education.

Now that she is off to college, I can live wherever I choose.

Look, I could say something sappy about believing in cities and ** how each of us is partly responsible for urban decay. But that isn't it.

Here's the truth: This isn't political. My wife and I found a house and a neighborhood we fell in love with. And we're foolish enough to think in the 1990s that's still a good enough reason to live someplace.

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