The Urban-Suburban Housing Conundrum

Marcelle Cerny describes her family's so-far-fruitless quest for an affordable, suburban-sized home in an urban area close to public transit and amenities.

Cerny describes how she and her husband have looked at numerous small, semi-detached houses near downtown Toronto, that were once affordable but are now the "exclusive domain of the double-income, Starbucks-drinking set." She wants the spaciousness and affordability of the suburbs, but with urban amenities. Why, she asks, can't they find the best of both worlds?

"[W]hat we need is an affordable, big, four-bedroom suburban house – in the city. That way, we non-car owners could live in spacious comfort and still be within easy walking distance of a decent health-food store, playing fields, the library, the boys' public school, restaurants, our families and work. Unfortunately for our children, who ask regularly for a backyard – with grass – we have urban tastes and a suburban budget, and we're finding these competing concerns hard to reconcile.

I recognize how much our suburban-dwelling friends love their homes, and their version of life sounds appealing...[but] I look around at what [my children] see every day – the diversity of the city, the homeless and the wealthy, art and ugliness, bad and good – and I hope that experience will serve them well. It's why we want to raise them in the city in the first place."

Full Story: I want an urban house on a suburban budget



Wanting it all

Ms. Cerny wants to have it all but doesn't want to pay for it.

"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need." - Rollling Stones

Michael Lewyn's picture

Yet another rebuttal

This article presents yet another rebuttal to the claim that people live in sprawl because they want to live in sprawl. They live in sprawl because where (as in Toronto) the central city is prosperous, they can't afford anything else.

And where the city isn't prosperous, it of course is not really a viable alternative.


1) The idea of big suburban-style homes in a transit-accessible, walkable neighborhood doesn't make sense, unless Cerny imagines that her big home will be more or less the only one on the block while the rest of the street is in modest row homes and apartments.

2) No one "needs" a big house and statements to that effect make me cringe. Our overconsumption of space and goods is at the root of a good many of our environmental, economic, and social problems. Make due with less. You'll probably be happier for it (in fact, a growing body of research suggests you will). My grandparents raised five children and scores of foster kids in an itty bitty house and, while space may have been tight at times, that house was a welcoming space that overflowed with love. That's what matters.

3) Cities are overflowing with "third places" to spend time that get you OUT of the house. Suburban subdivision homes are so detached from "third places" that residents essentially need to turn their houses into mini mixed-use developments that fulfill all entertainment, outdoors, and office needs. My row house has 3 bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a living room. Period. But within a 10 minute walk I've got 3 parks, around 6 coffee shops, and countless cafes. You want a big home? In a city, the neighborhood is your home. And you don't have to mow the lawn.

She forgot the cost of the car

Cerny's "suburban budget" doesn't seem to include the $6000-9000 per year that they won't be spending on car costs (PDF). She's so vague about the price differences ("thousands of dollars!"), but not spending $700 a month on a Grand Caravan saves enough money for them to buy a house worth $15,000 more.

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