We hear it over and over again at Suburban Jungle — “wherever we move has GOT to have a downtown!” And we get it! Families are coming from a city and are used to the hustle, bustle and 24/7 access those urban communities offer. A ‘burb with a downtown seems to be the perfect next step — suburban meets urban, even.
And while a downtown is great, don’t let having one be the deal breaker in finding your perfect suburban town. Sure having that central drag can be fun, but there’s so much more to a community than a thriving downtown — and, besides, chances are you’ll be tapping into a host of experiences, opportunities and go-tos within your new town. Here are some things to consider before putting all of your eggs in the “gotta have a downtown” basket:
Where will you SHOP?
It’s easy to see the appeal of those cute suburban downtowns littered with cafes, gourmet markets, jewelry stores and upscale boutiques…but will you really be shopping there on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis? Chances are you’ll be hitting the Target in the next town over, the Trader Joe’s that opening on the other side of town or the Whole Foods you pass en route to the train station — plus all of the other spots you’re buying kids’ clothes, picking up takeout or even just grabbing a bottle of wine (or two…).
In other words, your suburban shopping experience won’t be like it is in the city. You’ll likely be jet-setting throughout the community and, even, to neighboring spots to find what you need when you need it. The perk? Everything’s right there, always a quick drive away
— and, chances are, your downtown won’t be the center of your shopping universe.
Where Will You Spend Free Time?
Though it’s great to have restaurants, bars, lounges and cafes in your community, there’s a good chance your families’ future faves will be outside of the immediate downtown area. The ice cream parlor might be on the way to soccer practice or the awesome sandwich place tucked away in an unexpected part of town — again, there’s often lots happening beyond the boundaries of a suburban downtown!
And don’t forget, just because you’re heading to the ‘burbs doesn’t mean you’re completely abandoning your city roots. You’ll likely have a car (or two!) and, of course, be just a train, bus or ferry ride away from the hustle and bustle of your former stomping ground — and, chances are, you’ll continue to take advantage of that proximity long after you leave. Weigh those factors before deciding if a downtown is a true have-to-have or, simply, a nice-to-have.
Is This REALLY the Personality of Your Town?
On a first pass that adorable downtown can seem like a must-have feature — but, often, once you get below the surface of the community you’ll find it’s not necessarily indicative of the town’s personality. And, likewise, a downtown-less community can be incredibly vibrant, exciting and energetic! Roll up your sleeves and really try and take in the “real” community you’re moving to. Check out the neighborhoods, drive by the schools and parks, chat with local families and, sure, stroll around Main Street or other central locations in the community. See what it’s all about. See if you can picture yourself and your family there. And see if, truly, having — or not having — a downtown moves the need when you really weigh it all together.
Granted, having a downtown can be great — we definitely aren’t advocating only looking at communities without them! But of the hundreds of suburbs you could consider only a fraction will have that vibrant downtown urban families have in their minds. And that means you could be overlooking the perfect spot for your family because it doesn’t check this one box — even though every other attribute meets or exceeds your expectations.