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Retire in the City or in the Suburbs?

by Ray Gregoire and Tina Gregoire

A husband is from the East Coast, where people want to live in the suburbs to avoid crime. The wife is from the West Coast, where people are more accepting of diversity and everything else that comes with city living.

What do you think?

The Husband's Point of View on Retirement in Suburbs

Tina and I do not agree at all about the best place to retire - in the city or in the suburbs - so I thought it would be fun for each of us to give our own point of view in an article then hear your opinion and reasons for that opinion.

where's the best place to retire? boomerinas.comI am a suburban guy at heart because I love having a backyard for the dog or a garden. I love having space between me and the neighbors instead of a thin wall and having trees, deer etc. running in the woods behind the house. The suburbs are quieter, have less crime, taxes are lower, no condo maintenance fees and you have more freedom to do what you want with your home versus having the condo boards dictate what you can and can’t do.

I can go shopping without having to pay to park or worry about getting mugged by a druggie or homeless person. In general there is less litter in the neighborhood as folks have more pride in their environment.

The thing that bugs me the most about the city is people are high on drugs everywhere, homeless folks are urinating in the streets, but if I light up a cigarette I get busted.

The Wife's Point of View on Retirement in Cities

When I first met Ray, I lived in an apartment in downtown Seattle. I tried to talk him into leaving his boring suburb and moving into town. It’s not like I was trying to convince him to live in Manhattan. Seattle is very laid back and almost anyone can fit in with our urban blue-jean crowd.

Ray made the argument that he had a large dog (a black Labrador Retriever) and there would be no place for his pup to run around. Well, I showed him quite a few residents in my large building whenever they brought their own Labs and Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds and mixed mutts into the elevator. No dice.

seattle has good restaurantsSo, I explained that we could get a house in Ballard or Fremont or West Seattle or some place that’s still in the city but not in a high rise. No dice.

Tina Continues: Suburbs are Boring

Hey, it’s not that I don’t like having the trees “running in the woods” behind our house (I left Ray’s words as I found them), but there’s not much to do out in the burbs.

  • The restaurants suck... unless you love McDonald’s drive-throughs, high-fat Mexican joints, generic pizza chains, and all-day pancake houses.
  • Well, Ray is right on one thing. It is quieter in the suburbs. Everyone goes to bed at 9:00 pm (or earlier).

We’re so far from everything that just going out to dinner in the city is an all day production… or else we’ll get stuck in terrible traffic. So, we never go.

And, when I do bring up the possibility of an outing to “the big city”, I have to hear about how hard it is to park (and how expensive it is to park). However, if we lived down the street from the place I wanted to go, we wouldn’t have to park at all. Actually, I think we could get by without a car and just take a cab whenever we needed groceries or something. Or, if we decided to keep the car, I’m sure we would use it less than we do now, and that would counteract Ray’s complaints about the high costs of living in town. (Well, I must admit that it would cost more to live in the city, but you get what you pay for.)

Cities are More Fun

I like to be around people from different backgrounds and different age groups. Right now, everyone is over 55. Well, I'm over 55, but I'm a lot more spontaneous than most of my neighbors. I don't make plans for two years from now... come on... by the time that planned vacation rolls around I may be ready for something different.

should you live in the city when you retire?I like to have parks. There are no good parks in the burbs. There are no jazz clubs. There are no blues musicians. People in my neighborhood would think I'm talking about the Hindenburg if I mentioned Led Zeppelin. And, all of my neighbors have lived in the suburbs all their lives. They wake up at a certain time, they eat at a certain time, and they fart at a certain time. Regimented.

I don't fit in. My husband has lived in the burbs his whole life. The only rock concert he has ever been to was Peter, Paul & Mary. And, everyone is like that. God bless them all. They're the backbone of the country, but it's not my country. My people don't travel with itineraries. They take a credit card, a passport, and a half-filled suitcase. Forget about meeting that tour bus at 12:45 and just wing it, baby!

I like to wake up in the morning and think, "Do I want to walk around Greenlake? Or, would I rather walk over to Macrina Bakery? No, it feels like a good day to take a ferry to Bainbridge and snap some photos of downtown so I can play with them in Photoshop." You can't do anything like that when you're out in the sticks. We don't have options out here. It's just a different lifestyle. I can't explain it to people who don't understand it. I want to listen to live bands. I want to hear people from other countries. I want to feel energy. I want to have fun. I want to shoot my TV. I'm at the end of my life... it's time to live... not time to play Bingo.

What to Do?

I guess there will never be a meeting of minds in our house. Ray worries about dying from a drive-by shooting. I worry about dying from boredom. One has a statistical probability of less than zero. The other one is closer to 100 percent.

More Articles About Baby Boomers and Retirement:

Where Should You Live When You Retire?

Retire in the Texas Hill Country: The Natives are Friendly

Best Cruiser Bikes for Older Women - Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers Want to Retire in Southwest Florida

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Ray Gregoire is a retired executive from Johnson & Johnson.

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  1. Jan

    I agree with the wife.

  2. Cheryl Probst

    I agree with Ray. At this time in our lives, it's time to enjoy a little peace and quiet, after all those years of hustling and bustling in the working world. An occasional foray into the big city, say every 1-2 years, would be OK, though. If I want more activity, I'll hop a plane to China or England or somewhere like that for a week or so, until my nerves get too frazzled with everything that's going on.

    • Tina


      Thanks for your comment. For me, China's a little too big... although Shanghai was cool. And, London is way too expensive unless I can sleep on someone's floor.


  3. mike

    You'd seen the "Green Acres" TV series? The wannabe gentleman farmer fled the city penthouse that his wife "adored".

    • Tina


      I guess I'm not alone. It's just me and Zsa Zsa... and Wilbur the Pig. And, now I've got the Green Acres song in my head. But, I feel better.


  4. Chris

    My grandparents had a farm out in the country (on the edge of the Chicago suburbs) and a small apartment on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.

    I always thought that was a good combination, if you have the money: rural/urban.

    • Tina


      I could live with city and country. That's a good combination. It's the part in between... the suburbs... that bring me down.


  5. Murielle

    I'm with Ray. Not all suburbs are the same. We live in a suburb of Cincinnati and have everything Tina wishes she would have in a city -- parks, our own symphony with free concerts, great restaurants and grocery store in walking distance from our home, diversity, and all age groups. We can be in downtown Cincinnati in 15 minutes and have access to museums, theater, sports stadiums, great zoo, etc. We have the best of both worlds.

  6. Tina


    Your suburb must be more interesting than mine. I'm sure it is also older and more established. If someone put a gun to my head, I would be happier in an established suburb than in something with no history.


  7. Paris Franz

    I think I have to agree with Tina on this one. My mother lives in a small town in Italy - very pretty but the nearest city is two hours away by train. On the best of days there's not much to do there. It's great for a visit, but I'm always glad to get back to London!

    • Tina


      Thank you. Another voice of sanity in a boring world... although I think I might like a small town in Italy. Does your mother need a temporary roommate?

  8. Karen

    Before I even started reading -- I knew I'd agree with Tina. And I do. Isn't predictability wonderful? (Although I live in the boonies, which is my other choice.) I grew up in Westchester County NY, had a house there as an adult -- delighted to escape cultural no man's land.

    • Tina


      And, I usually agree with you. My second choice would be the boonies... a nice part of the boonies.

      Suburbs = cultural no man's land. Exactly!


  9. Irune

    Small flat in the city for cultural refilling and nice house in the suburbs with vegetable garden.

    Best of both worlds.

    • Tina


      I think that the UK version of suburbs is a bit different than what we have in the US. You ARE in the UK, right... am I wrong?


  10. Lorraine

    Country or country village for me. I lived in downtown Toronto for 20 years. I'll never go back to that lifestyle. I did have this place for weekends though, and finally made the move about 13 years ago. Never looked back.

    • Tina


      Living in the country and having a little pied a terre would be the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, most people... including myself... can't afford that. Maybe someday. Maybe I'll inherit enough money for that. sigh.

  11. Helen

    Country for me, every time. I live in a small village, surrounded by fields and hills. Haven't lived in a city since my teens, hate them. Go to London about once a year and usually wish I hadn't bothered! I've found excitement in many other ways when I've wanted it. Suburbia? Boring, but I think it may be slightly different in the US and Britain, not sure - despite having lived in the US for five years back in the 1980s

    • Tina


      A small village would be okay with me... as long as its center doesn't have Golden Arches.


  12. Jill

    Lo, the Green Hills of My Homeland: Longing for Wolverhampton, by Adrian Mole, if ever published, will surely explore the issue.

    • Tina


      I have to punt on this one. Wolverhampton seems to be a medium-sized city in the UK. However, the green hills make me think of suburbs. If you have time... give us a clarification, so Ray can keep a tally.

  13. Alexandria

    Somewhere in between.

    We were in Cornwall last month and had to use the car to get everywhere; even just the corner shop. Where we are now it's far enough outside of Glasgow to have some quiet time but we have a small high street for all the necessities and its easy to get into the city without the need for the car. I used to live in the middle of Birmingham -- did that for a year until I HAD to get away from there.

    • Tina


      I would be perfectly happy to live in a suburban area with a high street. For those of you in the US, that would be a "main street".

      Where we live now, our "high street" is a strip mall with a supermarket, a McDonald's, a pizza franchise, and a coulple of other stores that I never want to see. Maybe I'l living in the wrong country.

      The difference between Europe/UK and the US is that most of the US was built after the widespread availability of automobiles. Our suburban areas have no centralized location... no high street... no main street... no heart... no soul. The closest compromise I could find in Ray's geographically desirable area was a 55-and-up community with a clubhouse. And, I feel as if I was the one doing all the compromising.

  14. Helen

    Country/rural absolutely, definitely does not, not, NOT equal suburbs, Ray!!!! Even allowing for cross-Atlantic differences.

  15. Alexandria

    This is what I get for trying to write while I'm watching the tennis! I misread suburbs for countryside, mainly based on other comments. I think where I live now would be classed as a suburb and I love it. As long as I can get to the things I need on foot, I'm happy -- I just hate using my car all the time.

    • Tina


      I'd have to compare your high street to my strip mall. But, I'll give this point to Ray.

      • Alexandria

        Our high street has everything I could need in a hurry. The closest thing to junk food is a Subway, which seems mainly for the school kids on their lunch break. We have the odd takeaway but that's normal for most places around us. My main uses are the library, the community sports center for the swimming pool and the supermarket. We seem to have a lot of doctors, dentists and churches along the street too!

  16. Chris

    There are some suburbs near big cities that are their own city, too. There are suburbs that are so rural that horses and small farms are in them, but other suburbs (like I mentioned above) that would not. We lived in a new subdivision (a suburb) in Ohio for a while that came out of a farmer selling all his land. It sprung from the housing boom and we could tell that little planning had gone into it. The neighbors were a mix of city people moving out and rural people moving closer in, which brought in the need for a lot of adjusting. What one group saw as a slight another saw as good manners. It was a mess. I have lived in both, I prefer a medium city with good infrastructure to get out of town when I want but close enough to the arts when I want.

  17. Ray

    Chris I agree. We are 12 miles from Seattle and only 5 miles from Bellevue which is a great city with almost everything you would ever want might be a good way to split the difference

  18. Vicki

    Could you both agree on a weekend in the city every 6-8 weeks? Dinner, a concert, art galleries, etc?

    • Tina


      Ray isn't into art galleries, family-run restos, or rock concerts/blues concerts/anything concerts.

      Whenever I get him to do something he doesn't like, I always regret it... I'm sure I'm the same.

      But, thanks for being a good person, as always.


  19. James

    Doesn't it depend on the city?

    • Tina


      Yes, I've never been to Detroit, but I have a feeling I wouldn't want to live in THAT city.