What to Do When You’ve Picked the Wrong Suburb

What to Do When You’ve Picked the Wrong Suburb

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The couple gravitated north to Westchester County, where they had lived in their 20s and where Mr. Curry, an ordained minister and the director of connectional ministries for the United Methodist Church in New York, had served as a pastor.

They ruled out any place they deemed an achievement-driven, pressure-cooker community. After talking with friends in the Rivertowns — the villages of Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington and Tarrytown, which dot the Hudson — they thought they’d found home. But it was Katonah, a hamlet of Bedford an hour north of the city with a vibrant main street, that won out.

“It was so down-to-earth,” Ms. Colaco said. “I didn’t need to put on a full face of makeup to bring my kids to school. I met a lot of artists and could talk about politics and travel.” One recent evening, “a few kids playing in the backyard turned into everyone pulling leftovers out of the fridge and holding an impromptu outdoor dinner party,” she said. “It’s a good life, the life we imagined.”

David Leibowitz, the founder of PicketFencer, a real estate app that offers insider reports of 600 towns in the New York metro area, said people are so overwhelmed by the options that they often narrow the search by taking the recommendation of a colleague or friend, which he believes is a mistake.

Even if a possibility looks great on paper, one person’s idea of a great place to live can be another person’s nightmare. “The suburbs are not the same; the subtleties of their personalities are so different,” he said. “Just like someone living on the Upper East Side won’t fit into Williamsburg, someone who likes Maplewood may not fit into Short Hills. You can end up in a place that really doesn’t suit you.”

Moving to a new suburb may be the way to recapturing your identity, whether it’s somewhere where you can walk to dinner or a place with more like-minded people. But first, you should give serious thought to who lives in the town and what types of things go on there. Whom will you encounter when you walk your children to the park? Whom will you drink a beer with at the neighborhood block party? What do the mothers wear to drop-off, or will you see only nannies?

“Choosing a place to live is the single most expensive decision many of us ever make, and many of us make it mostly on intuition,” said Richard Florida, an urban theorist at the University of Toronto who studies demographic shifts, and is the author of “The Rise of the Creative Class” (2002). “We focus on house or yard size, but we don’t look around the town enough. What affects housing prices isn’t just square footage — it’s the value of what goes on in the community around the house.”

Ms. Colaco leading a performance at a Family Day event at the Katonah Museum of Art. She says she and her husband wanted a town where they could raise their children with “a creative vibe.”

Credit
Fred R. Conrad for The New York Times

Sometimes just moving a few miles can make all the difference.

Julie LaChapelle, 41, had been living in the Riverdale section of the Bronx when she moved in 2003 to Verona, N.J., about an hour by car outside of Manhattan. Ms. LaChapelle, a social worker who is a single mother, and her two daughters, Olivia and Abigail, settled into a bright and airy center-hall colonial. She loved her running route around beautiful Verona Park, and the family was often invited to neighborhood barbecues.

But still, something didn’t click. The community skewed more traditional than she liked, making it difficult for a single mother to fit in. The 2016 presidential election brought out differences not as apparent before, and as her elder daughter, Olivia, now in fourth grade, developed an interest in singing and performing, Ms. LaChapelle would have liked to see more children with similar artistic pursuits. “We both started to feel like outsiders,” she said.

Ms. LaChapelle began house-hunting in Montclair, a larger town whose border is a block from her Verona home. In June, she closed on a smaller house there. Ms. LaChapelle had a sense that families of all shapes are accepted in Montclair, and she hopes both her daughters will be able to attend a performing arts magnet school. Ms. LaChapelle knows she’s taking a risk, and she doesn’t want to disrupt her daughters’ lives and move again. “I want to get it right this time,” she said.

No one wants to put in all the effort to move to a different suburb, only to land on the same dissatisfied loop as before.

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