Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Struggling With Strollers and Schools

  Allison Woods
Allison Woods left Manhattan for upstate New York in 1997.

Leaving New York

While some New Yorkers are leaving the city, citing bad schools, high housing costs or the daily stresses of urban life, analysts debate whether the exodus is anything alarming or unusual, and what to do about it.

Why New Yorkers Are Leaving:

The City Is Too Expensive
by E.J. McMahon

City Schools and Housing Are Inadequate
by David Kallick

New Yorkers Who Left:

Rondrae Hunter
A Frustrating Apartment Search

David Bassine
Fear of Terrorism

Stefan Kochi
Bad for Business

My husband and I left New York in 1997, just before my second son was born.

There were a lot of things that made me tired of city life, like struggling to get my stroller up the subway stairs. Try to take a stroller on a bus, and see whether you feel like ever getting on a bus again. It seemed like such a battle to stay in New York. If we weren't getting to enjoy things like performances at City Center, and all the things the city is about, there wasn't much point in being there. When you have really young children you can't enjoy the cultural life of the city anymore -- at least, we couldn't. I couldn't stay awake past nine o'clock.

School was looming. We couldn't afford private school, certainly not for two children. And I felt I was having hostile interactions all the time with people in the city: Cab drivers who wouldn't take me the way I wanted to go, etc. I got tired of it, so I left.

At the time, my husband and I owned a little building in Greenpoint that we were going to move into. Then we realized that we could live a lot better if we rented the building out - it had three apartments - and used the money to live somewhere where the cost of living was lower. We could use the public schools, or private schools that cost half or 30 percent what they do in the city.

Our income at the time came from the rent from the building in the city. My husband is an artist, so he just continued his work. I was pregnant with my second child, so I wasn't working at all. Since then I've taken a class and become a real estate appraiser, which has worked out well.

Now I live in a hamlet called High Falls. It's in Ulster County, eight miles south of Kingston, the same distance northwest of New Paltz. There might be 1,000 or 1,500 people in High Falls. I live in a small house, 1,100 square feet. But it's an old house, a turn-of-the-century farmhouse-type thing, with a porch and a beautiful garden. The town has a noon whistle.

I always thought the city was a good place for children to grow up, and I still think that. I grew up in Chelsea and on the Upper West Side. It is such a rich environment in many ways. But I also like the childhood my kids are having, and in retrospect I can see a lot of things that I missed out on, such as any chance to really do sports, or know anything about the natural world. I didn't have pets, if I don't count rodents. I never had dogs, certainly never had anything like a horse. My kids don't have horses, but they have friends who do.

They like it up here. My older son, who is eight and lived in the city as a small child, will sometimes say things that really astonish me. When it's the first snow of the season and there are icicles hanging off the trees, he says, "I'm so glad I live here, because if I lived in the city I'd never get to see this." It strikes me as funny that a kid can even think that way.

But I feel the same way. I can't imagine living in New York anymore. I find it overwhelming. I find the number of strangers disconcerting. I'm no longer used to not being known in places where I go. And aesthetically the city is difficult. A lot of it is dirty, ugly and noisy. I was starting to feel that way when I lived there. But the feeling developed more strongly afterward.

I grew up in New York and for years I just didn't realize that Manhattan was not the center of the universe. I don't feel that way anymore.

Alison Woods was born in Manhattan and moved upstate in 1997.

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