Our Location Dilemma

My wife and I are many things; amongst them, these are key:

  • Parents: New parents to a beautiful almost-4-month-old.
  • Urban: We currently live in Mesta Park, I work downtown, and we generally frequent urban places (including vacations).
  • Travelers: We travel frequently, which means we leave our home to friends and family to take care of while we’re off.
  • Local-lovers: We are trying as hard as possible to shop and dine local.
  • Design-oriented: Christa is an interior designer (no, not a decorator, a designer, as in, designed the Thunder’s locker room, created the tile scheme for the OKC Arena restrooms, designed OKC Arena suites, worked on the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Oklahoma Canter Center, etc), and I am a planner that staffs three separate urban design review boards; we live and breath design, and we love it.
  • Geographically-aware: As travelers, and for myself in particular as a planner, we are extremely aware of our surroundings and how our geographic spread affects our lives.
  • Young: Christa is Gen-Y, and depending on which generation chart you look at, I’m Gen-Y or Gen-X.

All these factors play into a dilemma we now find ourselves in: Where to live to best capture our needs and desires that most importantly surround the future education of our children.

First off, our dilemma begins with the assumption that I continue working downtown in some capacity.  The problem with housing selection in our homeowner-centric economy is that it is often the most expensive and immobile portion of our very fluid lifestyles.  In our geographically spread metro area, one can change jobs (still inside OKC), but be required to change locations by 20 miles or more.  This can affect one’s transportation spending and commute time greatly.

Second, we assume that we want the best education for our daughter and any future children.  It’s a given.  Homeschooling isn’t something we wish to do, so we leave it to public or private school.  Christa was raised in public systems while I was raised private.  Each has its own benefits.

Third, we must recognize that every individual or household makes certain decisions that affect their other choices in life.  For us, we’ve chosen to attend church in Edmond, approximately 17 miles from our home.  This also means that our best friends happen to live in north Oklahoma City (Edmond area code).  This changes our driving habits.  Moving north may actually even out some of our driving.  This also makes a move any further south essentially unacceptable.

In 5 years, our daughter’s first day of kindergarten will be only months away.  5 years goes fast (5 years ago we got married; it’s been extremely fast).  In that time, we must decide whether to stay where we are and send our daughter to the local school district, or to move elsewhere to ensure that she’ll receive a good education.  But, given the factors above, our options are severely limited and leave us unfulfilled.

  • Parents: As parents, we want our children to live in a safe, friendly environment where other children also live.  Safety is deceiving, as our neighborhood is extremely safe, but most people wouldn’t believe it.  Culs-de-sac are not any safer in the long run than our beautiful grid-pattern block. Connected streets actually slow traffic and assist in crime reduction because thieves know people are around.  It’s tough to hide.
  • Urban: We love our urban location and the proximity to so many special events and restaurants.  We’d hate to move further away because we know, due to gas and time constraints, we’d visit them less.
  • Travelers: Since we’re often gone, I want a home that’s simple to maintain; less lawn, more plantings, etc.  Suburban homes, where the “good” schools are, tend to have more lawn than I prefer to take care of.
  • Local-lovers: Suburban Oklahoma City has far fewer local places that we frequent, but there are a few.  Our local-love would have to spread to different places.
  • Design-oriented: Design is potentially our biggest rub, next to geography.  Suburban housing in Oklahoma City has none of the character of our current home.  No large front porches, few (if any) sidewalks, no street trees, few grown, proper yard trees (Bradford Pears are horrid).  Interiors are standard and “contractor grade”, and little imagination goes into finish choices (granite isn’t the only counter-top to choose from…).  Exteriors are generally brick, brick, or brick, and each subdivision is mainly one or two colors.  Mesta Park and surrounding older neighborhoods are hardly homogenous.
  • Geographically-aware: Moving north would completely change our transportation expenses.  Currently, we spend about $250 a month on gas, even at the $4/gallon price.  If we moved north of Memorial Road, my personal mileage would increase by 25 miles/day.  Calculate that out, and I’d probably be spending an additional $150/month or more on gas, not to mention the additional wear on the vehicle.
  • Young: Gen-Y (and we’re no exception) has shown an increasing urban awareness and desire to live small.  We want to maximize the time and money we have available for our daughter and ourselves.

We currently live 1 block directly south of Wilson.  Some think this is an amazing coup and a fantastic opportunity.  We’re unsure.  Wilson may be fantastic (although state test scores put it in the middle of the pack for Oklahoma City Public schools elementary schools; and no, I’m not getting into whether or not state testing scores are even valid), but we do know that Oklahoma City’s middle schools are in dire need of help.  All of Oklahoma City’s best elementary schools feed into mediocre (at best) middle schools.  And then there’s the high schools…

However, move north into the suburban or Edmond districts, and things change.  General quality is just… better.

And that creates our dilemma.  Do we trust that OKC schools are going to turn around, and that our children can attend a good OKC middle school, or do we sacrifice ourselves and the things we are for the good of our children?  Is there a middle ground, so to speak?  Do we sacrifice other things to stay put and drive our kids to private school?  Or, if someone built a new neighborhood with grid streets, trees and sidewalks, would we sacrifice other things to make up for transportation cost to work downtown? Or, biggest if of all, do we suck it up and find the “best” possible suburban home and grin-and-bear it while we hate the design?

So many choices.  So many variables. Choosing a home isn’t a simple equation when we introduce education quality into the picture.

2 Replies to “Our Location Dilemma”

  1. I’d like to hear a bit more about what factors you value in defining the best possible education. For rating suburban schools more highly, is it teacher qualification or student test scores or facilities quality (or what combination of those)? The literature seems to indicate pretty clearly that the most important factor for children’s academic success is their parents’ education, so unless there are safety problems the averagey-ness of your neighborhood school would probably be mitigated by the attention you give to your daughter’s progress — homework, volunteering, extracurricular activities.

    Just reading your post now, I’d say the pretty clear choice is stay where you are and kick the can down the road until middle school looms. You’d be farther into your career and could devote more resources either to a more expensive home location (and its connection to school quality) or to sending your kid to private school.

  2. I suspect that a lot of the generation Y-ers who have an affinity for urban living are (or will be) facing the same struggle as you…the average age for having a first child in the US right now is over 25 and gen Y-ers will start hitting 30 next year (if you go with the ’82 cut off) so there aren’t really that many yet with school aged kids…the median age for a first marriage is 26/28 so the vast majority of those urban gen Y-ers aren’t even thinking about settling down and having kids and where they will want to live then.

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