In praise of the suburbs, or, why I’m never moving back to NYC

betty ming liu Food, Inspiration, Relationships 6 Comments

I never thought I’d lived to see the day when anyone would call my life in the suburbs a hot trend. But that’s what The New York Times is saying, so it must be true: Hastings-on-Hudson, which is where I’ve lived for 13 years, is featured in an article entitled “Creating Hipsturbia.”

Loved the story! In fact, I ripped it out of the paper and filed it away, happy dollar signs in my eyes…nothing like a positive write-up to boost property values.  ;)

But seriously, the Times makes some excellent points about Hastings. It’s the first village north of New York City, barely half an hour away from the Big Apple by car or train (on a good traffic day). We sit along the magnificent Hudson River with several other villages, known collectively as the Rivertowns. Now, the stylish young folks and artists who left skyrocketing rents in Manhattan for Williamsburg are being priced out of Brooklyn too.

As they approaching that next life stage of coming parents, they’re heading for not just the Westchester ‘burbs but throughout the Hudson Valley, which are the neighboring counties heading upstate. Just FYI, this is the farm-filled region that supplies NYC eateries with its gorgeous fruits, veggies, grass-fed beef and artisanal food products; its harvest was featured in Pres. Obama’s Inauguration luncheon.

Like all immigrants who put down roots, they are transforming the cultures of the new communities that they call home. The region is already so different from the one that I arrived in 23 years ago. Back then, it was hard to find a good restaurant or decent boutique in the land of generic malls and fast food chains. The worst part was that there was no place to go at night.

But things have improved due to another trend: Suburban cities all around the country are redeveloping themselves as walkable fun environments with places where you can get around without a car to eat, drink, hang out and shop. We’ve got a main street with a sustainably green vibe, a great farmers market, cute boutiques and dining spots that celebrate the farm-to-table movement.

Writing about this now reminds me — once again — that I have always, always, always been at least five-to-eight-years ahead of the top socio-cultural trends. Of course, whatever I’m living never feels like a trend at the time, especially when even close friends doubt me or are critical. It was the price I paid for going my own way in interracial dating and marriage and later, crafting a friendly divorce.

I still get annoyed when I think of how some friends gave me a hard time for raising my daughter holistically, especially when I’d let  her fevers run while giving her Chinese herbs (under the supervision of an herbal master, I might add) instead of pumping her full of Tylenol to bring down the temperature. And don’t even get me started on the grief I put up with for going on a gluten-free and sugar-free diet more than 15 years ago — everyone acted like I had an eating disorder.

But I digress. This is a new day, one in which I must increasingly have confidence in my choices. That’s the message in having my hometown discovered by the Times.  Gotta stop acting defensive about doing things that aren’t widely accepted at the moment. And quite frankly, what do I care what people think anyway? When do I finally fully celebrate my own life in all the glory of its quiet moments?

Let’s start now! The next hot trends are taking shape all around me. Here’s one from the other weekend, when I attended my first-ever house concert a few blocks from my home. I didn’t even know what a house concert was until I showed up at the residence of Peter Shafran and his wife Paula (who only wants to be known by her first name to protect to protect the innocent, haha).

They had pushed their sofas to the side and set up enough folding chairs for 40 of us to come and hear a performance by Barnaby Bright. The group consists of the married couple Rebecca and Nathan Bliss. I’m not particularly into Indie-folk music but they were wonderful and I bought their CD.

That’s the first trend….I didn’t have to haul myself down to a happening Lower East Side music venue like the Living Room on Ludlow Street. Instead of driving all the way to downtown Manhattan and dealing with the frustration of finding parking — or spending extra time to connect the train-to-subway dots, these artists, who perform at the Living Room, came to Peter and Paula’s living room.

Second trend…A sense of community is so beautiful. Peter is a music promoter (visit him at his website). When he and Paula throw these house concerts, they are free events that ask for a $20 donation, all of which goes to the artists who in this instance, are using the money to pay their NYC rent. They make no money off of this and do it for fun, to encourage musicians.

Third trend….Home cooking rules as a way to get people involved! Before each of their house concerts, there’s an hour of pot luck. At this event, I was impressed that guests took time to make lovely main dishes, side dishes and desserts. We are into food in this village, in all its hipsturbian forms; there was quinoa and hot chocolate made of rice milk.

Fourth trend…The environment matters. As a passionate recycler, I was THRILLED to see that they wanted us to save our plastic forks. And yes, they used paper dishes.

Fifth trend….Today’s desirable demographic is a mashup of the generations. The concert brought out music lovers of all ages. Grandmas and grandpas, middle-aged folk as well as 20- and 30-somethings. This is the new hipsturbia!


To think, it took my teenager and a newspaper article to create a tipping point. There are things I want to do in my own art and development that sound a bit ridiculous. But trendsetters need to have faith in their entrepreneurship. Going forward, we need to have more faith in our creative, boundary-testing dreams. That’s our real DNA.

Stick with me, grasshoppers; that way, we can all stay in the loop. :)


Comments 6

  1. Can we get a little of that up-scale trending in Trenton. We could use it! There’s a lot of raw material here to work with. You can buy a 10 room house, usually with fireplace, back and front yard & garage on my broad, quiet, tree shaded street for well under $200,000. I know of one that is going for under $100,000. Granted in may need a little work but still… And Trenton is on the main RR line, has 2 symphonies, an opera company, an excellent experimental theater and some great restaurants. It’s also 15 minutes from Princeton, which has more going on than there is space to talk about. Very little night life directly in Trenton however but you’d be busy re-finishing all your chestnut woodwork anyway.
    The point is, there IS life outside New york City, love the place though I do. For what my house (with all the above amenities) costs me monthly in mortgage, tax, insurance and utilities, I could afford a small, one bedroom apartment in NY, probably not in a building with a doorman and probably not in a class A neighborhood. Son Billy and his BF Eric moved to Jersey City from NY, where they now have a huge apartment with a dining room! Who has a dining room in NY? And it costs less than the one bedroom Billy was subletting in an apt. in Brooklyn. And, as an additional advantage, I’ve been able to off-load a lot of furniture and china I had in storage, now that they have room for it.

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    Toby, I hear you. Check out this organization, Project for Public Spaces: The key to creating a hot suburban city is being near a train station that can get people to midtown Manhattan. New York City is the driving force and it always will be.

    The PPS website explains the theory being “placemaking.” You gotta have multiple fun destinations and activities in a single place in order for it to take off as a place that people wanna be. This is a whole urban planning strategy that is being studied now. Then you have to have insanely, passionate local people and organizations dedicated to their towns and cities.

    By the way, Jersey City is hot too. New York magazine had an article a few years ago about it being the new downtown NYC. All of this is good news for the ‘burbs. I am in Hastings for the affordability too because NY is beyond my wallet and I am not willing to to live in a broom closet!

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    A friend emailed me this link. It’s from a Jersey paper that says affluent parents are leaving NJ and raising their kids in NYC…a lot of this is going to depend on just how much money you have and lifestyle choices, even for hipsters. The Jersey story also says school enrollment is down in NJ and Westchester. While that might be true, it doesn’t take into account the fact that many of these hipsters have little babies or toddlers. They’re not gonna show up in school-related statistics for a while.

  5. The idea of the house concert sounds interesting. Something fun and community building. No parking in garages in the city for drivers and avoiding crowded trains for subway commuters. But I don’t know how this would work in the inner city. You would have to be wary of who and how many people you let into your home. I know that the not-so-hip parts of Brooklyn are known for having basement parties where up and coming DJ’s are featured. People turn their homes into mini clubs and collect an entrance fee in jars. Sometimes the money is to raise rent for the DJ or the very same apartment, to avoid eviction. With the violence that can break out, though, these parties won’t be written about in a trends citing for The Times just yet…

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    Skye, you read my mind. Even here in the ‘burbs…I am NOT wired for throwing house concerts. People like us would spend the whole time worrying about who was wandering upstairs or stealing our toilet paper. All the more reason to admire those of us who can play host with panache.

    Also important to note…they don’t charge money so they don’t make money. It’s just a party of sorts, and not a business.

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