Where To Live: Choosing Between Urban and Suburban


It’s an age-old dilemma, whether to live in the city or head out to the suburbs or perhaps even farther afield, to the country.

Depending on your age and where you are in your life, this decision can be an easy one, or it can be quite difficult. We often see it as a question of the head wrestling with the heart.

When you are in your 20s, kids, a house and a daily minivan commute into the city for work is probably the furthest thing from your mind.

Often when first buying into the market, one is single (or without children) and run by the mantra, “location, location, location.”  The lure of the city with its convenient public transportation, nightlife and employment opportunities are overpowering and invigorating.

The challenge with the sought-after, ideal location is that often location and budget do not align. Your precious dollars will only stretch so far in the city and compromise tends to be the name of the game.

Your dream home with a garden may require your dream location to take a back seat. Or your dream location may translate into a cozy dwelling in the sky, where personal space is your sacrifice.

What is urban anyway?

According to Statistics Canada, the difference between urban and suburban is determined by factors such as: municipal boundaries, the distance from city hall and/or the central business district and housing density. Therefore, suburbs consist mostly of single-family housing farther from the centre of the city, while urban areas are primarily multi-family apartment buildings and condos near the centre.

However, for many, the concepts of urban and suburban are somewhat vague. A downtown resident may think of a neighbouring city as suburbia -- but to someone who lives in that city, they see it as a city and not the 'burbs. It’s all about perspective.

The landscape of the suburbs has changed in the last 20 years. Nowadays, it is common to find urban areas in most residential suburbs. One can easily find and expect to access established name shops and other amenities within walking distance. As a result, the line between urban and suburban living is harder to distinguish.


Property taxes can vary dramatically from urban areas to suburban regions, but even that issue is not crystal clear.  In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) for example, property taxes are based on mill rate, which is calculated by multiplying the property’s assessed value by the current tax rate. It is expressed as “dollars of tax per $1000 of assessed value.” Learn more on property taxes and the mill rate.

You do get more space and house for your dollar the further your reside from downtown, but one does need to take into consideration the expensive, time-consuming commutes to and from the city.

Therefore, in that vein, living and working in an urban centre will save money on gas, sometimes eliminating the need to own a car at all. Which in turn, saves the homeowner money on car payments, insurance and repairs.

Some argue that they choose to lessen their carbon footprint and consumer load and want to live more simply by living in the city. With the rising gas and energy prices, the costs associated with one’s day-to-day commute and the costs attributed to heating and running a large house, we find economy of space becoming more of a priority for some homebuyers.  For some, choosing to live more environmentally conscious and green makes the desire of having excess rooms that are rarely used a trend of the past.

Some seek the perceived quieter life in the suburbs, with lower crime rates and cheaper and more plentiful daycare options. As well, the development of massive shopping malls featuring popular brand name and big box stores make certain suburban cost of living expenses lower and more convenient than ever.


Over and above the price of gas, commuting is a quality of life issue, especially when some commutes can take up many unproductive hours each day. Some say, if your time is money, why spend it sitting idle in traffic?

Assessing which lifestyle is better for you depends on your definition of quality of life, which once again is about perspective and personal preference. It can be influenced by the location of where you work in accordance to where you live, and your approach to life.

Living in downtown centres, in the heart of a city, with all the diverse entertainment, dining and cultural experiences you could expect provides a way of life that may interest some but not others.

As in anything in life, there will always be tradeoffs. Priorities and realities change -- for example, more and more people are able to efficiently work from home these days. This in turn impacts commuting and car ownership, and therefore, where we can live.

The debate between “urban vs. suburban” will always continue. There are no winners or correct answers. Just different strokes for different folks.

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