City vs Country – How London wins
“When are you moving out of London?”
This question seems to emerge annually at the first frantic pulling on of last year’s shorts and t-shirts. The sun shines and with it an inference that country dwelling is a wholesome and therefore better choice for families. It’s not only friends and family who pose the question but many Londoners themselves. And for good reason, the quest for a perfect life, fuelled by Instagram feeds of England’s green and pleasant land, rattles even the most entrenched London family.
While there are those who fall resolutely into the rural camp or the urban one, there are many more who mentally occupy a middle ground, wishing they could cherry-pick the best of both worlds. While taking brown envelopes from neither estate agent nor tourist board, here is how and why the capital is the place to raise your kids.
A succession of little villages
When out-of-towners discover we live in this amazing city, they think we live in the City, or, at least, at Piccadilly Circus. Our corner of West London is, in fact, a little village and your corner might be another. This green and leafy metropolis is a succession of such little villages and those in the privileged west are spoilt by the river, parks and square gardens that are our playgrounds. In fact, West London’s proximity to both the West End and the West Country makes it the perfect middle ground.
London is a (if not the) big cheese as far as global cities go. As one friend put it, “Ultimately, whatever anyone says, London still, and always will, utterly rock!” The culturally rich, cosmopolitan, tolerant, each-to-their-own, prevailing London attitude means our children are racially colour-blind, linguistically flexible and wholly accepting of human life in its myriad forms. They are aware of their tiny but vital stitch in the vibrant London blanket. They are happy inhabitants of one of the most famous cities in the world, where there are important life lessons around every corner.
Property prices aside (I realise I’m sidestepping the big one here), London living has some financially favourable advantages over a move out. This city is where the big bucks are made and London jobs pay more (for the most part) than elsewhere. You only need one car (and die-hard urbanites not seeking rural respite might argue even one is superfluous). The human warmth (literal and metaphorical) of 8.6 million+ people means the capital’s ambient temperature is always higher than elsewhere, which in turn means cheaper heating bills. And the gardens, oh our city’s glorious oases of green cost us nothing more (in time or money) than the taxes we are obliged to pay anyway. The outstanding State schools, world-class hospitals, and leading galleries and museums are ours for the taking. And when the city calls us to part with our cash, it’s often to buy the best the world can offer, be it food, theatre or yoga teachers.
The real clincher for city living is our connection to our environment and how we move within it. Paradoxical though it may seem, our children may be physically fitter and more engaged in their surroundings than their country counterparts. They walk, scoot or bike everywhere, noticing the changing seasons and life form around them. They absorb the awesomeness of their city while being in it, as opposed to being driven through it, and, as such, enjoy untold freedom. They are streetwise and peoplewise, engaging with their fellow Londoners, who are true citizens of the world. Out-of-towners, on the other hand, risk being hostages to their cars, whether it’s the school run, the city commute or, worse, both.
When we start on this crazy parental journey, there is comfort to be sought in pushing buggies together, in walking off the baby blues and blubber, sheltering in cafes, popping into shops and each other’s houses and playing in the park. There is solidarity in numbers. As our newborns grow, we are able to grow through opportunity. As our children develop independence, we are able to maintain our own. Living in London doesn’t make our children pallid or unhealthy. Nor does it render them more money-oriented or spoilt. On the contrary, our leafy corner of the capital enables them to live happy, well-adjusted, social childhoods, to become true citizens of the world. Who doesn’t like a bike ride where the start, middle or end involves an ice cream?
The diversity of life is ours for the taking. Everyone can become someone and normal is an expansive word that encompasses food from the four corners of the world, football to free running, fine art to flamenco shows. As another friend enthused, “all the ‘old’ people I meet in London are so alive and interesting.” Variety really is the spice of life.
The best of all worlds
But what of that summer need to escape the city? Nowhere are there more opportunities for summer schools and courses, relaxation and entertainment for our children, with or without us, than in London. But sometimes swimming in the Serpentine before work (really, you should try it) or weekend picnicking in Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park (you haven’t been? You must!) don’t feed the need for a rural fix. While living in the capital grants us the best of all worlds for most of the year, there is always a need to duck out and enjoy a different sort of life, just for a while.
Time then to sweat your assets. If you are one of the lucky ones who owns your London home (let’s continue to sidestep the monstrous property expense conundrum), there’s a high chance you can make money renting it out. And when the last of the summer rosé has been drunk and day-to-day family life must resume, London is where it’s at. For, as Samuel Johnson said (in less gender-enlightened times), ‘Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” There, then, is my response to that pesky moving out question.