a little big life in the city
Once in a while, Rob and I will get the idea that we need to move out of the city to a bigger place. I'm not always sure what triggers it - sometimes it's roadworks outside our window or maybe it's just one of those days when you want space and silence but there's always someone or something there. When this happens, I have to pause and remind myself why we have chosen to live in the city, live in a small space, and live a little differently.
Our apartment is in a turn-of-the-century heritage brick building. It was one of Wellington's first hotels. It is in the heart of the city. You can walk to the beach, the mountains, the waterfront, and shopping and restaurants are literally outside our front door. Demographically, couples with dependent children and a dog don't generally live where we live. 14.5 percent of households in the city are made up of couples with children compared to 43.9 percent in all of Wellington. Almost half of the residents living in our part of the city are in their twenties and only about two percent are under 2 years old. But why? I would say it comes down to three things - space, noise, and lifestyle.
Our apartment is 90 metres squared and single level with two bedrooms, one bathroom/laundry, and open plan kitchen/dining/living. Beyond a shared foyer, lift, and mailroom, our building does not have a common areas like a gym or pool. We do not have an outdoor area. We do rent a parking space with a small storage space attached. The average size of a house in New Zealand, based on floor area, is 149 m2. We're living smaller than the average and going without an outdoor area.
Space is the big issue which may prevent people from raising a family in our city. With babies and dogs, comes a lot of stuff - cots, prams, high chairs, toys. We manage this pressure simply by trying not to have too much stuff which is the hardest thing. Cutting down on stuff is a constant work in progress. If we need to have an item, it has to be small, ideally foldable, easy to store, and not an eyesore if we're going to be looking at it all day. We apply these rules even more stringently with kid stuff because there's so much plastic gaudy stuff for kids.
People often tell us that once Aro gets older, we'll need more space. I assume they mean that we'll need an outdoor area. I won't lie - I dream of a little patch of grass to grow flowers and veges. It would be nice to build Aro a little treehouse too. An outdoor area might actually be the only thing that would tempt me to move. Right now, Aro is crawling and climbing. When he needs to burn off steam (which is all the time!), I take him out to the library, Capital E, or Te Papa if the weather is bad. If the weather is good, we're spoilt for choice - the beach, lots of playgrounds and parks, walks up the mountain. As for me, I have a lot of indoor plants!
Mental space is a little harder. On those days when you want peace and quiet but the space is occupied with people, little creatures or stuff, the main solution is to go out - have a coffee, go to the art gallery, or sit in the library. Rob goes mountain biking. Lately, I've been heading to hot yoga classes.
As I previously mentioned, it's sometimes hard getting peace and quiet when you live in the city with your family in a small apartment. There's the thumping from the neighbours upstairs and the constant hum of city noise outside. In the weekends, there's sometimes loud parties in the building next door and every Saturday an outdoor food market sets up on our street complete with music and entertainment. I love how the city is alive and buzzing but I don't always love the noise that comes with it.
Thankfully, the noises don't keep Aro up. We use white noise to mask sounds while he sleeps. It works a treat. My noise tolerance is pretty high because of years spent living in the city. Yes having a baby has knocked it down a bit, in that I crave silence a lot more than I ever have. I never realised just how noisy and chaotic life would become until I had a kid. Perhaps that's part of why families move to the suburbs - it's a lot easier to relax and unwind after a busy day chasing after your little one when there isn't a jackhammer outside your house.
Whenever that jackhammer is going or when there's just a few too many fights breaking out on the sidewalk at three in the morning, I always think to myself, We're living in the city. This is a small price to pay for the amazing city life we get to lead.
Let me open this with a quote:
Okay, Wellington isn't London but I get what Samuel Johnson is saying. Cities are full of life. Life is weird and messy and noisy and frightening and dirty and sometimes awful but always always wonderful. It challenges and questions and nothing stays the same. This podcast by Colin Wright about suburbia strikes that chord. For me, the little big life we get to lead with Aro and Chester in the city beats the minor stresses noise and lack of space. In the city, there's always someone to chat to, interesting things to look at, and delicious things to taste. We don't need to hop in a car and sit in traffic to get anywhere exciting. We just walk out the front door. That's the way we want to live.