There are many reasons people move into Hoboken: taverns, restaurants, art, shops, festivals, waterfront parks, and 50,000 spirited neighbors. If that’s not enough, Manhattan is just a 20-minute, $2.25 train ride away. The town practically sells itself. Yet, for new parents the age-old question rears its head: Should they give it all up to move to the ’burbs?
Nowadays, it seems new parents are staying longer than they used to. So why are some parents choosing urban over suburban?
Recently inducted school board member Jean Marie Mitchell has a unique perspective. In fact, Mitchell left the suburbs to move into Hoboken in 2002.
“I came from Lincroft, N.J., in Monmouth County,” said Mitchell. “We had an acre of wooded property, two-car garage, spacious four-bedroom home with a huge backyard and deck. There was an elaborate wooden swing set in the back. My son used to sit on that swing set by himself and I'd watch him. There were children in the neighborhood, but the homes were far apart, and by the time I got home from work the other children were already inside. When we moved to Hoboken, his back yard became Church Square Park, which was full of children and new friends. I now could leave work at 4 p.m. and be with my son by 4:15.”
Mitchell’s son attended Calabro Primary School and was involved in many recreational activities. Mitchell said she would not have been able to attend his baseball games if they still lived in Lincroft.
“We are somewhat anti-suburb as it is a foreign concept to us” – Jaime Nicotra
“I swapped expansive suburban space for more quality time with my son,” she said. “I couldn't be happier.”
School board ticket Kids First campaign manager Deirdre Wall said, “I knew a couple who left with their toddler to move to the suburbs. They wanted the garden. They bought a house and then moved right back. It was way too much work.”
The founder of a social networking group called Hoboken Mommies247, Sarah Himmelbaum, said there’s a long list of reasons that mommies stay in Hoboken longer.
“Hoboken is like a Disney World for a lot of new parents,” she said. “Moms have amazing resources here that I believe they want to take advantage of for a longer period of time. Half the battle is not feeling alone as a new parent or a new mom in particular, and in Hoboken, you are not alone. The length of stay, I believe, is a direct result of the resources provided to parents in Hoboken.”
The other side of the coin
Several real estate agencies have run seminars for families considering the suburbs. Last year, Empire Realty Group began running a monthly and sometimes bi-monthly event called “Hoboken to the Burbs.” The events are organized by Brian Murray, Nick Costantino, and Todd Filipps.
Murray said the seminars usually draw people who were already looking to leave, and they offer brief presentations from real estate agents from more suburban towns.
Murray said that newer construction may help people stay in Hoboken.
“Newer buildings, elevators, two-bedrooms, parking spaces, all contributed to people being able to stay where there were no housing options prior,” said Murray.
He said that when people leave, it’s usually for space, for just the “Norman Rockwell picture” of suburban lifestyle, or different schools.
According to the U.S. Census, in 2000, the number of children under age 5 in Hoboken was 1,232. This was in a population of 38,577. Hoboken saw a near 30 percent population surge by the most recent 2010 Census, as developers completed many new buildings. In 2010, the number of kids under age 5 nearly tripled to 3,388 out of a population of 50,005.
Keeping them in the schools
For years, it was common for many families to leave Hoboken when their kids reached school age. In fact, a 1994 New York Times article described the trend as “Hoboken: Having it all, and then leaving it.” Nowadays, some newcomers speak of keeping their kids in the elementary schools or for longer.
Since the mid 1990s, Hoboken has had public charter schools in addition to the regular elementary schools. There are now three charter elementary schools and one charter high school.
A recent publication in The Wall Street Journal set tongues wagging at the school board this past August.
The article compiled data from Trulia Inc, an online residential real estate site, and offered two charts: America’s “least attractive” and America’s “most attractive” school districts. Hoboken topped the least attractive school district chart at number one, but there were only 10 towns cited in the list.
The story says: “The communities that are the least attractive to parents with school-age children—or the districts with the lowest ratios of 5-to-9-year -olds to 0-to-4-year-olds — tended to be densely-populated communities that are popular with young professionals and students, yet have high real estate prices. These include Hoboken, New Jersey — which has only 39 children at elementary school age for every 100 preschool-aged children.”
One parent said that the Journal didn’t consider that Hoboken is considered an urban Abbott “special needs” district. An Abbott district is a school district in New Jersey that, in order to comply with a series of state Supreme Court decisions (Abbott vs. Burke), must get state funding to provide an education that’s as good as in wealthier communities that have higher property taxes. The state funds free pre-K programs in Hoboken, so some parents may take advantage of those programs and then leave. There are 31 Abbott districts in the state.
Hoboken resident Young Cho, who has been here since 1999 and has a daughter in pre-K, attested to the free pre-school being a benefit. “We are really lucky to have free pre-school here. I’ve lived here a long time and for awhile there was a doggy period. Then the dogs disappeared and people had young kids. The amount of children has exponentially increased.”
Currently Cho is applying to charter schools in Hoboken for her daughter.
Is the grass greener?
Whether it be due to space, schools, or a longing to return to their roots, there is still evidence that some will choose the ’burbs. The 2010 census goes from 3,388 kids in the under 5 group to 1,323 in the 5-9 group and 841 in the 10-14 group.
If you are like resident Jaime Nicotra, this may be due to a possible expansion of your family.
“The only reason we are looking to move from Hoboken is [living] space,” said Nicotra, who attended one of Murray’s seminars. “We have two children. We do not know if we will expand our family further at this point.”
Still Nicotra, a Brooklyn native, called moving to the suburbs a concept that her and her husband “loathed to make a reality.”
“We are somewhat anti-suburb, as it is a foreign concept to us,” she said.
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.