The Curatolas owned a fixer-upper with a romantic veranda. They had a jeep-style wagon and the requisite two kids, summer barbecues with friends and chirping crickets to serenade them at night.
It was a suburban dream, and the New York couple hated it.
“We had all these ideals about what we wanted in a home,” Gerry Curatola said. “Rolling hills and country roads, lots of acreage. It was very romantic . . . but it wasn’t reality. The suburbs weren’t home.”
Many middle-class families have chosen to move away from Manhattan, where street violence is on the rise and everything else often seems in decline. For the Curatolas, however, the city was home--crime, dirt, noise and all.
“The most important element of anywhere you live is time together as a family,” Curatola, a dentist, said recently. “That’s the important priority--not commuting, fixing the house, doing this or doing that.”
Curatola and his wife, Georgia, moved back to the city last spring after less than four years in their Westchester County dream house. They couldn’t take the “good life” any longer.
For every leisurely weekend spent there, Gerry had at least 10 of the 90-minute commutes notched on his briefcase. For every pleasant morning spent with her husband Georgia endured many long, lonely afternoons.
“I think women, in particular, are very affected by a move like that,” she said, although her young daughter and son provided her some company. “I don’t play tennis and I don’t do clubs.”
Without those suburban mainstays, she said, the isolation sometimes was overwhelming. Her days were taken up in solitary journeys to the market, the dry cleaners, to her 6-year-old daughter’s school.
On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where the family now lives, neighbors meet on the elevator. Standing in line at the bank or at the deli, there’s always something to joke about. Central Park is the family’s back yard.
The Curatolas know the streets are dangerous and that the public schools are a mess, but they also know 5th Avenue’s Christmas lights, the Guggenheim Museum’s art and Carnegie Hall’s music. There’s nothing like Little Italy’s pasta or the charm of Greenwich Village on a blustery fall day.
The Curatolas want their children to know the city’s wonderful mishmash of ethnicities and eccentricities--the very things the Mitzners miss.
Barbara and Marvin Mitzner, both 44, had their child in mind when they moved out to Pound Ridge, N.Y., six years ago.
“We thought the school systems were so excellent, but they aren’t what they’re pumped up to be,” said Barbara Mitzner. The couple’s 5 1/2-year-old daughter is attending private school because, the mother said, “the local kindergarten was appalling.”
The schools wouldn’t be so bad on their own, she said, but there are other drawbacks. There are many meals her husband arrives home too late to share, the perpetual house repairs, the aloof neighbors, and having to drive everywhere all the time.
“Pound Ridge is . . . a lovely, lovely place, but it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, particularly for a couple that has grown up with the excitement of city life,” said Marvin Mitzner, who is a partner in the New York law firm of Davidoff & Malido.
“Getting out of the city didn’t turn out to be what we thought it might,” he said, adding that a lot of his friends shared similar feelings.
There are no statistics on how many families are abandoning the suburbs, but the Mitzners, who have put their house on the market, are typical of many.
Demographers predicted two decades ago that the “baby boomers” would choose either rural or urban lifestyles. This rebellious generation, sociologists theorized, would settle anywhere but in the suburbs, where most of them were reared.
The experts were wrong. When working couples started families in the 1980s, many of those who could afford it opted for the suburbs as a practical compromise between city and country living.
It’s a formula that hasn’t worked for everyone.
“We were making enough money where we wanted to make an investment,” said Deborah Hassan, who, with her husband, chose the the New York suburb of Scarsdale, where the median house price is $535,000. “Within a month after we moved out there, our neighbors put up a fence. It felt so isolated.”
Before the year was out, the Hassans and their 3-year-old daughter were back in Manhattan. “It’s not easy living in the city with a kid,” said Deborah Hassan, who works part time for American Express.
“But I have this feeling about the city,” she said. “There’s always someone in the park for my daughter to play with.”