Why I Live in a City (vs. the Country)

Monday Sep 26 | BY |
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Four years ago, I got divorced and moved from the beautiful city of Vancouver, back to my hometown of Montreal.

Before that, I had spent many years living in the countryside of Canada and Costa Rica.

So when I moved back, I asked myself: should I move to the city or the country?

Many people ask themselves the same question. Perhaps you’re about to retire or relocate and are pondering the same thing.

My good friends and Renegade Health founders, Kevin and Annmarie Gianni, also asked themselves the same question, after their extended trip around the USA in an RV during the glory days of the Renegade Health Show. They wanted to know where they would live to settle down and start a family. Finally, they chose Berkeley, California.

Although there’s not one perfect answer to the question and it’s an individual choice, I thought I’d share my take on it.

Living in the Country

In case you’re not familiar, there are ten provinces in Canada, and Montreal is part of the only one where French is the only official language; that’s Quebec, and it’s where I’m from.

Like in the US, every province in Canada has a nickname or slogan. In the US, New York is the “Empire State” and California is the “Golden State.”

In Canada Quebec is “La Belle Province” or “The Beautiful Province.”

I know, what a boastful statement!

I do find that the countryside in Quebec is magnificent. There are thousands of lakes and beautiful rolling hills, with charming villages and towns surrounded by vast expanses of wild nature.

When I lived in the Laurentian area of Quebec, I enjoyed the outdoors a lot. I lived right next to a 200-kilometer old railroad converted into a bike, running and cross-country skying track.

It was an idyllic setting, and best of all, I was only 45 minutes away from the great city of Montreal. It was also very affordable, compared to living in the city.

The downsides were common to those of most small towns in North America: I had to drive everywhere. Living without a car was unimaginable. I ended up making the drive to Montreal twice a week because that’s where I could buy the best produce and where many of my friends and family lived.

Back to the City

After many years living in the countryside, I tried city life again. First, living in Vancouver, and then moving back to Montreal.

At first, I considered living in the country again, but I decided against it because I was starting a new phase of my life after a divorce. Most of my friends and family were in the city, so it made sense to live there.

After spending four years in the city of Montreal I’ve enjoyed it so much that it’s difficult for me to imagine living anywhere else!

Montreal is a very livable city. It’s relatively affordable, and the vibe is positive, youthful and gregarious. The bike network is considered one of the best in North America, next to Portland, Oregon.

Living in the city, I get to walk or bike everywhere. I rarely use my car. In walking distance I have access to health food stores, farmer’s markets, and more. I run or bike on a path nearby, and there are lots of parks to enjoy. I satisfy my music addiction by going to one of the many events going on all the time, some of which are free.

Of course, rent is more expensive in the city, but this is easily offset by the possibility of living without a car. This may be a reason why city dwellers are now healthier than people living in the countryside. More about that here.

The Triumph of the City

In the natural health world, I often hear people say lots of negative things about the city, such as the noise, pollution, and how the urbanization of the world is a “growing problem.”

It’s true that some cities in the world are a sad thing, and that we may suspiciously look at many poor people moving from the countryside to these slums in order to have a fighting chance, and improving their standard of living.

But there’s also another side to this story; cities may be the solution and not the problem to our growing ecological concerns.

I read the book “Triumph of the City” by economist Edward Glaeser.

He calls cities the human species “greatest invention,” Why? Because proximity makes people more inventive, productive and creative. People in cities consume fewer resources than countryside dwellers, and they are also healthier.

He’s a big critic of the “sprawl,” and laments the facts that Americans live too far apart and walk too little. The causes of this are politics that encourage home ownership (like tax-deductible mortgages — a truly unique feature of the American tax system), and city politics that restrict the tallness of buildings. This discourages density and forces people out of the city to the “sprawl.”

It’s an interesting read if you’re interested to hear another point of view on the topic.

Another interesting point: New studies have shown that living in the city is actually safer than living in the countryside. Your risk of injury death, which includes violent crime and accidents, is 20% higher in the countryside.

Crime is way down in most cities, compared to where it was in the 80’s. In fact, it’s at an historical low in many US cities. That being said, the risk of homicide is still a bit higher in cities, but this is offset by the higher risk of accidental death in the countryside — probably because people drive more and drive “drunker” there. See this article.

City vs. Country: Which One Is It for You?

I really don’t have an answer to give you on whether living in the city or the country is the better choice for you. Not all cities are equal and not all countryside locations are either.

To me, living in the city of Montreal is the right choice because of the proximity to people I value, activities, dynamism, health consciousness and a lifestyle that emphasizes walking.

Other people may have a difference experience based on the network of people they have in the countryside, their love of the outdoors or some other factors. I suspect each choice will come with its pros and cons.

Which one is it for you? Please share your comment below!

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


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  1. Zo says:

    Very thought provoking, Frederic, I liked this article. And I like my thoughts provoked. Especially liked the angle about crime and better health. I live in the City because I want to walk more and buy less. I also wanted to get rid of my car (too expensive to maintain, and I am now retired). I also like being near interesting people (University of Michigan campus) and hip downtowners with bustling coffee shops and conversation. When one walks, you buy less so as to avoid heavy loads.

  2. Darlena says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, but my experience has been completely different. After living my life in cities, my husband and I moved to the mountains a short drive from Lake Tahoe. We have a couple of acres with a greenhouse, workshop and gardens. We are in a small town without a stop light and just a few stores. But I have never been happier. We are self reliant and my dogs are happier and healthier too with the ability to run on our gated acerage. Why am I so happy here? Because I wake up in the morning looking at tons of pine and cedar trees and the best part is the people. Friendly and caring. I go into a city to shop a couple times a month and make it a special occasion. It is fun! I wouldn’t move back to a crowded, poluted city for anything in the world!

  3. Danette says:

    It is not overall safer to live in the city. In the countryside, I don’t lock my doors. Ever. I couldn’t get away with that in the city. Sure, you are exposed more to nature in the countryside, which can be dangerous. But what, let’s hide in the “safe” cities so that we don’t have to deal with nature? My experience of people who spend most of their lives in cities is that they are completely ignorant to nature. By living in cities, humans are quickly losing their connection with nature, and their knowledge of the natural world. Most city people do not understand simple things such as the complete food cycle (food to soil to food). They has a devastating impact on nature, because these very people will not work to preserve it, and will harm it without even knowing what they’ve done. In addition, country people do not consume more than city people. I have looked into that, and it’s not the case – at least not in Canada. Country people drive more, yes, but they also often grow their own food, and have a less wasteful mentality. Living in the country, you are often forced to conserve, so you do. In the city, people are surrounded with “consumption” – buy this, buy that. In the country, you escape this craziness of capitalism. Moreover, in the country people are friendly and helpful in a way that they are not in the city. They are more human. Cities are disconnecting people. They are making people rude and less willing to form meaningful connections.

    If something bad happens here on earth, I can guarantee you that the survivors will be country people, as they are skilled in ways that city people are not. They can survive off the land. The fact that this knowledge is being lost thanks to cities and technology is both sad and bad for the earth and humanity.

    I strongly believe that the disconnect with the natural world that comes from living in the city is damaging to the Earth. I am a climate change and natural resource management professional, and most of my peers believe that city living is the way to go. Having spent a good chunk of my life in nature, as well as many years in the city, I do not.

    • There are many types of people living in the countryside. Some try to be more self-reliant, growing a lot of their own food. But in my experience, most country people are big consumers — much more so than city dwellers. Why? Because of space. A large house and lots of space means they will fill it with stuff. Most have several cars, and their house seems in a state of expansion: building a solarium, a space for a jacuzzi, etc. They take trips to Costco and fill up. Their larger houses consume much more electricity. Most people I know in my city don’t even own a car, and if they do, they rarely use it. Electricity bills are a fraction of what they are in larger, country houses. City people may spend more on entertainment, but they can’t buy more stuff because there’s simply less space to store it! It seems to me that the people buying all the large stuff: boats, off-road vehicles, etc. — need to have the space for it! I think also that the research proves my point.

      • Danette says:

        You are speaking to one “type” of country person – and that is definitely not the type of country people I know. You have also addressed one part of my argument – consumption – but have not addressed the other, deeper and more pertinent argument of ignorance of and disconnect with nature – and the impacts that this has globally. Perhaps you are not familiar with this area of study or philosophy. I find that your argument is short-sighted, whereas mine is looking at humanity in the long-term and our relationship with our planet.

        • There are of course many types of country people, and I’m never going to say that there’s one “way” for everyone. There will always be people living in cities and people choosing country living. Some cities are more livable than others. Your other argument is of the “appeal to nature” kind, and I don’t know how to address it without going into a long-winded discussion.

  4. Isabelle B says:

    Frederic and all, Thanks – I enjoyed this article. How timely – just yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who left the city 9 months ago. She told me that she has put on almost 10 pounds. She used to walk everywhere and now she sits in her house or sits in the car. I love the countryside and nature but am rather biased towards city life. It is so important for me to be able to walk outside and see “people”! I live in Paris and we have fantastic local produce. I love going to the organic and/or farmers markets every weekend. And I walk everywhere. Of course I am a particular case since I do not even know how to drive. I am so glad that you are enjoying life in the city post your divorce. Best wishes to you

  5. Lynn says:

    I have lived in San Francisco 43 years…………..requires no explanation……..I love it

  6. Oona says:

    Two other interesting books I can recommend on city living are Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck, and End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving by Leigh Gallagher.

    The latter book deals with how suburbanites are moving back to the city and how suburbia has become a hated place. Lots of detail about how cities are being revitalized and made more livable.

    For myself, I don’t think there’s much of an argument here — the country is nice for getaways and visits, but for everyday life the city really has what people today need and crave. At a time when people are connected via Internet but less connected emotionally, a city provides the human touch as well as the security of knowing you don’t have to travel far to get the material amenities you need.

    The really giant cities in the Third World somehow manage to combine the locales for people to live in as well as shopping in a nearby area. I lived in one for several years, and coming there from Car City — Los Angeles — I was pleasantly surprised that all my needs were accessible pretty much right in my neighborhood. Even if I had to go several miles out of my way, it was still accessible via very good public transportation.

    Even furniture stores are located on urban blocks so it’s not necessary to go to a big box store with a huge parking lot to get a sofa and bed frame. The merchants of those stores may be people you pass everyday on your way someplace else, so somehow you “know” them even if you don’t. And chances are you’ve eaten at every restaurant in your immediate vicinity at one time or other.

    I heartily recommend cities! I’ve lived in three of the top five cities and my next move is going to still be within that select circle of urban areas. I love them and do not ever want to return to suburbia, even though I had a safe, nice upbringing there.

    • Eloquently said! I also question the argument that there’s less meaningful human contact in cities. You may pass by more people without necessarily talking to them, but it’s much easier to make new friends if one is motivated to go out and do something.

      • Oona says:

        And Fred, I’ve also visited your city a couple of times and am star-struck by it! (How do you say that in French??)

        If I were Canadian, that’s where I’d choose to live! Great everything and the subway is cool also. Very livable place.

  7. Kathy says:

    I really enjoyed being challenged by your perspective. I lived the first 20 years of my life in the city. Then when I married, we have lived in the country for 40 years. Even though I love it where we are, I am ready to move back to the city. I think every stage of life holds different priorities for us and maybe we should learn to listen to our inner voices. As the saying goes, “Bloom where you are planted.”

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