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cynthia mosher 06-30-2012 04:54 PM

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medium_natural_family.jpgWe often get emails and posts about the best places to live and raise a family the natural family living way. To try to get some definitive answers and hopefully create a resource article on the topic we want to run a poll of the best natural family living cities. But to do that we need to define the things that make a city an ideal "natural family living" place to live (for readers new to the idea please read Peggy O'Mara's What is Natural Family Living? editorial).


We tossed around a lot of our own ideas that we'd like to see in the poll defining a city as natural family living friendly, but we thought the best thing to do would be to ask you - the Mothering community. So please tell us - what things do you think make a city an ideal natural family living place to raise a family? 

luckiest 07-01-2012 11:48 AM

As far as very specific things, I would look for a city...


  • that has single-stream recycling,
  • that has a city compost system or at least promotes composting through rebates for bins or something like that,
  • that allows back yard chickens and possibly mini livestock
  • that has an active chapters of natural family living organizations
  • that has farmer's markets and CSAs
  • that prioritizes parks and recreation


I live in Austin and I think it's a great place for natural family living.  Lots of parks, farmer's markets, definite "hippie" vibe, loads of family-friendly and free activities, and there's even a big push to de-fluoridate the water.

LiLStar 07-01-2012 05:36 PM

in addition to what was already said..


lots of birth options: birth centers, natural birth friendly hospitals that allow water birth, CNMs in hospital, legal, licensed midwives for home/birth center, providers who catch breech, vbac friendly, both in and out of the hospital. 


alternative health practitioners, especially covered by insurance. good selection of MDs who support alternative vax schedules


local stores that sell slings, cloth diapers, etc


homeschool friendly

colsxjack 07-01-2012 06:25 PM

* breast feeding friendly

* lots of birthing options

* pesticide bans in all public and private spaces

* lots of options of healthy and affordable fresh foods

* great recycling, composting programs

* opportunities to take classes/workshops on green living

* great public transit

* lots of green space and lots of public spaces

* free and/or affordable family activities

* large public parks with hiking trails, bike trails, etc.

* lots of walkable communities ( good walk score).

sk8boarder15 07-02-2012 09:26 AM

 A culture that supports 


- Breastfeeding 

- Birth choice/freedom

- Natural health 

- Natural/real food. 

- Relationships among families and communities. 



We are moving to Portland soon partly becuase we feel these things are more supported there then here in chicago. 

Elana Sifry 07-02-2012 12:27 PM

Good public transportation and biking options are two that I don't see here already.   Also of course an attitude of acceptance and community no matter what your choices are.  Lots of different kinds of schooling programs and options for families wanting to school in non-traditional ways.  Then of course breastfeeding friendly, lots of birth options, good recycling programs and composting programs. 

mrs.t 07-02-2012 12:37 PM

What a great question! I am anxious to read the poll when it is posted!


My top features of a "natural" city are:


1. Green markets nearby that sell organic and locally grown produce or a CSA

2. A farm nearby where one could buy milk, eggs, honey, etc.

3. Lots of parks, playgrounds, zoo, etc.

4. pre-k through 12th grade schooling options, besides city public schools and religious private schools

5. Alternative health care, which, in my opinion, would include naturopaths, midwives, birthing centers, holisitic peds

6. No vax or delayed vax friendly exemptions

7. Breastfeeding friendly

8. Walking distance restaurants and markets that sell whole and organic foods

9. Efforts to be sustainable whenever possible

10. Like-minded neighbors who are willing to share knowledge and work with each other

Ramzubo 07-02-2012 01:20 PM

In addition to the above, I would need an initiative for the city to power down at night. Besides the obvious savings benefits, it is important to me that my family be able to experience the natural day/night cycle. I want my children to be able to see the stars at night which is a big part of natural living for me.

cynthia mosher 07-02-2012 01:30 PM

29 Attachment(s)
Originally Posted by Ramzubo View Post

In addition to the above, I would need an initiative for the city to power down at night. Besides the obvious savings benefits, it is important to me that my family be able to experience the natural day/night cycle. I want my children to be able to see the stars at night which is a big part of natural living for me.


That sounds like a great initiative! Do you know of any cities currently doing that? I know Santa Fe has a low lights ordinance for street lights for that very reason.

loveandgarbage 07-02-2012 01:33 PM

Thinking of my town (Madison, WI) as an example... the only thing I don't see mentioned is bike paths/bike-friendly streets. One thing my town doesn't have is safe drinking water (okay, it's technically safe but there are issues due to agricultural and industrial dumping) so I would put that on the list too!

Ramzubo 07-02-2012 01:36 PM

Originally Posted by Cynthia Mosher View Post


That sounds like a great initiative! Do you know of any cities currently doing that? I know Santa Fe has a low lights ordinance for street lights for that very reason.

I'm only aware of some cities with the low light ordinance you mentioned. I think that's a move in the right direction, but far too many businesses still contribute to light pollution even after closing.

foreverinbluejeans 07-02-2012 03:16 PM

  • Farmer's markets, food co-ops, healthy food options
  • Thrift stores, yard sales, builders second hand stores, and other options for reusing items
  • Clean air including environmental tobacco smoke
  • Quiet (many cities have airport noise - huge problem in Las Vegas)
  • Close to state or national parks
  • Close to body of water
  • Support groups including LLL, active Meetup community, volunteer groups
  • Natural beauty
  • Public school choices - traditional, magnet, charter, online, other
  • Homeschool support groups including secular (not homeschooling for religious reasons)

mammal_mama 07-03-2012 05:59 AM

In addition to all of the above, I would add affordable housing and living costs to make it possible for families to have one parent caring for the children at all times. Some of the cities that I've heard about being really wonderful places to live -- as far as great public transportation and so on -- have such a high cost of living that it requires both parents to work pretty much full time.

parsley 07-03-2012 12:59 PM

I would add affordable cultural events/venues where children can comfortably attend (concerts in parks, museums with children's programs that are affordable, etc...)  Not about the physical environment but it's an important part of the social/community environment to me. 


Some other things:

-opportunities for community gardens

-community reuse programs (coop stores to reuse/rehab old construction materials, old bikes, etc...)

-local artist community

-local activist communities

Peggy O'Mara 07-03-2012 05:59 PM

Clean Air

Clean Water

Medical Alternatives

Educational Alternatives

Local Food/Farmer's Markets

Homebirth and Midwifery Options


Culturally Inclusive




herbsmd 07-04-2012 08:58 PM

We have lived in the city for ten years and are raising our three children there.  I love the city for more reasons than I could probably express in a short post, but here is my list of favorites:

  • Sidewalks.  And this isn't just a safety thing--I think there's something romantic about having neighbors and passers-by walking through your yard.  It engenders a deeper sense of community in the surrounding area.  In addition to the sidewalks, we have many bike paths and bike routes that are great for biking, but also running, walking, roller-blading, and skateboarding.  
  • Proximity.  We are close to everything.  In a two-mile radius we have seven schools, one university, four libraries, at least a hundred restaurants, grocers, open markets, pharmacies (even a compounding pharmacy!), bookstores, fitness clubs, swimming pools, playgrounds, museums, theaters...the list could go on and on.  At three years old, all of my children could walk a round-trip four miles, especially if we had somewhere fun to go!!
  • Diversity.  There is a beauty to the rhythm of the city...its hum includes everyone.
  • Size.  The city is big, but we all live small.  Sharing is something that urban dwellers are used to because there isn't always enough room to keep everything that you want.  If a neighbor has it, borrow it.  Want my serger for the weekend?  No problem!!!  You can make that chic sundress pattern you've been dying to try...just let me borrow the rotisserie for our dinner party!!  In our small apartment, we're limited by the size.  If something comes in, something must go out.  In other words, if it isn't really, REALLY important, we don't buy.  And that amounts to a life of imposed simplicity.  It's something that takes a little time to get used to, but once you realize the gift, you never let go.
  • Community.  In the country, you're one with nature.  You sing to the wilderness and you think for yourself.  In the city, people sing for each other and think together.  They collaborate and integrate, and with so many hands working, the pace picks up and the work gets done.  If you love people, the city is the place to be.  Universities, museums, art galleries, coffee shops, theaters, concerts, dances, movies, poetry readings, ecology centers, political debates, and so many other things that highlight the scope of the human academy are the heart of every metropolis.
  • Three Stories.  Our city home is called Three Stories.  On each story of our house resides a different family.  I live on the first floor with my husband and our three children.  My parents reside in a separate apartment on the second floor.  On the third floor lives my sister with her husband and their two children.  It isn't perfect, but it comes very, very close.  Three Stories is, and always will be, my favorite part about life in the city.  



mammal_mama 07-05-2012 03:55 AM

Maggie -- what an inspiring post and what a wonderful blog!

herbsmd 07-05-2012 05:01 AM

Thank you, Susan!!  You know, we all moved to the city to live a more "sustainable" lifestyle.  Some people thought it was strange (don't you move to the country to compost and get off the grid!?), but I could see a glimmer of beauty in it all.  It is a lifestyle that is simple and full of sharing.  Simplicity and sustainability without having to do it all yourself.    

The lists that people have put on this thread are fantastic--but, for the most part, every city has most of these things.  The thing about cities is that they have a little bit of EVERYTHING.  If you want to hook up with natural may take a little bit of looking, but they're there.  If you really can't find them, start your own group and you'll see how popular all of the great ideas of natural parenting really are!!   If you want community gardens, give your alderman a call.  She/he'll know where they are and will direct you--most likely they're well hidden and "off the beaten path".  Or, in our case, have some small gardens on your small property (not enough to feed everyone), and become the CSA drop-off site.  You get fresh organic veggies delivered right to your door and they even pick up the weekly compostable waste!!  Bike routes?  People in the city have been using bikes as primary modes of transportation since bikes were invented!  You're likely to find a group of cyclists who can map out the best routes.  Maybe (as in our city) they've been instrumental in making the entire city bike-friendly.  All of the great ideas that you can think up...well, someone in the city has probably been thinking the same thing...and, in most cases, they're already doing it.  "Recycling" started when cities wanted to cash in on all of the money that homeless people made by going through the trash.  Collecting cans used to give an honest wage in the tens of thousands of dollars, and still does in some cities.  Just the size and scale of things in the city imposes simplicity on everyone.        


And there are ways to make it less-expensive too.  We live together with family, and that kept me home with my children until I went back to teaching a few years ago when my youngest started school.  Where there's a will, there's a way.  And the most grand part about the city is that you can find more people like you.  Communities really are the way to get things done.  We're all writing our own stories in the world...there aren't any perfect answers.  But I can say that doing it with family and friends around makes it infinitely more beautiful!!  

Do you have any interesting stories about living in the city?  It has to be adventurous working at home and unschooling your girls in the city!!!  I can only imagine the excitement!!!




CatsCradle 07-05-2012 07:05 AM

Originally Posted by herbsmd View Post

Thank you, Susan!!  You know, we all moved to the city to live a more "sustainable" lifestyle.  Some people thought it was strange (don't you move to the country to compost and get off the grid!?), but I could see a glimmer of beauty in it all.  It is a lifestyle that is simple and full of sharing.  Simplicity and sustainability without having to do it all yourself.    


I have to second this.  Living small, public transit, diversity of people and diversity of resources, etc. is what keeps us in the city.  thumb.gif

mammal_mama 07-05-2012 07:16 AM

Maggie, we've had some very encouraging experiences and some NOT so encouraging ones. We spent about a year raising free-range chickens, turkeys, and ducks in our large (double-lot) fenced-in yard (using our detached garage as a sort of barn, which we space-heated in the winter and used window ventilation and fans for cooling in the summer), and had thought we were within the legal guidelines, until Animal Control showed up, showed us the new guidelines, and took them all away. This was so heartbreaking to all of us, and especially to our older daughter who had named all of our birds and was very close to them.

The hard thing is, lots of our neighbors still raise chickens -- they just don't have as many as we did (about 15 birds total; we didn't know it was illegal to raise turkeys unless it's on farms for slaughter -- we were just eating the eggs, not the birds), and they -- the neighbors -- just haven't been officially "noticed." But now that we have been noticed, we have to be really careful. And we got noticed because our (current) next door neighbors are in business buying old, non-working cars, taking them apart, and reselling the parts (this seems to have slowed down for the time being), which has resulted in neighbors making complaints because our street is not zoned for business, many of our neighbors have no off-street parking and do not like having the spaces in front of their houses blocked by his cars, and do not like the noise. A police officer noticed our birds in our yard while talking to the neighbor about his cars and called Animal Control.


I still lean towards wanting to make life work in the city. We did have one co-housing experience that I thought was really wonderful. Our previous next door neighbors, whom we became good friends with, were having a hard time affording their rent so we invited them to live in an "apartment" of sorts that we made by closing off our living room and dining room (which already had doors). They had the use of the downstairs bathroom, we all shared the kitchen, which also has a small table, and we had our own "family room" upstairs in my office.


This arrangement was supposed to last for about six months, but our friends ended up moving to another state after about one month because of a better job offer for the husband.


My husband didn't enjoy this shared housing experience as much as our daughters and I did.


At this point, if we have the opportunity to sell for a good price (houses are difficult to sell in this neighborhood), dh and dd1 really, really want to move to the country in order to be able to raise chickens again, and maybe have a horse, too. And to not have to deal with difficult neighbors. I still love the city, even though I don't have a supportive extended family like you do...and dh and I are tentatively talking about really familiarizing ourselves with the new guidelines for raising chickens, getting signatures from neighbors, and trying to do this again right here.


Our city, Kansas City, MO is gradually becoming more and more bike-friendly. The city has just instituted a bike rental program where you can rent a bicycle in one part of the city and return it to another part, and the first 30 minutes is free. But we still have a long way to go before we'll be a truly bike-friendly city. Our public transportation system also needs a lot of work.

We do have curbside paper and plastic recycling, and we also garden and we compost (well, dh and dd1 do pretty much all of the gardening).


I love our neighborhood like I love our old house -- with all its flaws and everything...dh and dd1, not so much. When dh and dd1 went out of town for a few days in June, dd2 and I were out in front enjoying the rain, and we visited a little bit with our current next door neighbors. And dd was waving and smiling at the little boy and girl who are close to her age, and whom she used to play with when they first moved in...and after we went in, she cried about how she wanted to be friends with them again.


We'd initially been friendly with them -- but hard feelings developed between dh and the other husband/dad because when their little boy kept trying to open our gate to let our dog run out, the dad would just stand there and let him, and acted like he didn't understand English well enough to understand when dh was calling through the front door for them to shut the gate, and dh got mad and the neighbor got mad...


And I totally understand dh's frustration about the somewhat different values. But I still can't help wishing that, somehow, we could all be friends. I don't know quite how to get from where we are to where we want to be -- and I do realize I can't force everyone else onto the same page that I'm on -- but I keep hoping that somehow this will evolve into a life that we can all see as beautiful, even if it's very flawed and imperfect and frustrating at times.

herbsmd 07-05-2012 07:51 AM

Susan, I hear your frustration!  Losing chickens would be very hard for any child--I can only imagine!!!

Living together with three families hasn't always been easy either!!  We have difficult moments sometimes, but my mom and I joke that just ironing out these difficulties is like earning a new degree.  It isn't easy, but in the end you learn so much about yourself and about people in general and that kind of wisdom is something that you simply need to earn anyway.  Being candid, I have found, is always better than hiding away and not to your neighbor and let her know.  I have a feeling she probably feels the same way!  A pot of coffee when no husbands are around is one of those things that works magic in its own way.  


I think that women are the ones who create community--in general.  If we give them single tasks, men will support it as they can...but it is up to women to weave together those threads.  That means learning how to balance many things at one time is our life's work.  In a nutshell, that's what we're all doing on this Mothering website.  It is a community dedicated to the weaving of motherhood.  It has gone on for years before us and will go on as long as we inhabit the planet.  That impulse to hold our children forever, to walk with our husbands, to honor our parents, and to plant our feet firmly on the earth is a part of everything we do--and it's something that lives in women all over the world.  


Part of the beauty of the modern world is our community.  We can connect with one another from all over the world--our stories and our shared experiences can be brought together instantly from different sides of the world, from different communities, and through that connection that we all have as mothers.  Wherever you lay your head at night, you will at least have your community close by.  In the city, that community is very near.  Maybe if you move to the country, you'll connect more through the internet.  Whatever way you choose, I'm sure you'll be able to create your home wherever you land...after all, that's our job!!

Thanks for sharing!!

LoveToBeMom 07-05-2012 08:51 AM

Oh, I love this topic! I can't wait to find out the city (or cities) that meet these criteria!!! My husband is planning to go back to school and start a second career, for which we'll have to leave our current rural hometown. It's exciting and fun and challenging to think of all the options out there. Thank you, Mothering, for doing the work and figuring out the best place to live! If I have my way, we'll move to whichever city you deem the winner! 

Thanks again.

EmbraceLife 07-05-2012 09:41 AM

Love this post!  We are moving this year with the goal of living more naturally.  Moving out of a larger city!

LoveChild421 07-05-2012 11:17 AM

-clean air and water- accomplished in part by use of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, a user-friendly/family-friendly public transportation system (that's why we left Atlanta, so much smog and lack of user-friendly public transportation system)

-relatively low cost of living (low average rent, reasonably prices homes with decent mortgage rates)

-low-unemployment rate and plenty of ethical, family-oriented businesses 

-plenty of hiking trails, nature preserves, farms where families can experience nature together

-access to alternative preschools and public education options (Montessori schools, elementary schools which emphasize fine arts or world languages etc.)

-Environment which promotes and provides opportunities for community and connecting with others

-Plenty of alternative health practitioners (naturopaths, homebirth midwives, doctors of traditional Chinese medicine, etc.)

herbsmd 07-05-2012 01:31 PM

Public transportation is really important to me too.  When we were in Detroit, MI for a wedding, I was surprised to find that there is such a little emphasis on transportation.  I spoke with an urban planner not long ago and I mentioned this.  He explained that the auto industry wanted a city where the emphasis was on making it a driving-friendly city.  Because of this, and because of the down-turned economy (loss of jobs in the auto industry to compound that), the city suffered terribly.  Now they are trying to revive the city based on the public transit system.  It's a good illustration of how interconnected things can be in an urban setting.  

I love your list, Jen!! 


phathui5 07-05-2012 01:36 PM

  • Sidewalks and bike lanes
  • Options for out of hospital birth
  • Health food stores
  • Farmer's markets
  • Parks and playgrounds

*bejeweled* 07-05-2012 02:22 PM

Lots of parks and swimming pools, libraries, and great schools.

CI Mama 07-05-2012 02:38 PM

These are great lists, and I love what others are saying!


On the top of my list are: cooperative grocery store, farmers markets, community gardens, lots of bike paths, good public transportation, car sharing program, excellent de-centralized library system, strong neighborhoods with their own character & events (festivals, street parties, etc.), many public parks, many community arts organizations, ethnic diversity, gay-friendliness.


In terms of the cost of living question, what I'm most interested in is seeing that the community invests in itself, not necessarily that taxes are low (for example). And I expect to invest in my community in a variety of ways, including financially. My city (Madison, WI) is not outrageously expensive, but is high for the Midwest, and our property taxes are definitely higher than in the other Midwest college towns that I've lived in. But what we get for our tax dollars is so fantastic, I'm happy to pay it. We have amazing parks, bike paths, libraries, a jillion free or low-cost things to do with kids, excellent snow removal and street cleaning, to name just a few. We've been able to get rid of owning a car altogether because of the great alternatives in our community. I personally would rather live in a community where the cost of living is a little higher, and so I need to economize on my household budget, but my quality of life is outstanding because I have access to so many fabulous community resources.

begoniamama 07-05-2012 03:52 PM

I echo everything that has been said, and these lists are making me fall in love with city life even more. Pretty much everything that has been mentioned in this post exists in my town, which isn't 'technically' a city i wouldn't say. it's not really the country either, but it's a great mix of both. it's surrounded by farms which makes it easy to get pasture raised eggs, meat etc but has a lovely culture to it as well, with a bustling downtown. I moved here from a more urban place (very natural living friendly) where i could walk to a billion things from my house and now i have to drive into town. this alone has made me really miss the city! but we wanted land and space, and that wasn't happening for the price in the city. now at night we can see the stars, my kids will grow up with a forest/animal farm in their backyard, we grow most of the food we eat, and most importantly, my family lives 5 minutes away. In my personal experience, Austin, Portland and Berkeley are the most natural family living friendly cities i have seen. we'll see who wins!

CatsCradle 07-05-2012 04:19 PM

Originally Posted by CI Mama View Post



In terms of the cost of living question, what I'm most interested in is seeing that the community invests in itself, not necessarily that taxes are low (for example). And I expect to invest in my community in a variety of ways, including financially. 


Me too.  We pay very high city taxes in my town, but the return is amazing:  super amazing public parks, pools, ice rinks, subsidized transportation, funds for bike lanes, etc.  The city is even devoting funds to roof-top farming here (for those not familiar with NYC - we have a lot of flat roof-tops - including huge industrial complexes who have agreed to allow farming on their roofs).  You know, this concept would have been inconceivable 20 years ago, but I think the demand for green living has finally taken hold and even people who you wouldn't expect to agree to this type of stuff are excited about it.  I belong to a massive food co-op where more and more "mainstream" people are buying into the concept of sustainable living.  So much has happened since my youth (although not fast enough) but it excites me!

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