Friday, February 24, 2012

5 Things to Love and Hate about Suburbia

I spent several years of my life commuting to school each day on city streets and underground trains, and I believe that kind of urban exposure can change a person. I wasn't an avid reader of newspapers, but I used to sit on the train and read the headlines as the passengers around me pressed their nose into newspapers from all over the world. And then I would get off the train and walk home feeling surprised that I had inadvertently been made aware of so many current events.

Sometimes while sitting on a train I would notice someone reading an interesting book and I would get off the train and walk into the bookstore that was situated across the street so I could find the book and thumb through it. There was an Italian cafe around the corner that made the softest ciabatta rolls, and I knew to the inch where to stand on the train platform so when a train pulled up I would be positioned right in front of the opening doors. I remember believing that I lived in the best place in the world. I remember packing my suitcases to move back to America and experiencing an incredible sense of loss, knowing I was saying goodbye to a place that would always matter to me. Now that years have passed I look back and remember all those feelings as being real and true. For a brief time I had the chance to live in the best place in the world. Well, one of them anyway.

I needed to sketch this brief portrait of what I loved about living in a city so that you can better appreciate why living in suburbia occasionally leaves me all droopy tailed. About every four to six months I slide into a two day funk that involves me re-tracing the chain of events that brought me to the suburbs. My thought process always boils down to this final statement: and then we had kids, the end. I don't want this post to be misinterpreted as a nasty tirade against suburbia since one's living situation is incredibly personal, based on subjective needs, likes and wants. Plus, I always come out of my two day funk by recounting how many things there are to love about where I live. I sternly remind myself to be grateful for the good things in my life and to see the glass as half full. But nevertheless I thought I'd line up the arguments for you:

High-Res Stock Photography: Family Reunion
photo credit

5 Things to Hate about the Suburbs

  • Soul-less chain restaurants and retail stores
  • You have to get in your car and drive everywhere you want to go instead of walking
  • An unspoken emphasis on being "the same" meaning that houses, cars, fashion, decor and lots of other things naturally gravitate toward sameness or fitting in. 
  • Less cultural diversity and less interest in being culturally diverse except for our town's annual international fair which is really an excuse to sell twelve dollar crepes and twenty dollar Polish key chains
  • The feeling of isolation that comes from separate houses, separate cars, automatic garage door openers and backyard fences. 
5 Things to Love about the Suburbs: 
  • The feeling of privacy that comes from separate houses, separate cars, automatic garage door openers and backyard fences. Let's face it. Sometimes your neighbors are just plain weird and boundaries are nice.
  • A large population of terrific parents who are involved and invested in their children.
  • A general feeling that cleanliness, curb appeal, and safety matter. A lot. 
  • Community walking trails and rec centers
  • A large pool of emotionally and spiritually stable women who will give you the shirt off their back in order to be a good and steady friend. 
Every time I read the first list I think, Yep, those things really bother me. And then I read my second list and think, Wow, I wouldn't want to do without any of these things at this point in my life. And the truth is that if I moved into the city, especially with little kids, my list of things to hate would probably be three times as long as my list of things to hate about the suburbs. So I guess the only solution is to always be sure to read both lists at the same time. Be fair. See both sides. And bloom where you are planted. 


  1. Katie put me on to your blog. This is a great post.

    Have you read Jane Jacobs? If not, you should. She writes about the subject of your post. Start with the Death and Life of Great American Cities.

    When you finish Jacobs, move on to The Last Harvest by Witold Rybczynski.

    After that, try Jan Gehl, Cities are for People. Gehl will give you hope!

    There are things on your lists that are not exclusive to city or suburb. It is more about design (or lack thereof) than density (although density matters because diveristy comes with quantity).

    1. Thank you so much for the book recommendations! I can't wait!

    2. You might enjoy this online book group:


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