City Vs Suburbs Essay About Myself
It’s September 11th, so of course, the great New York City is on my mind. And I thought it might be a good day to have a city-related conversation. Last month, I shared a home tour featuring a city apartment in Chicago, and in response, received several requests to start a discussion about how and why people choose to live in a city, versus a suburb, versus a rural area. I love that idea! Especially because this is a topic that comes up frequently among my friends and siblings.
Our year and a half in Colorado, when we lived in a suburb of Denver called Centennial, was our most true suburban experience. The house we rented had a two car garage. The streets in our community were wide and easy to navigate. Everything we could possibly need or want — schools, pediatrician and dentist, movie theaters, the mall, Target, restaurants (both sit down and take out), hardware stores, rec centers — was only a few minutes away by car. We never had to think about parking. Ever. Or pay for it. It was always easy to park. There was a ton of green space, yard space and park space. The kids in our neighborhood could play outside freely and safely. Ben Blair and I would often comment how life was designed to be easy there, and we truly enjoyed living there.
That said, our entire time in Colorado, we were constantly house hunting in downtown Denver! And in its closest neighborhoods as well. Turns out I like the action of a city. I like access to the restaurants, the museums, the instant variety of people, places and things. I was drawn to housing converted from old warehouses and factory buildings. I liked the walking district in Denver and the downtown festivals and events. I liked that public transportation is plentiful.
And I found I had some sort of emotional resistance to settling down in true suburbs. But I could never really pin point what the resistance was. Because I could honestly see how convenient life was in the suburbs, especially for a family of our size. And conversely, how inconvenient it might be in the city — the lack of parking, the tiny + expensive grocery stores, the smaller living spaces. It seems like the suburbs should have been a no brainer, but they weren’t.
Then we moved to France, and we got a taste of rural life. Our house was surrounded by fields, far outside the little town. Knowing my fondness for cities, I had no idea I would like it so much. But I did. Life moved slower. Because it was inconvenient, we ran fewer errands. And when we did run errands, we went as a whole family because it was practically an event. It was quiet in the countryside. We could see the stars. We ate most of our meals at home. The kids interacted with their peers at school, but at home (and we were home a lot) their friends were their siblings. Our family grew closer than we’ve probably ever been, which was a completely unexpected perk.
And as you know, now we live in the city of Oakland. Our neighborhood is somewhere between an urban and suburban classification. You can walk to most of what you need, or you can just as easily drive. You do have to think about, or search, for parking, and generally pay for it, but it’s not as hard as dealing with parking downtown, or in San Francisco. It’s definitely not as easy living as suburbia, but it’s also closer to the city center and all the perks a city offers. It’s very easy for us to get to any happenings in Oakland or San Francisco. For us, it feels like a good compromise. And it reminds me of the neighborhood we lived in in New York, called Tuckahoe — it also always felt somewhere between city living and suburbia to me.
Speaking of New York, I’ve heard it’s a popular place to retire. Apparently, it’s ideal for an older couple. Everything can be delivered, and you never to have to drive!
Obviously, not everyone gets to choose. Work location and housing prices determine these decisions for many, if not most people. But let’s pretend. If you did get to choose, if you could get to work conveniently from an urban, suburban, or rural location, where would you live? Where would you raise your family? And have you ever surprised yourself — maybe tried city living, thinking you’d love it, and didn’t? Or moved to a sprawling rural farmhouse and then missed your tiny city apartment? I’d love to hear your stories.
I’d also love to hear how you made your decisions — I know some people have a ton of angst about moving from the big city to the suburbs. And others are terrified about moving from the suburbs or countryside to the big city.
Lastly, as I alluded to above, my personal classification for true suburbia is never having to think about parking. How about you? What are the earmarks of suburban life in your mind? Or urban life, or rural life?
P.S. — My dad’s birthday was on September 11th. We had a little discussion about that last year. Images from the New York Wooden Postcard DIY.
The 2012 census reports that young people are desperately trying to move to urban areas, where they can walk, cycle, or take public transport to jobs, restaurants, schools, and arts centers. But older people aren't moving out, so there's even more of a real-estate crunch than usual. These days it seems as if folks prefer heading to an actual downtown with small independent stores, sidewalks, parks, a diverse community and tiny cafes than to an anonymous mall where every store and eatery (can't actually call them "restuarants") is the same.
I wrote a piece recently extolling the virtues of having grown up in a suburban neighborhood [http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-barreca-nothing-wrong-with-sub... and I meant every word I wrote. When I declared that those of us who grew up swimming in those cheap above-ground pools in the backyards of friends should stop apologizing for our neighboorhood-of-origin, it was from the heart.
It's not hip to be from the suburbs, after all. But a lot of people are all shy about their upbringing and, in the original article, I play with that idea. The piece is funny (I hope) and it examines the issue from a perspective a whole bunch of people (I hope) will be able to share.
And yet there's also another side. A 700-word essay isn't enough room to get the shadow-side of a story into the picture, so I thought I'd bring that up here, for readers who are interested in the city vs. suburbs argument.
Not every memory of the "Leave It To Beaver" life lived on the outskirts was happy.
Maybe what moving to the suburbs really meant was that your mother had successfully nagged your father into abandoning a perfectly reasonable apartment building where there was a superintendent (the "super" was sort of "The Man of the Building" and there was no need to have an individual "Man of the House") to take out the garbage, fix the toilet, and shovel the snow. Your dad, when moving to the 'burbs, had to agree to assume these responsibilities himself, along with accepting a commute to his job which entailed driving on highways so overcrowded that during rush hour, they looked like Ford dealerships.
And what if your mother was making your father an adjunct member of the family by asking him to move away from the place he worked? What if it meant giving up her job to do it? So what if he had to leave at six in the morning and return home after dark? She had her own washing machine and she could hang her clothes on the line (remember the ritual of hanging of clothes on the line? Remember when people described a day as being a good day for doing the wash?).
She didn’t have to schlep baskets of laundry to the basement or, worse, to the Laundromat. Her world became more self-contained. She didn't live where people heard each other's arguments or, for that matter, love-making. Maybe she wanted a place where people didn't have to sleep on the fire-escape to find some cool relief from the summer night's heat.
She didn’t have to worry about her kids crossing the avenue in traffic, riding bikes on busy streets, or getting hit by a bus. There were no buses. Maybe your mom had to learn to drive but maybe she then didn’t go very far.
(My mother, for example, was too timid to make a left turn. I’m absolutely serious. Everywhere she drove, my mother figured out a route where she only had to go right. It could take fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes longer, but she didn’t care. A left turn would involve a level of assertiveness she simply could not master.)
Maybe life became a little too self-contained.
Apart from the occasional barbeque or Little League game, neighbors lived separate lives.
There wasn’t much talking over the fence or yelling out the windows—at least not when sober. Loneliness, like crabgrass, became a problem many women waited for their husbands to handle and solve.
I loved growing up in Oceanside on Long Island. The good public schools, enormous and crowded as they were, provided an education that made me the envy (and the tutor) of many of my provate-school peers when I ended up at an Ivy-League college My parents had made the move to the surburbs so that their children--my brother and myself--could have a better life.
And we have.
But my brother raised his three kids in the city and I now live in the country; my two step-sons and their families live in cities.
I'm grateful for the move my parents made, but the sacrifices they put themselves through, emotionally and individually? These I'm only now beginning fully to understand and I wonder whether, at the end of their lives, they believed it was worth it.
I hope they did.
But whether in 700 words, or in 700 years, I don't think I'll ever be able to figure out if they might not have led happier, better lives had they stayed in the rough, noisy, abrasive, invigorating world of fire escapes and other people.