Suburban living

Another classic jeremiad invieghed against suburbia. This one is a TED talk by James Howard Kunstler.

It’s not that I disagree with what he says, but I live in suburbs and grew up in suburbs–and so I have some thoughts about them.

Kunstler explains that the suburbs develop in the US as a way of escaping the urban blight of the industrial revolution. Obviously they explode in the 50s and 60s along with cars and highways. And they just keep on going/sprawling.

We moved to this house 18 months ago. Before that, we lived in town in Cortland. We moved b/c my wife got a job up here at the local community college, and we decided that of the two of us, it made more sense for me to have the longer commute. We also were not that enchanted with the Cortland public schools for our kids.

Anyway, we didn’t want to live in the burbs. We started by looking the country, somewhere more between our two jobs. But the funny thing about the country is that there aren’t a lot of homes there to buy. We made offers on two, but no dice. We looked in the city of Syracuse, but we were concerned about the school districts, especially post-elementary school. We also had to wonder if a house in Syracuse was a good investment or not. We were still willing to keep looking in the country but we were under the gun once we sold our old house. And then we started thinking about our kids and how there wouldn’t be a lot of potential friends nearby if we got a house on a country road.

So, in the end, the suburbs was the place where there was a market of homes for sale in decent school districts. And yes, it’s a car culture, but we’d be driving just as far if we lived inside the city limits. It’s not like Syracuse has some massive public transportation system. Meanwhile, in the 18 months we’ve been here, a Wal-Mart superstore and a Lowe’s have gone in within a mile of our house. Target will be here in October another mile or so down the road.

Needless to say, property values have gone up in my neighborhood.

I would love to live in the kind of neighborhood Kunstler describes, where I could walk to an outdoor cafe, browse a little bookstore, and buy vegetables from local farmers. And send your kids to a decent school. You could do that in Ithaca, but I couldn’t afford to live in Ithaca. You could do it in Skaneateles, but that’s also too expensive. You could maybe do it in the University district of Syracuse, but you’d have to send your kids to private school, which I can’t afford either.

I realize that the suburbs are still the American dream for some. To me, they’re a middle class trailer park. Show me somewhere else within an hour of our jobs with decent schools that I can afford to live.

I suppose this is Kunstler’s point. We need to make living towns that function, were you can have a job, send your kids to school, and walk to the things that make up your life. Because he’s right. I don’t think the suburbs I’m in are worth saving. The people are, obviously, but the place is a non-place.

One reply on “Suburban living”

I think one of the things that makes it so hard for people to leave Nebraska is that you can afford to live near stuff – work, school, grocery, bookstores. I’m in Lincoln, and I walk to work, walk to one of several ethnic markets, walk to get food, walk to the library. It’s going to be really hard to give that up when it’s time.


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