In Defense of Suburbia

I’ll begin with an anecdote.  Please be patient.

When I was growing up in the suburbs of the Bay Area, it became a preferred pastime of my social circle to gather at the high school on weekends, walk downtown (i.e. the street with shops), get smoothies, and sit in the grass of the nearby park.  If we got bored with sitting, we would play on the playground.  Mind you, we were in high school.

After we dispersed for college, this activity became a tradition at winter and summer breaks when the degree-seekers like myself returned home.  Our “downtown walks” (as we called them) were important to us: they were the method with which we sustained our old friendships and kept them new.  Into our twenties, we would continue to do this, almost as a religious rite of asserting our past into our present.

On one such downtown walk, a close friend of mine brought his college girlfriend.  She grew up in Los Angeles and had met my friend in San Francisco.  Needless to say, she was city folk.

“This is what you guys did growing up?  This is kind of boring.”

Clearly, she didn’t understand the point of our excursions.

While we were sitting on the grass expressing our contentment with nothing in particular, she went on to express her disapproval with the banalities of suburban life: the cookie-cutter homes, the lawns and fences, the lack of social recreation like bars, clubs, entertainment, the commuter lifestyle, the lack of culture…  Eventually it spun into an argument between the two turtledoves about whether it would be better to raise kids in the sterile but comfortable suburbs or the dangerous yet exciting city.

Maybe the suburbs broke me.  I’ve spent the past seven years living in one city or another, and I’ve done city things, but I always feel slightly at odds with city activities.  First of all, I never know how to dress for the occasion…

“What are you wearing?”
“A polo shirt.”
“You look like a dweeb.  Put on this button-down.  Roll up the sleeves.”
“Roll up the sleeves?  Why not just wear a short-sleeved shirt?”
“It’s the confident, but relaxed look.  Trust me.  Also, take off those damn cargo shorts and put on these jeans.”
“They’re tight.”
“Exactly!  It shows off your ass better.”
“Why am I showing people my ass?!  I don’t want to show people my ass!  Can’t we just get six packs at the grocery store and play board games with friends?”

And then there’s the night at the club, which usually involves me sitting at the bar ordering drinks for myself, wondering why the hell people choose to spend their evenings at the threshold of aural pain.

“How was your day today?”
“What?”
“How was your day today?!”

“I love this song too!”
“Do you ever get the feeling no one actually enjoys being here, but we all feel socially obligated to pretend to enjoy doing what we’re doing here because we’re afraid of finding out that happiness isn’t actually attainable via superficial friday-night connections but rather through abstract introspection as a result of unpleasantly melancholy solitude?!”
I don’t know what you just said, but I think I need to vomit!”
“Well, the bathroom is that way, between the stoically confident bouncer and the guy double-fisting overpriced imports.”

Well, to each their own.

The suburban home used to be the American Dream, but that dream is changing with my generation.  Now, the suburbs have become synonymous with bored youths doing drugs in the basement, crappy marriages hiding behind a facade of perfection, and living the banal cycle of consumerism, buying happiness in the form of pretty things that make living a life of domestic servitude a little less agonizing.

Just look at American Beauty, Simon and Garfunkel’s My Little Town, The O.C., Edward Scissorhands, The Graduate…  The suburbs are the things we love to hate – the environmental and cultural drain of society, the sheltered paradise that is somehow blocked off from experiencing the ills of “the Real World” (whatever that means).  And everyone talks about how bored they are when they return home to their little childhood suburban paradise to live under the supervision of parents who think you’re seventeen again.

Are you sure you’re bored with suburbia?  Are you sure you’re not just bored with living under your parents as a 25 year old?  Go read a book.  Or hell, write a book.  Or maybe if you’re starved for the excitement of city life (i.e. hobos crapping on sidewalks, Ethiopian restaurants, upstart comedians getting blank stares at comedy clubs), you could always just do what you did when you were living in the city – that is to say: watching TV and browsing facebook, because let’s face it: the only real lifestyle difference between living in the suburbs and living in the city is whether or not you hear sirens outside your window while watching cat videos on Youtube.

I don’t mean to bash the city.  That’s where people are, and that’s where jobs are.  They’re important for crafting regional identity and bringing individuals together to create something akin to a civilization.  But how often do we take advantage of our social and recreational resources, regardless of where we live?  We spend most of our lives in a box anyway, usually looking at boxes.  The bottom line is: the most pleasant, personable, and reasonable people I know grew up in suburbia and moved to the city, providing them with a breadth of social perspective, and even though they may enjoy the relative excitement and cultural value of city life, I always get the feeling that somewhere deep inside, they long for the quiet comfort of the ‘burbs.

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About Doctor Quack

Just another bonehead with an internet connection.
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12 Responses to In Defense of Suburbia

  1. Lyssapants says:

    VERY awesome post, and I couldn’t agree more. I, too, grew up in the suburbs in the Bay Area, and I went to college first in Berkeley and then in Boston. I wasn’t bored growing up in suburbia, nor am I bored when I go back to see family and friends.

    In fact, when I was living in cities I loved going back home because it was so QUIET and CLEAN compared to my super tiny, super expensive, noisy, dirty temporary living situation at school. I loved getting the variety of experiences, for at the very least I now know what I like and what I don’t.

  2. lee says:

    Those of us who grew up in a rural area observe much the same about anyone from the city or burbs. We enjoy getting away from our urban or suburban lives to revisit the peace and quiet of rural life, while most raised elsewhere find the environment utterly boring.

  3. I agree with Lee, having grown up in a rural area, having moved to the city, then the burbs, all back-and-forth a few times… I found a little rural haven. We’ve talked about selling and moving back to the city, but deep down, it doesn’t feel right. This has become home and we may not get to participate in all of the excitement of the city since it’s 45 minutes from home, but we have it just as good, albeit in a different way.

  4. larissa says:

    Love your post! I was wondering, do you write fiction at all?

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Actually, I’ve been trying, but it’s easier to punch out a quick two-page anecdotal diatribe on a blog than it is to develop a cohesive and interesting story for pages upon pages.

  5. I don’t know about the American experience, but I love English Suburbia, as long as I can take an occasional trip to the city. I want to garden, and I can do that in my little suburban semi-detached.Good post,.

  6. thelooker23 says:

    🙂 I love suburbs, they have the community and the wildlife; city life is attractive, but it’s a bit too crowded and flashy for me.

  7. amrithinka says:

    loved loved loved the post!
    I did my undergrad in Waterloo, Ontario, where most of my friends came from small cities and we went for picnics and walks and canoeing to keep ourselves entertained. Now that I have moved to Montreal the definition of fun is synonymous with drinking and I am already tired of it!

  8. I always love getting to read your posts. So insightful!

  9. I definitely prefer quiet and nature over the city hustle and bustle.
    This was such a well-written post!

  10. ptigris213 says:

    My early life was spent in the city of Detroit. I remember taking the bus with my mom, and walking to school. There wasn’t a bit of wildlife other than starlings, house sparrows, and rats.
    As a tween and a teen, I lived in a suburb of Detroit. Perhaps suburbs is not what you lived in, as the suburban area I lived in was all houses. No park, no place to walk downtown, no bus to take you there. You had to drive or ride a bicycle, as there weren’t even sidewalks until you got into ‘incorporated’ areas. We had wildlife of the suburban sort: robins, starlings, house sparrows.
    Now I live in the country. Well, it used to be country, where we had to drive many miles to get to a town, and many, many more to get to a city. We had no cable, we had no garbage pickup…this was living in the country. But as things have progressed, we are now able to get satellite TV and DSL, we have garbage pickup, and no, we don’t want cable, as it entails paying someone an enormous amount of money…and the consensus of the entire ‘neighborhood’ (which grew up around us, from two houses on the road to now twenty) to get them to dig a trench down our newly graveled road. I have deer routinely destroying my garden beds, raccoons try to get into the garbage (and usually do, they’re incredibly intelligent) and there’s a couple bears that live in the area. I don’t have a lawn, I have five acres of grass that needs brush hogging.
    “Suburb” is a fluid term. I wouldn’t want to live in the ‘city’. I spent two weeks in Denver, in a high rise in the heart of downtown, and being in jail probably isn’t much different. I was on the 24th floor, where the only view was of another high rise, the air conditioning units on the roofs of shorter buildings, and the occasional pigeon flew past.
    So you must look at it differently.
    Do you want the conveniences of city life: buslines, and nightlife, but crowded living conditions, where there is no wildlife, you have to walk to a park to find something green growing, the sounds of sirens and the only jobs are white collar or retail?
    Or do you want the suburbs, where it’s a little less crowded but you have a lawn to mow, need a car to get around, you commute to your job, and your neighbor’s dogs bark day and night?
    Or do you want the rural life, living in the country where the power goes out for weeks on end, a truck AND a car are a necessity, your neighbors dogs are allowed to roam and get into your garbage, (the bin you have to take to the landfill on a weekly basis) and there are no jobs?
    No matter what, it’s a balancing act between what you want and what you need.

  11. CJ says:

    I was out walking in “boring suburbia” one day. A friend called, he lived in all so exciting New York. As we talked on the phone, him telling about he crazy NY day, he kept asking me what that noise was, or why I was so distracted…It was birds singing, a group of deer off in the distance, a little rabbit running past. City living is for some, not for all. While I do enjoy visiting, I’d never want to live there.

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