Jul 032014

suburban-sprawlI really really dislike the suburbs. I grew up in the suburbs and I didn’t have a happy childhood, so that’s probably in part psychological. But the suburbs are a cultural wasteland. I find them barren of anything new or exciting. Everything is cookie-cutter, all of it feels like a fake plastic façade. Neighbors with painted-on smiles trying to fit in, hiding anything that doesn’t match the old Rockwell paintings. They feel hollow, and I hate ‘em. There is no place as isolating as suburbia.

I moved out as soon as I could, moved into a multi-family building with three floors, three neighbors against three walls and another below me. I still carried my isolation and loneliness with me, but it was a start. This is gonna sound kinda pathetic, but give young-me a break, I was only 19… I was so painfully alone that first night in my own place that I dragged my mattress over to the front door. I lay as close to the crack in the door as I could and let the human sounds of my neighbors going about their lives lull me to sleep. It was comforting.

You can’t hide behind polished images and fake lives when you live that close to so many people. (Well, maybe you can, but it’s a lot harder) And if any really serious shit goes down, your neighbors are right there to call the cops or whatever. Yeah, we don’t actually talk to each other or really acknowledge each other – when you’re tight in like that it’s best to let everyone just be. But it’s real in a way suburban living isn’t.

Not to mention that suburban living is monstrously inefficient. I don’t just mean that massive waste of radiating away all that heat in the winter, and all that cool in the summer, but that’s part of it. Energy bills are ridiculous for single-family houses. You know how much you save by sharing 3-6 walls with other people? Keeping that heat/cold amongst yourselves rather than just sending it out into the wild? The surface-area-to-person ratio is much better for multi-family buildings. No, what I’m really talking about is the insane waste of space. Yards are getting tighter nowadays, but still – think of the land area taken up four single-family homes! If that was consolidated into a three-floor multi-family building you could easily get five times as many people into that space. The resulting sprawl is unconscionable. How many thousands of additional miles of roads, sewer, and other infrastructure are required to support that? How much land has to be converted from wild human-capacity-supporting environment to lawns and pavement? This is how we get rat-holes like Los Angeles.

And that isn’t even the worst cost of sprawl. The worst cost is the uncounted millions of man-hours lost every year to commuting, one of the most hellish experiences people subject themselves to daily. Which also comes with an additional cost in billions of gallons of gas burned annually, and the pile-on costs of that, but I consider those less awful than the loss of hours of life on such a massive scale.

All of which is to say, after 16 years away, I’ve bought a house in the suburbs. :/ (Fortunately only about 2-3 minutes further away from work, but still…) It is an experiment, as the on-going life-satisfaction of my SO will be severely hampered if we don’t at least try this. For her, I’m willing to try this out for three years. Let’s see if it’s not as bad as I remember it, or if she doesn’t actually need it as much as she’s thinking. Check back with us in three years’ time. :)

  5 Responses to “Suburban Life”

  1. Grew up in an inner city. Thing I missed most when moving to the ‘burbs many years later? The sounds of traffic. It’s unnerving not having that almost seashore-like susurrus at the edge of hearing.

  2. The most ideal living arrangement I ever had was living in a fraternity house.
    The biggest advantage of dormitories over apartments is that you have a room to sleep in and be private, but you don’t have your own space to eat and cook and live. The most convenient place to eat dinner or study or relax is not alone, it’s with a group of people you know and trust. It’s much less work than living in a house, and I got to live with and spend every day with friends.
    I don’t want my own home or apartment, I want to live in a dorm for adults.

  3. Good luck

  4. It has been five years. How do you feel about it now?

    • Oh wow, that’s a heck of a throwback. Thanks. :)

      In terms of energy-use and land-use, I still thinks suburbs are almost unconscionably inefficient. However I now realize that they are an attempt to use geography to force less-dense living environments for people who want a secluded lightly-populated feel within spitting distance of a large metro area. This has costs, but it’s hard for me to say “What you want is bad” to people if their wants aren’t bizarre and also don’t directly harm anyone not involved. So I understand their existence on a deeper level now.

      I also have discovered I don’t hate all suburbs per se. I hate the aesthetic of new suburbs on an visceral level that actually makes me feel disgust/anxiety. Things like identical cookie cutter houses and lawns, flat landscape, and no trees (in Colorado you don’t get trees unless they’ve been planted and nurtured by humans). It feels like a wasteland. However, older suburbs, especially those closer to the mountains with many hills, feel downright pleasant. The houses are varied, the roads wind a bit, and most importantly – there are lush, very large trees everywhere. It’s a welcoming feeling.

      So I’m not as anti-suburb as I was before, though still a bit so.

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