A Suburban State of Mind: Part One

Whither, Suburbia

Let’s face it—most of the United States looks alike, at least with respect to residential zones. A stale and predictable sameness, in which one can tell the state only by the “Welcome To …” signs. Pennsylvania morphs into Ohio, which changes into Indiana, which becomes Illinois, its predictable blandness stretching for hundreds and hundreds of miles. A few regional quirks—adobe in New Mexico, saltbox in New England—but, as a general observation, you’ll find the same brick ramblers and overly roofed mini-mansions in Maryland as in Minnesota. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in America’s suburbs.

Not Dead Yet

For years, the media has been trumpeting the Death of the Suburbs. While suburbia is less attractive to more urban-focused (and mobile) millennials, the demise of the subdivision hasn’t happened yet. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he’s still building developments to sell to good little girls and boys. Our current low gas prices aren’t exactly sending suburbia’s denizens to the Big Bad City (and in the case of some cities, like Indianapolis, their morphologies and relatively low population densities are on the far side of what one typically associates with an urban environment). No, the suburb hasn’t died yet.

I Am One of Them

I am a suburbanite. I have a brick ranch house—classic American architecture—in a mature subdivision. I have a front yard (with one silver maple and one saucer magnolia) and a back yard (with two silver maples). I have a fence. I have a two-car garage and, unlike some of my neighbors, I can actually fit two cars in them, assuming I move the snowblower from its current at-the-ready position. I CHOSE to live here. And in many ways, I like it very much. There’s room for my herb garden. My patio holds a grill and a smoker, the former practically required in a development. I have a deck so I can sit outside when the weather permits, drinking my morning decaf or an evening cocktail. I can have people over for dinner without having to worry about parking. I can walk on the sidewalks or bike in the neighborhood streets for a quick burst of exercise. This. Is. Pleasant.

A Death March Toward Conformity

For many people, the word “suburban” connotes a certain blandness and conformity. The houses are designed by builders, not architects. Interiors full of too much stuff, poorly assembled trinkets made in China or perhaps old cans or boxes that “might come in handy someday”. Two-and three-car garages so full of junk that fitting in a bicycle is problematic, let alone a car. Indoors, the same wall décor or family pictures in frames probably purchased at the same Walmarts or Targets. The lives lived are the same as well—the same sports teams (formerly football, now likely soccer) or, increasingly, the same electronics and video games played indoors. Dining at the same Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesdays or Chinese buffets that inhabit strip malls differing in appearance not at all from those three states away.

And Yet I am Not One of Them

Is that characterization correct? After all, I live in suburbia and I am decidedly noncomformist (single, unapologetically childfree, intellectually driven, and agnostic for starters). Many, perhaps most, of my friends (as offbeat as me1) live in suburbs. Am I unwittingly buying into a stereotype, despite intellectual gifts? Or do I just have a knack for finding the outliers? Granted, my own neighborhood is a bit of a university ghetto, with faculty and staff comprising a substantial proportion of my neighbors. The academic milieu is known for attracting “unusual” types (although that, too, may be a bit of a stereotype, as I know plenty of colleagues living white-picket-fence sort of lives2).

In Search of, If Not an Answer, Observations

I think. I like to think. I like to question. I’m curious. And I’ll be looking. And posting about suburbia again in the future. Observing not only my own low-density, single-family-home neighborhood, but others as well. Ciao, until I write again.

1 Life is too short to spend time with intellectual dullards and shallow thinkers.

2The Academic Stereotype—that’s the subject of another post!