The ‘burbs

2007/09/18 at 09:08

Our McMansionI usually hang on pretty much everything Fred Clark says on his blog, but his recent post about suburban sprawl is the exception to this rule.His thesis is pretty simple: suburban living sucks. He throws out all the usual arguments: soulless cookie-cutter homes, long commutes, poor home quality, etc.
I see where Fred is coming from. Until about age 30, I felt the exact same way. In my case, my over-simplified view of the ‘burbs was born of ignorance. I grew up in the country, and then lived as a young adult in Europe and in older Austin neighborhoods around the UT campus.
Now that I’ve lived in the ‘burbs for a decade, I see the situation differently. I’m not saying that Fred’s accusations have no merit. Rather, I think he only sees one side of the story. Let’s take the issue of poor quality suburban home construction. I hate to tell him, but that’s been a fact of life in Austin since the first ‘burb opened up over 100 years ago–the neighborhood next to UT that I lived in during college, incidentally, that’s now an expensive, desirable urban neighborhood.
Another issue that isn’t so black and white is community. The stereotype is that suburbanites don’t know their neighbors. In our case, however, I know many more neighbors here in the ‘burbs than I did in the in-town neighborhoods we lived in. To large extent, I think you get the level of community that you expect, wherever you live. We made a conscious decision to put down roots in Pflugerville. Except for work, we live our lives here: home, schools, church, etc. As a result, for instance, we can’t ever go to the grocery store without running into someone we know. That certainly doesn’t feel like the soulless, anonymous suburbs that Fred and others imagine.
I agree 100% that suburban sprawl is not a viable long-term option, primarily due to the reliance on automobiles. And yes, I’m contributing to it. But the factors that led to our living where we do are many and complex. You just can’t reduce it to a few paragraphs of screed, as Fred has done.