Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rural Ideal, Suburban Compromise

For those who spend quantities of time philosophizing about lifestyles, suburbia is almost universally reviled. Large tracts of similarly designed homes, each set on its patch of lawn, seem for many people to epitomize the problems of isolation, conformity, mass production, consumerism, or whatever the bugbear of choice may be. And yet, suburban life remains persistently popular.

Having spent the last month building a large raised vegetable bed and putting in this year's expanded garden, such that I can now look out on the garden with my morning coffee in hand and not with satisfaction the growth of the tomato plants and the strangely obscene orange flowers of the zucchini and butter-stick squash, or go out in the warm evening when I return from work to gauge the progress of the pair of grape vines and the climbing rose bush, the explanation for this does not seem strange to me. There is, it seems to me, a desire that a great many of us have, despite our city-based jobs and cultural tastes, for a home and small plot of land we can call our own.

A yard to mow or landscape or turn the children loose in. Space to have a pet larger than a fish or hamster. Streets which are comparatively free of cars so that kids can tear around on their bicycles and scooters. Enough space between houses that one does not hear the pacing of the upstairs neighbor at midnight, or the morning arguments of the couple next door. Arguably, these desires originate from an inborn desire to live closer to the land, and in a smaller community, than modern urban society makes possible. Our instincts tell us that land is vital to us, and that we should live with a small group of people who are "safe", "our kind".

However, if your career depends on living near a large city, and your cultural ties similarly draw you to a city large enough to provide fellowship with the other 1% of the population which shares your interests or background, actually living in a village or agrarian setting is not a realistic possibility.

And thus the attraction of suburbia, which grants its residents a stand-alone house and enough yard to give privacy and some sense of touching nature, while at the same time leaving them able to commute to their jobs, belong to a church which only claims membership by a minority of the population, enjoy bookstores and ethnic foods and all the bustling variety which an urban center provides. Suburbia represents a compromise between our natural desire for land and local rootedness, and our cultural and economic desire to take part in city life.


Catholic Teacher Man said...

You really hit the nail on the head in this post. That's exactly how I feel about my home. I live about 28 miles NW of Houston. I hate the commute, but I live close to my parents and my oldest brother and his family.

Tomball, TX, is semi-developed, so while it has all the accoutrements of a developed area, you don't have to go far to see huge plots of land with cows, goats, chicken, horses, etc. Giving your children that sort of experience in addition to those you outlined in your article is priceless.

Suburbia is indeed a compromise. I hate films like "Revolutionary Road" that demonize my life. It isn't the ideal rural existence, but it will have to do for now. :)

mrsdarwin said...

Space to have a pet larger than a fish or hamster.

And yet our own pets, the two cats, live indoors, and we're always searching for the ideal place to put the damn litterbox. Maybe we could solve the problem by kicking them outside. :)


We go every so often to Tomball, and our girls always enjoy the drive past the fields.

BettyDuffy said...

There are some very real benefits of Suburban life as well. I am often wistful for my old neighbors, and living in a neighborhood; a safe road with slow traffic where kids can ride bikes, and the so-called "village" of eyes looking out for the well-being of the little ones. Rural life can be very lonely, and difficult if you're not on the family farm. Plus, all the mowing...

BettyDuffy said...

...which is also to say that there is a reason people were so enticed by town-life and the industrial revolution... the hopeful promise of leisure at the end of the nine to five.

BettyDuffy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jordana said...

There are definitely benefits to suburbia, however, it seems as if most of the modern suburbs have exactly the problem of neighbors far too close at hand and very little land (or land with far too many restrictions on how you can use it). Some of those houses are spaced so closely together that it seems as if one could really reach out and touch someone.

And suburbs are also some what in the definition. I live in the suburbs -- the suburbs of 1900. I suppose I'm actually fully urban now, but we still have plenty of land to grow a garden and the added benefit of living close to my husband's work and within walking distance of a grocery store or three.

CAMama said...

O.K, I am one of those people who hate, loathe, despise suburbs. In California they have epitomized the sprawl that has ruined CA. What is the point of having "land" (for most folks it's barely enough for a swing set) when you spend most of your time driving to and from home? I know it's probably my own hang-up about being close enough to hear other's toliets flush and phones ring and the fact that I grew up on twenty acres. We are fortunate that we live in a rural area on five acres and my husband's job permits him to work from home. Yes, I'm spoiled, but I wish every family were, especially with the prevalence of nature deficit disorder.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a thoughtful post. Your writing reflects the debate going on in our household--as a former city girl, I have had a love-hate relationship with our suburban home, but a recent hospitalization of my husband's convinced us not to move out to a more rural setting--we will "make do" here, with the yard and space we have! I love your raised garden concept!

JMB said...

I live in a small bedroom community 11 miles from the greatest city in the world - NYC! We have sidewalks, houses are typically built on 1 third or 1 quarter acre, with front porches, neighborhood schools, parks, libraries, post office, stores, all within walking distance to the downtown train station. On a typical nice day you'll see a few moms with kids at tow waiting for Dad to get off the midtown train. People don't believe me when I say this but I wouldn't change my densely packed town for anything. I love that my kids can go downtown with their friends after school and hang out at the pizza. I love that my friends will tell me if they saw my son in town. I love that my 2nd & 4th grader can walk to school by themselves every morning.
Country is great to visit. But I'm a social bird and if I was just left to my own devises, geez - I think I'd go nuts.

Kate said...

Ha! I wonder if the appeal of the suburbs has any relationship with the lack of appeal of the cities. So many american cities (and forgive me- especially texan ones) are built for automobile, not pedestrian, and so even living in the city you don't get the 'in town' advantages of being close to everything.

I think a small town is pretty much ideal. I grew up in the country, now live in a (very walkable and interesting) city, and have enjoyed both. Ideally, I'd like my kids to be able to bike around and walk around to get places but be closer to rural life than they can be here, but to me that says "small town", not "suburbia". The bedroom community JMB describes sounds ideal...and the fact that it centers around a train line to the city rather than catering to the auto culture probably has a lot to do with it's viability.