Monday, July 18, 2005

The 'Burbs.

I grew up, until the 6th grade, on Air Force bases. Perhaps that fact explains another: that I like the suburbs. I like a little bit of lawn, and I like a suburban street in the summer time. I remember a summer when we used to get together with our across-the-street neighbors, sit on their lawn and watch TV. I don't even remember what we watched, but the grass was cool, the air got cooler as the evening wore on, and somehow TV seemed mesmerizingly entertaining because we watched it outside. At that house, when we moved in, the whole subdivision was new--it was west of Airport #2, so close to the west side of the valley that the Oquirrhs seemed, like, your backyard. We planted our trees--cherry trees, peach trees, a Lombardy poplar (known derisively as a trash tree because it grows so quickly) that was in short order the tallest tree in the whole neighborhood. We laid our own sod. It took a couple of years to lay it in the back yard, that's how poor we were. Our Vietnamese neighbors, who made the most awesome egg rolls (they'd deliver a plateful, hot, at Christmas and Thanksgiving, like other people brought cookies), used to borrow our poplar's shade to sit in during their huge family get-togethers.

I can get a little exercised by my very hip peers (maybe I'm not their peers, because I don't live downtown?) who deride the burbs. I hear the complaints, okay, I know that the word "suburb" connotes homogeneity (in architecture, in lifestyle, in politics . . .). And it's not like a tract-style ranch house is exactly inspiring, in the way that an early twentieth-century cottage is. All I'm saying is, don't stereotype my 'hood, man. You don't know me and you don't know my neighbors. Don't lay your hegemonic superior urban fetishization on me. I'll take my cool, late-night backyard with its over-planted flowerbeds, the stripmall around the corner and the school just a couple of blocks away, and the Mormon churches popping up at the rate of one every half-block. I'll take it, because I live here, and I like it.


  1. I think my resentment of suburbs stems from not ever having grown up in one and having friends who did right in your very same hood. For years suburbs ate away around the edges of our farm until my mom just finally gave out to the pressure of the money and the continual assault of developers on her phone line. Suburbs as representational of the American Dream writ large bothers me a lot, since I saw it take the sustainability right out of a community. Anyway, if my snottiness about suburbs comes off as hip, then I've disguised it quite well, as it is just a hopped up farm boy's dislike of losing good rich farm land.

  2. Never dreamed I was talking about you! I used to make the joke to my city-dwelling friends, many of whom had no Utah experience except the outlying gorgeousness--canyons, red rock country, desert--and the territory between West Temple and the Wasatch, extending only as far south as, say, 21st, that it would be easier for me to come to their houses, as it was much further to drive out to West Jordan. And they didn't get it!

  3. I grew up in Orem, which is a suburb without the accompanying "urb," so I have a definite preference now for the urban. (My favorite new part of Orem is the streetlights on every corner, which make the town feel like a stadium at night). But my preference is strictly personal and I try not to make assumptions about those who do live in the suburbs, as I never know where I might end up.

  4. Oh yes, I know the type of person well. Quite well. I'm glad you don't put me in that category.

    Is it really West Temple? For example, a person once told my Mom that she wouldn't set foot past 1300 East. Of course this woman was an East Sandite. They are a rather snotty breed over there too.

    My vision is of sustainable communities with plenty of farm land still here in the valley. I think it was very do-able. How many people are on Manhattan at any given moment? They valley, of course, has much more space than Manhattan. Isn't it more than the entire population of Utah? It would mean sacrificing water guzzling back/front yard lawns, but it could have worked. Could have.

    Now I'm just depressed. I guess what I am saying is that there is a real need for open space and farming in a culture. Divorced from it we lose our way.

  5. And on this point, theorris of the angry sun, we completely agree.

  6. I have fond memories of the burbs, like the fact that you could ride up to one end of the street and race your bike down someones really steep driveway, and that there was once upon a time such a thing as a block party where everyone got together. I like my burb here in Scotland, where people walk a lot more than they do in UT that on any given day out on my walks to the post office or to the park with my daughter, I see friends and people I know doing the same. It makes the burbs a friendlier place when everyone walks..

  7. I, too, am a child of the burbs. I have romantic memories of skateboarding down steep roads (there were no cars!) and laying out in the backyard. Our yard was big enough to stage a softball game for the neighborhood. Even in Pocatello, there were burb snobs. The people from the "old" University district, who said our sidewalks looked like they had been scrubbed with Ajax. Our favorite after school activity was going into all the houses that were being built, but were not yet finished. We'd walk around inside and use the bathroom.
    I think I fell in love with cities when I lived in Brookline, MA and in one small neighborhood I had everything I needed: a library, a liquor store, a Gap!, an indie movie theater, and the best f*ing bagels and cream cheese (homemade cream cheese! made by men who barely spoke English!) I've ever had in my life. Oh, Kuppels bagels, where art thou?

  8. I would like to move to that neighborhood in Brookline, MA. An indie theater and a Gap, and good bagels? Are you sure it wasn't heaven?!?



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