Sunday 29 July 2012

In Defence of Suburbia

When we first moved into our house, as so many people do, we had a housewarming party so we could show off the single largest purchase either of us had ever made.  One of our friends made a comment which has stuck with me over a decade later.  Clearly missing a tact-filter, she announced that only "soul-dead materialists bought homes in the suburbs" and that just looking at the rows upon rows of similar houses gave her the creeps.

I was understandably hurt at the comment and it's come back to haunt me periodically.

Although neither soul-dead, nor overly materialistic, I like living in the suburbs.  I like having a lot of green space around me.  I like having five different small parks less than ten minutes walking away.  I really like not having to hear my neighbours through the walls but still being close enough to chat periodically or wave hello to.

I can't deny the sameness of the houses but to dismiss them as the real-world equivalent of the ultra-conformist Camazotz houses from A Wrinkle In Time misses the point.  Everyone personalizes their home, one way or another.  The lower cost of mass produced houses means that more people can afford them than if each had to be individually designed and built.  This means we get a greater cross-section of people in our neighbourhood.

I'm thrilled that my children will grow up hearing a plethora of languages and being familiar with a wide variety of different cultures.  And we're doing it without being crowded into a tiny apartment.  I think the old complaint of the suburbs being uni-cultural no longer applies and you're more likely to have uniform demographics in the rural areas my friend was upholding as the more morally acceptable choice.

The suburbs were initially sold as the benefits of a small town while still being close to the city.  I prefer to think of it as having the best of both a small town and the city.  We have access to all the greater resources and diversity of an urban environment while still having some breathing space and a friendly immediate community.

I've lost contact with that particular friend over time and sometimes I wonder how she's doing on her rural property, an hour's drive from the nearest movie theatre and Chinese restaurant, with its mice and insect co-habitants and the charming scent of manure from the dairy next door. 

And I'm suddenly cool with being part of the materialistic set.

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