Why I Don't Want to Live in the Suburbs

When I think of one strip mall after another, each with vast paved wastelands for the gas guzzling consumer-mobiles that convey wage slaves to the plastic boutiques of fake vaneer wallpaper covering drywall, I can hardly conceive why I need to write this text. It seems so self evident that the endless stretches of lawns that beg for the mower known as the 'burbs should repulse any being who was at all disillusioned with consumerism, conformity for the sake of conformity, and mass media induced hypnosis.

But taking the point of view of how would I illustrate my disgust for the suburbs to one who is not so offended by the smell of such things, then my task becomes more clear. For it is not any glaring gaping hole in logic that fuels my opinions -- save the obvious that so many things in our society are driven by greed that housing is just another victim -- but a sense of engineering aesthetic. We call it "bad code smell" in the programming world.

If there is an axis about which to unmake the suburban juggernaut, I would name it the automobile. I make it not secret that I dislike cars (and detest SUVs). Granted, they're beautiful pieces of engineering. But it is the car culture and car-driven society that bother me. I'll start with the trivial and oft-repeated truth that cars further the elements of greed of the moneyed, even leading to wars, and destroy the environment. But more what I object to is the illusion of convenience that cars give. You have the freedom to go anywhere -- to all of those strip malls where you can spend more money on factory produced crap -- but watch when a driver is stuck in traffic or can't find parking and you'll witness their love of freedom turn to pleading with a hitherto unrecognized god and curses that would make sailors blush. Outside of nuances of language, I find not much different between the demeanor of a driver and that of a slot player. ANd good luck getting a driver to walk with you at your destination, or you'll have to hear protests against: "But we're parked here! We have to come back here!" I find cars to be fetters rather than agents of liberty.

No small sum of money goes into the mouths of those hungry machines as well. Tolls, gas, insurance, car payments, tickets --- not to mention the stereos, washes paint jobs, rims, and other status symbols to adorn the box you spend so much time in and thus so value -- I've seem them add up to more than a city apartment.

But I suppose my objection to the car culture has as much to do with my preference for walking and feeling part of the world as it does to any objection to consumerism. I like feeling a part of my environment. When I am walking, I can feel the wind in my face and hear the sound of my surroundings. As I write this, in a LIRR train, I can look around see my fellow people and feel like we're part of the same vast world. In a car, in the dead air conditioned air, the only connection to the outside is pictures through glass that might as well be painted with electron beams for all I can interact with them. Even rolling down the window does not give the wispy breeze of a brisk morning, but the artificial tempest of a machine moving down the road at 60 mph. Up until recently, I had been a pedestrian so long that my occassional trip in a car was a strange curiousity. Now that it has become a weekly endurance, my former disgust towards the ritual and habitual use of the beats returns.

Suburbs are monstrosities created by dependence on automotive transportation. While there are a few that manage to walk long distances to use the one railway in town or just go without leaving their house, for most suburbanites trips to the giant supermarkets and any of the slots conveniently numbered in identical stripmalls necessitate a car. They are an accident of modernity.

But perhaps the shape of suburbs, though designed for and by the gasoline engine, has more subtle architectures. There is the lawn phenomenon: often have I been pressed by those that live in suburbs (or small towns -- those that live in 'towns' make great protest that they are not 'suburbs'. I will have to equate the disease by evidence of the symptoms.) that they like the nature that is absent from cities. Looking at row after row of identical line, I do not see 'nature', but a mockery of gardening. Cities have parks that they do not pretend (in most cases) to be the great wild. Why do suburbanites carry on the charade? I like my nature wild. Witness their reaction to any wild animal that happens to wander into their protected artificiality and you'll ascertain the true appreciation of a suburbanite for nature. The trees that grow in Brooklyn or the pigeons that perch unwanted or the suburban lawn are each refugees of the death blow dealt nature by the industrial revolution. As is the leaf which breaks the promise of pretend perfection espoused by the ideal of the well-tended lawn. The peace and quiet alluded to by inhabitants of suburbs is a myth easily dispelled by the ear-splitting noise of the leaf-blower. The most anit-ingenuitive of all inventions, the leaf-blower is an archetype of American innovation. It turns the art of gardening into a droll methodical chose best done by the unwashed masses. It solves a non-problem, as the leaves that fall upon the lawn are the only spots of color or texture against the lifeless green square. It creates an environmental hazard, both by burning fossil fuels as well as by turning valuable ingredients for compost and mulch into yet more garbage for the pile. No matter -- we can dig up far-lying lands for these mockeries of gardens. And the noise -- worse than a screaming child, the leaf-blower deadens conversations with its defeaning clamor. And for what? The lawn mower is not much better, turning its owners into hitched animals every weekend in continuous pursuit of their suburban dream. How can I help but wonder if their pursuit is on a treadmill? It is remarkable to wonder how nature has gotten along without modern civilization all these eons.

The tension of conformity is not so easily constrained to the subber-stamped houses of suburbia. Walking in a city of any age, one finds a blanket of anonymity about one's self. There is no point in acting like a freak in Manhattan or doing anything else, for that matter, unless it please you, because no one will care ... or even noticed. It has all be done and seen a thousand times over and better. The city knows that it's old. Whereas the suburb still entertains some vain fantasy of the spectacle breaking the monotony of daily existence. In the city, the day's activities are the life's blood. There is no need for the spectacular when it is all around you and has grown mundane.

The anonymity that comes to suburbia comes in more insidious form. The people are not anonymous -- it is the products that claim that prize. Tomatos, drugs, dresses, all prepackaged, shrink-wrapped, shipped, filed, unpacked, and shelved for convenience to consumers as the drich draw out money as a misquoto blood. It is no lie that the same phenomenon manifests in cities -- moreso, being centers of capital -- but its dwellers will not stand for products so callously handled with no respect to choice or indviduality, save those too poor or too poorly discerning to object to the world of Twinkies and Big Macs. Even if the individuality offered is a lie and bought at great cost, gladly would I pay for that vanity that there is protest again being merely a choiceless wage-slave in someon's work-pleasure-extractor. Should I think this mere dillusion, I would flee to certain death in the remnants of the world where economy is an illusion yet unconceived.

Perhaps it is vainess of individuality that leaves the disflavor of aftertaste on my pallette after a weekend in the 'burbs. Perhaps it is growing up in a suburb and not realizing that life had depth until moving to a slightly more diverse suburb. Perhaps it is a peculiar aesthetic of enjoying walking, being with the environment, liking the chaos of nature, and enjoying anonymity that leaves me liking the city and disliking the suburbs. Or perhaps there's more to it -- some iceberg of an idea that I can see the tip of but cannot grasp. Something about the willful naivity of those that prefer the consumer culture of the 'burbs. I can only hope that my words echo my feelings and can help espouse empathy in those that wonder why I hate the suburbs.