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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The 'Burbs

I used Matthew Yglesias's blog entry as a jumping off point to talk about how children's fortunes are used as a rhetorical tool to bolster reactionary politics and shut down discussion. One way or another, though, the issue at hand seems to be The Suburbs: Are They Really That Bad?
Some people argued that there is some validity to people's, especially parents', concerns that drive them to the suburbs. There is nothing wrong with wanting good schools and less crime. Many people move to the suburbs because their housing costs are cheaper. And the suburbs aren't really white anymore. These are all good points, but I don't think they really change what I'm saying.
First of all, the meanest thing I said was that the suburbs are grown out of racism. I think that this is true, though not the whole story, of course. Yes, there are plenty of diverse suburban neighborhoods. And frankly alot of that is the result of the sudden affordability of certain suburbs. But affordability is hardly the issue in alot of cases. Here in Austin, the price of a house in a perfectly decent city neighborhood is roughly the same as it would be for a middle class suburban neighborhood. My boyfriend and I are shopping around looking to buy a house in the city and moving out of our house that's on the edge of town, and we're actually looking at houses that are valued at up to $40,000 cheaper than the one we live in even though they are bigger. Add to that the money that we're going to save from not commuting every day to the city at $2 a gallon of gas. Money is an overblown issue in alot of cases.
People say, well, it's a safety factor. The suburbs are alot safer for kids. But as Ygelsias points out, kids are more likely to get hurt in the suburbs due to traffic issues. As for crime, alot of these neighborhoods that we are looking at moving into have only slightly higher crime rates at worst, but usually it's about the same. When I say that I think that "safety" is often code for racist beliefs, I don't mean it lightly.
But it's more than racism that affects attitudes about city vs. suburb living here in Austin. I also brought up conformity, which is just as big, if not bigger, an issue. God knows you are more likely to meet colorful characters in the city. In fact, one of the primary joys of living in the city is having interesting people to gossip about as neighbors. But colorful doesn't automatically mean scary. And I have trouble believing it's actually good for kids to grow up where everyone has roughly the same goals and beliefs. I couldn't tell you about the beliefs of my neighbors in my suburban home of the last year, but I can tell you that they apparently all have the goal of owning a BMW, from the way they have proliferated since the interest rates dropped. I miss having at least one pot-smoking hippie neighbor who loves his Volkswagen van.
Conformity is the rule here. It's hard to find good places to eat or hang out, but chain stores are the rule. The nearby mall causes traffic jams on the weekend; people find it hard to believe that I haven't been in one for more than in a year. There is a certain safety in conformity, in knowing what's always coming up next, but I just can't see that it's good for kids.
We'll be out of here and back into our beloved city in a couple of months. After that, I guess it shouldn't bother me that people choose the suburbs for their own reasons anymore. Except that their very existence is causing the city serious problems. If it wasn't for people commuting back and forth, our air pollution wouldn't be as bad. If it weren't for expressed distaste with the idea of having to ride on the same public transportation as those of us from more, um, "eclectic" neighborhoods, we would have gotten ourselves a light rail, cutting down on drunk driving if nothing else. People move to the suburbs in a mass movement of white flight, and then create separate school districts so that they don't have to pay into our school system, making the "bad" schools they were supposedly fleeing from actually bad. The suburbs are more open to corporate chains moving in and creating a crunch on our beloved local businesses. They raise children in sheltered enviroments and then release them into the wild, meaning that my friends and I get the occassional joy of fending off drunk frat boys who think that because we are female and out of our houses means that we are willing to sleep with any guy who asks.
No, I don't have all the solutions (except that rich school districts need to give money, lots of it, to poor school districts). But I am sick to death of being coddling and understanding the mentality that creates the suburbs and proliferates in them.

7 Comments:

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