My parents moved to a “planned community”, in a “gentrifying” area of Delaware a few years ago. But it seems that none of the gentry received the plan.
Suburbia, for me, and for many Americans, is one of the most suffocating organisations of life possible. There is something that simply irks people about it, but they are often unable to express the specifics without using generalities they’ve heard on TV, for example “It needs to be more human-centred”, etc. These vagaries, rather than allow us to expound upon the obvious drawbacks of our organised societies, inhibit our ability to combat the disgusting nature of American suburbs.
First and foremost, suburbia underscores, highlights, and enforces mediocrity. Everyone lives in essentially the same home, which is often covered only on the front with some sort of aesthetically pleasing siding, whereas the other four sides are bare and covered in vinyl. The floor plans hardly differ between homes. The front lawns are equally unkempt by those who have no desire to maintain the value of homes in the area. In some developments, homeowners who attempt to make their homes more individual are punished by the HOA.
Secondly, it is entirely artificial. Traditionally, homes have sprung up where an economic need was being fulfilled, e.g. fishing villages, farming villages, and neighbourhoods around banking centres. There was a particular reason that people chose that spot to house their home. Where I live, and across the US, open space is so widely available that it has absolutely no value. Land is shockingly cheap to this day, and in the West, some land is still available for cents an acre. Because there is so much space to fill in, people have gone ahead and filled in whatever space they wanted, the economic benefit of it notwithstanding. Where I live, for instance, was once hundreds of farms, all with thousands of acres. Now that the North is entirely overpopulated, and the roads cannot accommodate all these people, they have moved southwards, into developments that bought up this farmland for development’s sake. The twelve-year-old white girl in you may say, “But isn’t that a need? There’s no space up North so people have to move South, which means that there is an economic impetus to move southwards.” But to the contrary, most people here still work up North. I, for example, commute twenty-five minutes each way to work, and my parents commute up to forty minutes depending on the day. There was no economic need for people to move to this area, as there is no major industry here, aside from agriculture.
I look out my window, in addition, and see nothing but the same coloured roofs organised in straight lines for miles. This would be acceptable in, say, Italy, where red-tile roofs have a romantic quality and serve a purpose; the roofs are almost never aligned with each other, what is more, and adds a cosy sort of labyrinthine feel to it all. Here, however, it reminds one of a gaol and a planned compound.
Third, people have convinced themselves that gentrification means something it does not. Gentrification is supposed to be a phenomenon in which richer people move to a certain cheap neighbourhood, buy up much of the real estate, renovate it by adding in cafes and museums and bars, and then through these efforts raise the property value. Where we have moved, gentrification means only the last point of its definition, that property value has increased only because everyone is moving here. Yet there has been no increase of culture or accommodation of taste in the area. There is a theatre, yes, but one that has existed since the 1850s, and which is producing the same plays it has for decades. There is not much more culture to speak of. Yes, restaurants, have popped up, but this is hardly a cultural phenomenon, as they are the same as every one up North, and 90% seem to be taquerias of the most questionable nature and fast food drive-thrus.
Fourth, people have convinced themselves that by moving to the suburbs, they have moved to the country and can enjoy nature. This is flatly false. Yes, the developments boast streets lined with trees, and yes, there is grass here and there. But this is hardly nature, as it is so blandly manicured as to present a constant reminder that one is not truly in the country. The house I grew up in, also in suburbia, was a step above as it was in a forest in a very hilly area, so it was rather easy to escape from the sight of cars and houses. But even in the woods next to this neighbourhood, one can hear, from two miles away, the raging noise of lorries and SUV’s racing up the highways which split any empty land in twain. Every open piece of land, it seems, cannot be left alone, and has to be planted with some sort of chainlink fence, construction equipment, and a gaping hole waiting for a foundation to be laid for a new taco joint. Every gap between owned property has to be filled with a new highway because there are too many people on too much land over too much space trying to get to the same place.
Fifth, there is nothing in the area and a car is necessary. Because the United States lacks any reliable public transportation (looking at you, SEPTA), and because what we do have is utterly inefficient to the point it’d be faster to walk to the destination (looking at you, AMTRAK), everyone owns a car. But we own cars because the whole country has been designed so that we would need them, and not because we wanted them. GM, for example, in the 1940’s or 50’s bought out the transit administration of Los Angeles and rendered it the most inefficient in the world, so that people would buy cars instead. This spread, and soon the whole country was based on car travel, and everything was built to house cars rather than humans. This is everyone’s favourite generality, but no one can ever explain past the point itself, and it becomes a teleological argument. Why is it detrimental to have cars everywhere and to rely on them? For one thing, they make walking dangerous. Sidewalks in neighbourhoods are utterly pointless, as they follow the car paths, and not the paths humans want to take. Rather than have square corners for the ease of the pedestrian, they have curved corners for the ease of turning a car. For another, everything is spread out, by design because of zoning laws, to make walking anywhere not only unpleasant and toilsome, but also impossible. There is a convenience store a mile and a half from where I live; in a city, this would be no problem, but in order to walk there, I’d have to walk half a mile out of my neighbourhood and a mile down one of the busiest highways in this area. I’d then have to cross another, and reverse my path to get back home. So I might as well drive. In addition, cars contribute to noise as well as air pollution. No matter how quiet it is, there is always the din of engines from miles away, even at night when I’m trying to sleep. This would be one thing in a city, where it is expected and some apartments are soundproofed; but everyone who moves here says he/she wanted to move away from congested areas, so why did everyone move to a congested area and convince him/herself it wasn’t? If you really wanted to move to the country, why didn’t you?
It would be acceptable if it took me a half hour to reach a grocery store if we lived in the country, say, on a large ranch. There is a reason we live so far away from everything, and the reason is that we want to be far from people in that case. And there is, as a tradeoff, the vast beauty of a ranch with the satisfaction of labouring every day because it is what you want to do. Here, however, we have moved away from everyone only to share a wall with other people, with whom we never interact, and we have gained none of the benefits of the true country lifestyle, i.e. seclusion and natural surroundings. Yet we still live at an obnoxious distance from everything we need, and everything we need is located in ugly strip malls which are spreading like kudzu.
Sixth, because lizard people run the US and want us to live here so we’ll go insane.
That was a joke. I’m not Alex Jones.
Actually sixth, these areas are called “planned communities”. My parents were told when they moved here that there would be theatres, cinemas, cafes, and restaurants all within the neighbourhood, so that there would be a community and not merely people living within a few feet of each other. Yet none of this has arrived. Again, did no one else get the plan? How did they just assume that if they built a bunch of houses in the middle of nowhere that suddenly everyone would be living in the lap of luxury and in a new cultural centre? It’s asinine, really. If you want to live in a place that has excitement, you’ll have to move to a place with excitement. It’s that simple. You cannot force these things to appear in the middle of nowhere, where it is difficult for people to meet without making a trip of it all.
Seventh, because everyone was convinced, or rather, bamboozled by the US government that everyone has to has to has to own a home. It doesn’t matter to anyone that it’s cheaper to rent in most cases, and that some people don’t want to be stuck on the same plot of land for fifty years before it returns some profit which has been eaten away by inflation, or that some people just don’t feel like it. It’s un-American to rent. And everyone has bought this narrative that everyone has to own property since there’s so much of it. And they enforce this ideology at the cost of people living where they want, regardless of what sort of payment they make each month, be it rent or a mortgage. It leads to nightmares like where my parents live, because everyone needs to have a house, so there have to be millions of them produced in order to be filled by dutiful patriots, who will just make the streets more crowded and congest the highways, making everyone’s commute longer and more miserable.
But it’s OK, I’m out of here in September and I like to complain. I’ve been reading a lot of Chomsky, Foucault, Sartre, and German Idealism lately so I’m in that sort of mood and have been critiquing everything lately, even to the point I found myself analysing the way I make toast through a Jungian perspective. I don’t know why.
Anyway, screw suburbia. And please add anything else you hate about suburbia in the comments since I love to ruminate.