I really really dislike the suburbs. I grew up in the suburbs and I didn’t have a happy childhood, so that’s probably in part psychological. But the suburbs are a cultural wasteland. I find them barren of anything new or exciting. Everything is cookie-cutter, all of it feels like a fake plastic façade. Neighbors with painted-on smiles trying to fit in, hiding anything that doesn’t match the old Rockwell paintings. They feel hollow, and I hate ‘em. There is no place as isolating as suburbia.
I moved out as soon as I could, moved into a multi-family building with three floors, three neighbors against three walls and another below me. I still carried my isolation and loneliness with me, but it was a start. This is gonna sound kinda pathetic, but give young-me a break, I was only 19… I was so painfully alone that first night in my own place that I dragged my mattress over to the front door. I lay as close to the crack in the door as I could and let the human sounds of my neighbors going about their lives lull me to sleep. It was comforting.
You can’t hide behind polished images and fake lives when you live that close to so many people. (Well, maybe you can, but it’s a lot harder) And if any really serious shit goes down, your neighbors are right there to call the cops or whatever. Yeah, we don’t actually talk to each other or really acknowledge each other – when you’re tight in like that it’s best to let everyone just be. But it’s real in a way suburban living isn’t.
Not to mention that suburban living is monstrously inefficient. I don’t just mean that massive waste of radiating away all that heat in the winter, and all that cool in the summer, but that’s part of it. Energy bills are ridiculous for single-family houses. You know how much you save by sharing 3-6 walls with other people? Keeping that heat/cold amongst yourselves rather than just sending it out into the wild? The surface-area-to-person ratio is much better for multi-family buildings. No, what I’m really talking about is the insane waste of space. Yards are getting tighter nowadays, but still – think of the land area taken up four single-family homes! If that was consolidated into a three-floor multi-family building you could easily get five times as many people into that space. The resulting sprawl is unconscionable. How many thousands of additional miles of roads, sewer, and other infrastructure are required to support that? How much land has to be converted from wild human-capacity-supporting environment to lawns and pavement? This is how we get rat-holes like Los Angeles.
And that isn’t even the worst cost of sprawl. The worst cost is the uncounted millions of man-hours lost every year to commuting, one of the most hellish experiences people subject themselves to daily. Which also comes with an additional cost in billions of gallons of gas burned annually, and the pile-on costs of that, but I consider those less awful than the loss of hours of life on such a massive scale.
All of which is to say, after 16 years away, I’ve bought a house in the suburbs. :/ (Fortunately only about 2-3 minutes further away from work, but still…) It is an experiment, as the on-going life-satisfaction of my SO will be severely hampered if we don’t at least try this. For her, I’m willing to try this out for three years. Let’s see if it’s not as bad as I remember it, or if she doesn’t actually need it as much as she’s thinking. Check back with us in three years’ time. :)