This post was updated in June 2013....
I have never been shy about what I believe. However as I have aged, I have tried to make certain that my opinions are well reasoned.
I try to at least take into account my own bias. Often I read a number of opinions different from mine just to get some perspective.
Still once in a while an opinion piece gets under my skin, and often it is when the author lacks perspective. Many of these pieces are written more to draw attention to actually have an intelligent dialogue. Often I suspect the author would have a completely different opinion after a little more life experience, but they don't usually let lack of experience hold them back.
The Forbes piece, Fear And Loathing Of The 'Burb, by Elisabeth Eaves managed to to get my fingers typing. I feel some sorrow for someone with such a hostile view of something she understands so poorly. Based on her one time experience of living in a suburb in Seattle, Elisabeth has this to say.
For those who rarely see the word "misanthropic," it means being someone who is a misanthrope or "a hater of humankind." My guess is that Elisabeth was to blame for own rebellion.
After that Elisabeth complains that "engaging two tons of metal when I need to fetch a dozen eggs" but goes on to say she loves small towns and wilderness. Ah lets live in the city and romanticize the country but hate suburia.
Since 2006, I have lived in an area where small towns are abundant and sprinkled between the towns are a number of subdivisions. While I was in real estate for a few years, it is not my former career that prompted me to write a response to "Could it be that the detached single-family home is a historical aberration?"
It is my experience of living in a variety of places.
I was privileged to grow up in a small town, Lewisville, NC. It had some early "suburban" developments. I have also lived in wilderness, cities, planned communities, and what Elisabeth might call suburbs. I spent a fair amount of time in her favorite city, New York, and I also went to school in Boston.
I have had good experiences in most of the places that I have lived, and I have a hard time believing someone even wrote " the detached single-family home is a historical aberration."
My experience with apartment buildings is that you get to know your neighbors less than in a subdivision or a place with townhouses.
I guess her experience in Seattle was pretty bad considering this is the opinion she renders.
A more reasoned opinion than Elisabeth's might not have promoted the idea of suburbs as being places where "everything is driving distance away." In our subdivision along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks, there is plenty of walking. It would be a rare day for several people to not be out walking in the subdivision. In the winter I try to walk two to three miles a day. Actually we talk to each other on those walks since meeting on the walks is one of the ways we communicate in our community. That would be a little different than the average city where you walk by a person barely glancing at them.
We can walk to the dock along water, to the swimming pool, the pond, or just down the street to enjoy the tall pines along the water. Not only can we walk, but we also are able to slide our kayaks into the water for a paddle out onto the river. I sometime stop to talk to other paddlers. Then there is my bicycle in the garage. Getting a couple of miles on it just involves a few a laps on the road out to the new section of subdivision.
Now Elisabeth's response might be that our subdivision is a little unique, and there is some truth to that, but there is more truth to life in a subdivision is what you make it.
We lived in a subdivision on a mountain overlooking downtown Roanoke, Va. Our kids grew up there. While they had their share of teenage rebellion, they also found some benefit from living there. All of our kids loved the fort they built one summer in the woods of a vacant lot. Sledding on our hills with neighborhood kids was something that I am sure they will never forget. Then there was the lawn mowing business that my son ran even before he was old enough to drive. It taught him the benefit of saving. He graduated college with a five figure savings account because of that work ethic that he learned in a suburb.
For many years we lived on a farm where we grew almost all of our food. We went to town perhaps once a week for things we did not grow. I actually do not see how that made us better humans than the person up the street from us today who needs a car to go five or six miles to one of the several grocery stores in our area.
While Elisabeth is happy to walk to get her eggs, she might have found more challenge in bringing home the groceries for five people. Even buying groceries at a reasonable price can be a challenge in a city. In today's economy we save a fair amount of money by buying specials at different stores. Many cities that I have seen do not have good places to buy groceries within walking distance. I know that is one of the challenges facing the city of Roanoke.
We have had the good fortune of being able to walk to a neighbor's near our subdivision on the Crystal Coast to buy our eggs. Unfortunately some racoons have decimated the hens recently but that is just life outside the city.
While Elisabeth sees suburban neighbors bitterly defending their territory, I see my neighbor who has mowed my yard as a favor more than once. I also see my friend up the street who noticed a fire in an outside light fixture of one of his neighbors' homes. He knew she was an elderly lady and required help as quickly as possible. His quick action probably saved her home. I also see children of all ages playing with friends in our streets. A lot of parents are watching over them.
I recently had a conversation with a canoe full of young boys who despite the handicap of having only one paddle were on the way to check their crab trap. I doubt you could duplicate their experience in a city.
Where Elisabeth sees civilization haters, I see people who like some space and who often farm it, and certainly take good care of it. I wonder if Elisabeth has every tasted a perfect homegrown tomato. This year the gardens around our house will have tomatoes, radishes, peppers, cabbage, beans, cucumbers, and lettuce. We haven't had to buy any lettuce since February which would be over three months. On top of that we compost all our vegetable waste and many of our paper products. That compost goes back on our gardens.
No place is perfect, but I wonder what kind of footprint Elisabeth's apartment building leaves. We live in an area where for several months of the year, we need no heating or cooling. We just open the windows. Our strawberries come from the fields a mile away. Our shrimp from the waters around our county.
We also live in an area where there is a wide variety of housing available to people at competitive prices.
Cities are not bad places to live, but they are also not the only good places to live. Having a detached home where the pride of ownership sometimes makes even the smallest place a little piece of paradise has had much to do with what has made our country great. While it might come as a surprise to Elisabeth, but we do have parks also in suburbia. In fact we are surrounded by parks.
First there is the 158,000 of the Croatan National Forest. Then there is the 56 miles of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. We also have smaller parks with some great accessible trails. And we have relatively clean water running in our rivers and sounds.
Here on the Carolina coast we even have a grass, centipede, that is environmentally friendly. Not only does centipede not require nitrogen fertilizer, it does not like it. It also requires very little mowing. The water that runs off my driveway is filtered before it even enters the portion of the White Oak River behind my home.
While city dwellers often depend on others to take care of their needs, many people in the suburbs learn to take care of many things themselves or their neighbors help them.
The arguments that Elisabeth presents remind me of the strained logic of vegetarians who believe that we should plow up all our grasslands and grow grain. They ignore the fact that much of the world's land is better off as grassland. If you plant grains on grasslands, you will destroy the ecosystem.
Monoculture often is not good for the land, and my guess is that an America without suburbs would also not necessarily be a better place.
While not all subdivisions can lay claim to having improved the environment, ours along Raymond's Gut can. Before the subdivision was built, the waters around it were choked with weeds and mud from poorly farmed fields. Now the waters here are a marine nursery teeming with shrimp and plenty of finned creatures.
There are places in the world that are not suitable for large cities. I would argue that our area of huge marshes critical to marine life is just such a place.
If Elisabeth would like to visit a part of suburbia that works, I would be glad to host her. Maybe a trip to the beach on Memorial Day might work for her. She could even drop by our pool party and figure out that there are nice people living in suburia. Our she could visit with us at our church and perhaps enjoy a Fourth of July hamburger or hot dog.
She might also find that a little research beyond Seattle might change her perspective.
If she cannot visit, maybe reading about the Carolina coast would help.