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 and at least take into account my own bias. I read a number of opinions just to get some perspective. Once in a while one of those opinion pieces gets under my skin, and often it is when the author lacks perspective.
The Forbes piece, Fear And Loathing Of The 'Burb, by Elisabeth Eaves managed to do get my thoughts going. 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.
I hardly know where to start. First off, I have spent the last three years working as a real estate agent in an area where small towns are abundant along with a number of subdivisions. However, it is not my 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 am 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 of Bluewater Cove, there is plenty of walking. It would be a rare day for several people to not be out walking in the subdivision. Actually we talk to each other on those walks since we live in the same 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. No only can we walk, but we also are able to slide our kayaks into the water for a paddle out onto the river. 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. My favorite activity aside from kayaking is swimming a few laps in the pool, but it is a little early for that.
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.
While Elisabeth sees suburban neighbors bitterly defending their territory, I see my neighbor who mowed my yard as a joke a couple of weeks ago. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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 in Bluewater Cove can. Before the subdivision 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. Perhaps she would like to attend our subdivision's Memorial Day pool party.
She might find that a little research beyond Seattle might change her perspective.
If she cannot visit, maybe reading about the Carolina coast would help.