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Ode To The Suburbs

I grew up in a suburb, and there comes the point in your youth when you decide they are lame.  You’re not where the ‘action’ of the city is, nor do you have the wide-open spaces and freedom of a more rural setting.

Before I got married I lived in a condo along Toronto’s lesser-used subway line (the University-Downsview line).  While it wasn’t downtown Toronto, the nearby subway let me access the core of Canada’s largest city, and Eglinton had some more upscale businesses that spoke to some of the glamour Toronto had to offer.  There was a handy nearby running trail, but you’d have to think a little about cycling – lots of intersections with traffic lights or stop signs to slow you down.  The running trail was too crowded for higher-speed cycling.  I’m honestly not sure how to evaluate how kid-friendly the neighbourhood was overall, but I know my condo did not have a backyard.

Our current residence in Abbotsford BC is pretty rural.  The space behind the house is huge and the air is always fresh (ok, maybe some manure smell sometimes).  We don’t let the kids leave the property, as big trucks are constantly whizzing by (did you ever see Pet Sematary? Don’t).  Even when my wife and I go out for a walk, we either drive to a second location or wear a high-visibility safety vest or other illumination to be seen by drivers passing by.

All this to say, I love the suburbs.  The suburbs have a dark history,  where the way they were planned was to encourage racial segregation and block access to education for marginalized groups. I’m hopeful, that, in spite of this history, as long the residents of a suburb can represent a good portion of the community’s diversity, the benefits of a planned suburb can be enjoyed by all. Here are 10 Things I Love About the suburbs (this list represents my best experiences, and when suburbs are done right).

    1. Sidewalks

    If you've ever been a pedestrian in a space that didn't feel safe for pedestrians, you probably won't take a nice sidewalk for granted again.

    2. Bikes, Skateboards, Scooters, Inline Skates

    Between those sidewalks, some paved multi-use trails, or even streets that aren't too busy, you'll see people moving under their own power, getting fit and protecting the environment.

    3. Parking

    In spite of the previous points, if you use a car to get around (like so many do), having a place to put it is hard. Whether it's driveways, garages, carports, or simply pulling up in front of the house (as you do when visiting a friend), it's generally a safe, stress-free experience.

    4. Parks and Playgrounds

    Good for kids to play, or adults to get exercise. Increase the green space we need to keep the air clean.

    5. It's a Threshold

    In the book 'Mostly Harmless' Douglas Adams describes happiness as a Lake House. A state of being on the verge of two different states of being. A Lake House is by the water, yet on land, which explains why it's such a desirable piece of real estate. A suburb is the boundary condition of being near a city (and its amenities) and a more rural space (with its natural benefits).

    6. Backyards

    It's nice to have a little green space of your own.

    7. Noise

    Both urban centres and rural settings have sources of noise (nightclubs, trucks, tractors, farm animals).

    8. Sports Fields

    Softball, football, and soccer are all ways to stay fit, have fun and join your local community.

    9. Utilities (including Internet)

    Infrastructure can be more easily maintained in the suburbs. In the city, digging up a road or accessing subterranean equipment can mean disrupting critical commercial operations or working around important landmarks. In the country, there might not be that kind of infrastructure at all (unreliable power, no high-speed internet, your waste goes to a septic tank you have to maintain).

    10. It's been idealized by modern pop-culture

    I saw a post lambasting the movie American Beauty - a masterpiece of 90s film where the idea of working a corporate office job and living in the suburbs with a family caused enormous ennui. For millennials, the world of having a steady job with benefits and a roof over your head seems like an out-of-reach fantasy. It's how many people in Western society grew up, and what they still ultimately aspire to.

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