Rural Ideal, Suburban Compromise
For those who spend quantities of time philosophizing about lifestyles, suburbia is almost universally reviled. Large tracts of similarly designed homes, each set on its patch of lawn, seem for many people to epitomize the problems of isolation, conformity, mass production, consumerism, or whatever the bugbear of choice may be. And yet, suburban life remains persistently popular.
Having spent the last month building a large raised vegetable bed and putting in this year’s expanded garden, such that I can now look out on the garden with my morning coffee in hand and not with satisfaction the growth of the tomato plants and the strangely obscene orange flowers of the zucchini and butter-stick squash, or go out in the warm evening when I return from work to gauge the progress of the pair of grape vines and the climbing rose bush, the explanation for this does not seem strange to me. There is, it seems to me, a desire that a great many of us have, despite our city-based jobs and cultural tastes, for a home and small plot of land we can call our own.
A yard to mow or landscape or turn the children loose in. Space to have a pet larger than a fish or hamster. Streets which are comparatively free of cars so that kids can tear around on their bicycles and scooters. Enough space between houses that one does not hear the pacing of the upstairs neighbor at midnight, or the morning arguments of the couple next door. Arguably, these desires originate from an inborn desire to live closer to the land, and in a smaller community, than modern urban society makes possible. Our instincts tell us that land is vital to us, and that we should live with a small group of people who are “safe”, “our kind”.
However, if your career depends on living near a large city, and your cultural ties similarly draw you to a city large enough to provide fellowship with the other 1% of the population which shares your interests or background, actually living in a village or agrarian setting is not a realistic possibility.
And thus the attraction of suburbia, which grants its residents a stand-alone house and enough yard to give privacy and some sense of touching nature, while at the same time leaving them able to commute to their jobs, belong to a church which only claims membership by a minority of the population, enjoy bookstores and ethnic foods and all the bustling variety which an urban center provides. Suburbia represents a compromise between our natural desire for land and local rootedness, and our cultural and economic desire to take part in city life.