Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Keep Parenting Cool

Last week I came across a blog titled "The Suburbs Don't Suck After All".  As a rabid cityphile I found myself cringing at most of it, and I was irritated that it was filled with excuses. Despite my fervent city advocacy, I get the appeal of the suburbs. I really do. There are a lot of kids around, and the schools are better. There's a lot to be said for what the suburbs have to offer. So if you live in the suburbs and love it, wonderful. Excellent. I'm thrilled that it's what works for your family. I say this with zero sarcasm even if you're reading sarcasm into it. I promise. 

Living in the suburbs does not work for me. The biggest sticking point for me is having a commute or having to drive everywhere. The idea of living where I have to drive everywhere makes me want to gouge my own eyes out, and it's not the life I want.  I can't imagine it. But the aforementioned blog post instead of focusing on some positives of the suburbs mostly feels like a defensive attempt to justify why this woman feels like she sold out. Kids change our lives, and it's okay to make the decision to move once you have kids. But you can still have an ideal neighborhood for your kids in the city. Moving to the suburbs is merely an option. It's not the only one. 

Also there are different types of suburban communities. There are still suburban communities with a downtown that are walkable and have lots of amenities. Those are different. My deal breakers is the cul-de-sac with nothing around but houses. The worst is if I can see a brand new subdivision from the freeway. Ouch.

Her reasons the suburbs don't suck are below followed by my response:

Reason: "There's plenty of room for all the stuff."

Why it's BS: I live in a 3500 square foot house half a mile from downtown. I once made fun of a friend who lives in the suburbs for her bonus room, and she made fun of me for having a bonus floor. Touche. Before this house we lived in a large 4-bedroom, 1800 square foot house in an urban neighborhood. There's room for the stuff. Terrible excuse.

Reason: "Kids can experience the freedoms we did as kids."

Why it's BS: You can do that in a city neighborhood. There's no reason why you can't. I know lots of friends whose kids run around city neighborhoods. Also our freedom is called walking. We walk to my son's daycare. We walk to dinner and to play. I would argue the confines of a car to get everywhere is the worst prison of all.

I did this work project when my son was six months old. This is a temporary park in a parking lane. Looks pretty free to me!
Reason: "A sense of community is truly felt."

Why it's BS: We have some of the best neighbors we've ever had. We clear one another's sidewalks, we talk by the fence, we all look out for one another. They watch our cats when we're gone. They bring me food when I'm sick. Saying a sense of community only exists in the suburbs leads me to believe this person just had crappy neighbors.

Reason: "You will not be shamed for your gas guzzling mini-van or SUV."

Why it's BS: I have a gas-guzzling SUV. Granted I don't drive it much, and we got it because we have huge dogs. But I love the space in my car. Nobody has ever shamed me for it.  But I love it more because I'm not in it 10 hours a day shuttling my kids TO THE CITY TO DO THINGS.

Reason: "The schools. Let me repeat, the schools!"

Why it's BS: Yes, suburban schools are almost always better than inner city schools. That point is accurate. But it's because historically we built the suburbs to escape racial and poverty issues and let our urban schools decay. So my son may go to private school. It's a decision we have not yet made. I'd rather him go to public school, and it's a tough decision. But hailing suburban schools like this is ignorant. We've all decided to let inner city schools go to pot by abandoning them. At least be less gleeful about it.

Reason: "Life feels easier."

Why it's BS: Oh stop it. Come on. You're not "obligated" to attend every urban event or gathering. We attend some, and we don't attend some. The important point is that we are close enough to enjoy them in walking distance. Our downtown neighborhood is quiet and peaceful. Life couldn't get easier.

My front porch on a summer afternoon. She's right - life is clearly not easy.
Reason: "Our forgotten cool lives are just a short drive away."

Why it's BS: Again with the driving. Add this to the tally of hours spent driving from the suburbs to the city. Also being a parent doesn't mean you can't be cool. It simply takes more work. My son has been to dozens of cool downtown restaurants and bars. At the age of two he's traveled to 18 states. Living in the city isn't what makes someone cool. It's a nebulous property that is different for everyone. For me feeling cool and living a life that I find exciting takes more work, but don't blame it on the city. If you don't want to live an urban life that's totally fine. I know cool people who live in suburbs and lame people who live in cities. I find making excuses lame. 

Reason: "Matcha lattes are gross."

Well obviously. She's totally right on this one. 

When we had our son people kept asking when we were going to move to the suburbs. The answer is never. Not because there are not benefits, but because that's not the life we want for our family. I want my son to be a proud part of our downtown community. I want him to know walking is just a part of what we do. I want him to see people who are poor and look different than him and know that we aren't living in some homogeneous society of upper middle class white people. Those things are important. 

There are a lot of vibrant and beautiful neighborhoods in my city, and this blog makes me defensive on their behalf. I am an advocate for cities. Lord willing my son will be too. 

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