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Author Topic: American suburbs  (Read 718 times)

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Offline BeorningTopic starter

American suburbs
« on: October 06, 2013, 01:47:03 PM »
Okay, this may be a silly question, but... what's up with American suburbs? Are they really such a horrid place to live in?

I'm asking, as I was reading a book recently... and I ran into a description of suburbs that made them look that way. As in: suburbs are soulless, conformistic, bland, boring... And I've seen that kind of opinions quite a few times in American fiction.

So, is it true or exaggerated? Are American suburbs really like that?

Offline Oniya

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2013, 02:52:31 PM »
Having lived in the suburbs most of my life (I'm in a technically urban area now, and spent a stint in a 'rural'-ish area before this home), it's not so much horrid as - dull.  Slums would be horrid.  Many suburban developments have 'homeowners associations' that keep people from doing creative things with their houses, most of which are designed according to a few very similar blueprints, and the developments themselves are usually just far enough from anything more interesting than a strip-mall to make finding stuff to do on the weekend almost impossible without a car. 

(As an introvert, I spent most of my teenage years in my room with a book, or down on the computer.)

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2013, 03:20:23 PM »
I was wondering: is it a popular choice in America, to live in a suburb? If American TV is to be believed, it's where most of the typical families live...

Also, how far (on average) is a typical suburb from a city?

Overall, American suburbs tend to puzzle me, as we don't have this kind of developments here, I think. Different urbanization model...

Offline Inkidu

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2013, 03:25:33 PM »
Depends on where you are really where distance from a city is concerned. They're close to the city without being in the city, and close enough to the country without being in the country. They're not hellish, and they're not dull. They're kind of cookie-cutter, but the people in them aren't necessarily dull WASPS or anything. I'd much rather live in a suburb than the boonies where the internet blows. 

Offline RedPhoenix

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2013, 03:35:45 PM »
If American TV is to be believed

Yup, there's your problem.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2013, 03:51:54 PM »
Yup, there's your problem.

What can I say? My chances of ever going to America are rather slim, so my knowledge of your country is shaped by movies, TV and comic books. And in TV, suburbs seem to be a default living place of almost everyone...

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2013, 08:27:16 PM »
After WWII housing developments boomed as the Veterans Administration provided low interest loans for servicemen returning to civilian life.  The homes were single family dwellings built on a single level, all the same style and much the same size.  The differences were along the lines of two or three bedrooms.  Some people used them as starter homes and eventually moved on to bigger and better homes as their families grew and their financial circumstances improved.  Many families who stayed upgraded their properties. 

http://www.levittowners.com/

http://geography.about.com/od/urbaneconomicgeography/a/levittown.htm

The above links provide information on what can be considered the foundation of today's modern suburbs.  Levittowns were the vision of a builder named Levitt and his two sons.

It seems to be human nature to want to rise above the norm, to have better and bigger possessions.  Suburban living is see by man as a haven for raising a normal well-rounded family and by others, as Oniya says, as cookie-cutter communities.  I've lived in metropolitan, urban, suburban and rural settings and find advantages and disadvantages in all of them.

The worst I can find to say about suburban communities is that there are those where affordability determines the community.  All the homes are within the same price range.  There is usually no mixing of low-cost housing, medium-range homes and high end properties unless you venture into a planned community.  Even then the neighborhoods are pretty standard from street to street.

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2013, 08:44:13 PM »
What can I say? My chances of ever going to America are rather slim, so my knowledge of your country is shaped by movies, TV and comic books. And in TV, suburbs seem to be a default living place of almost everyone...

Hmm, I do hope it's not like the bland conformity implied by Invasion of the Body Snatchers;)

Offline Oniya

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2013, 08:47:06 PM »
More like the Stepford Wives.  ;D

Offline RedPhoenix

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2013, 08:58:20 PM »
Weeds, Breaking Bad....:P

Offline Lord Mayerling

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #10 on: October 06, 2013, 09:02:56 PM »
Suburbs in the US are pretty much the product of two economic truisms...cheap land and cheap gasoline (petrol). They are communities that were designed from the ground up to be automobile friendly, and in many cases automobile exclusive.

Prior to the development of the modern American suburb in the 1950s, most people lived near where they worked in cities. Post war America resulted in the birth of the American dream of car and home ownership, where a car could bring a worker from a home built on cheap land to a job in the city using cheap gasoline on huge super highways. There was a tipping point where those could afford to buy a car and commute moved to the suburbs, and those who couldn't kept living in cities, often in slums. This division was also starkly ethnic: whites moved into suburbs, while blacks stayed in urban cities. This division still persists today. Much of our national politics are also a result of this division.

I think the bleakness from suburbs comes from this divide to a certain extent. Americans are always striving to be individuals, and suburbanites are the antithesis of this; their socioeconomic class is homogeneous. We've also learned that suburbs create a lot of problems, namely traffic and pollution, much more so than cities themselves do, especially as the industrial age has shifted to the information age.

On the other hand, economics alone point to their appeal. The majority of all Americans still live in suburbs, and the majority of new housing developments are in suburban areas. For all the criticism and jokes about how they are dull and all the same, they are still clearly the way the majority of Americans want to live.

Over the course of the twenty-first century American suburbs will change a lot as the price of gasoline increases and new transportation options are considered and/or developed. Those suburbs that don't adapt, and are only accessible by car, will become the new slums as the value of the land falls because people are moving back into urban areas.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #11 on: October 06, 2013, 09:23:45 PM »
Breaking Bad....:P

A lady I know from another forum went on an extended stay at Albuquerque, where she had used to live twenty years ago, and posted these impressions of the city centre:

"Central Avenue, Albuquerque, is still lively as I remember from college days, when this was the Big City. Pleased to note that it's being kept nice and has a lot of new businesses on the western end. Head east and there are a lot of new businesses too, some wearing short short denim shorts and standing around talking on their phones under the streetlights."

Downtown, but definitely a scene that would have some interaction with the suburban belt.  :P
."

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #12 on: October 07, 2013, 12:17:54 PM »
More like the Stepford Wives.  ;D

I happen to like the Stepford Wives.  ;D

On the other hand, economics alone point to their appeal. The majority of all Americans still live in suburbs, and the majority of new housing developments are in suburban areas. For all the criticism and jokes about how they are dull and all the same, they are still clearly the way the majority of Americans want to live.

So, it *is* where the majority lives? Do only poor people live in the cities?

Offline Oniya

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2013, 12:22:50 PM »
Poor people live in the bad parts of cities, and in rural areas.  The latter are usually in family homes that are either paid for (but becoming run-down) or in the edge of foreclosure these days.  The 'good parts' of the city are usually middle to upper class (upper class will sometimes go for a high-rise suite near the center of the action.)

Offline Lord Mayerling

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #14 on: October 08, 2013, 05:58:14 AM »
Poor and bad are relative terms here. In America even the poorest neighborhoods have electricity 24 hours-a-day, heat, indoor plumbing, and clean and hot water. They tend to, but not always, have a higher instances of both violent and non-violent crime. Although crime is actually more prevalent in suburbs than urban areas on a per capita basis in most US metropolitan areas.

Offline Lilias

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #15 on: October 08, 2013, 06:27:45 AM »
American suburbs sound a bit like British 'dorm estates' - housing complexes (usually pretty and diverse, truth be told) on the fringes of city commuter zones. The people who live there are off to work all day, so the area has absolutely no community character, nothing to do unless one hauls themselves into the nearest town or village, and is clinically dead during the day, at least until the kids come back from school. :-\

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #16 on: October 08, 2013, 06:55:10 AM »
  Many suburban developments have 'homeowners associations' that keep people from doing creative things with their houses,

Or, in the 'glass is half full' approach, keep people from painting their houses pink with purple polka dots and raising goats on their front lawn, thus lowering everyone's property value and forcing the rest of us to live next to an eyesore.


Offline Lord Mayerling

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #17 on: October 08, 2013, 07:58:06 AM »
American suburbs sound a bit like British 'dorm estates' - housing complexes (usually pretty and diverse, truth be told) on the fringes of city commuter zones. The people who live there are off to work all day, so the area has absolutely no community character, nothing to do unless one hauls themselves into the nearest town or village, and is clinically dead during the day, at least until the kids come back from school. :-\

Yes. In the US, such conurbations are colloquially called "bedroom communities". A lot of suburban areas are trying to address the blandness/no character issue with more local investment; that is, trying to create an identity for itself as an independent town instead of a suburb of a far more culturally and economically significant urban area. This is especially true in metropolitan areas where the urban core has suffered from significant economic decline since the 1950s, and in most cases has been exacerbated by racial tension. Detroit is the poster child of this phenomenon, but it has also occurred around the country in places like St. Louis, Dallas, and Pittsburgh. 

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #18 on: October 08, 2013, 08:24:25 AM »
Some areas are working on developing planned communities with housing of various types and sizes, shopping and professional zones, healthcare, schooling and cultural centers and places of entertainment that permit theaters, restaurants, clubs and sports facilities.  They even allow for some light industry/warehousing areas if the land is available.  I'm trying to find an article I read about a year ago about this kind of suburban planning.  I'll post a link if I get lucky.

Offline RedPhoenix

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #19 on: October 08, 2013, 09:55:05 AM »
Poor and bad are relative terms here. In America even the poorest neighborhoods have electricity 24 hours-a-day, heat, indoor plumbing, and clean and hot water. They tend to, but not always, have a higher instances of both violent and non-violent crime. Although crime is actually more prevalent in suburbs than urban areas on a per capita basis in most US metropolitan areas.

Poorer neighborhoods tend to be more heavily patrolled by police officers too, so people tend to get arrested more often there for doing things that people in the suburbs get away with, especially non-violent crime.

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #20 on: October 08, 2013, 11:31:57 AM »
Poorer neighborhoods tend to be more heavily patrolled by police officers too, so people tend to get arrested more often there for doing things that people in the suburbs get away with, especially non-violent crime.


A buddy in high school told me how his cousin had walked around a notoriously upper-class suburb of Gothenburg (in Sweden) one summer sunday morning, shaking his fist with exposed, rippling biceps gleaming in the summer sun, and calling out in a boldly ringing, dramatic voice "Class struggle! Assist the CLASS STRUGGLE!!". It was all a stunt, he liked the punchy sound of those words (it gets a nice assonance too, "Klasskamp!") And it wasn't the school basketball tournament he was thinking of. ;)

I keep wondering what the reaction would have been like if it had been a wealthy U.S. suburb...

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Re: American suburbs
« Reply #21 on: October 08, 2013, 11:37:08 AM »
'Wealthy suburb' = gated community over here.  I think he'd be looking at trespassing charges at the very least.

Offline Jefepato

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #22 on: November 29, 2013, 08:25:06 PM »
Bland and boring, for sure.  Soulless, maybe, but I am not convinced I ever had a soul.

Conformistic?  I lived in the same suburb for over 20 years and I didn't talk to most people on my street.  Ever.  What would I even conform to?

Offline Shjade

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #23 on: November 30, 2013, 02:00:00 PM »
Conformistic?  I lived in the same suburb for over 20 years and I didn't talk to most people on my street.  Ever.  What would I even conform to?

Everyone not talking to most people on their street.

Offline Jefepato

Re: American suburbs
« Reply #24 on: November 30, 2013, 05:21:29 PM »
Everyone not talking to most people on their street.

Fair enough.  But I think there was a yearly meetup or something, so maybe they were talking.

I guess I wouldn't know.

And since I wouldn't know, I could not be conforming even if I was technically doing the same thing as them?  Maybe?  I don't know how this works.