Apr 11, 2008

The Suburbs.

"Suburbia offers almost no facilities for accidental encounters or for collective meetings; social participation beyond the narrow range of family and friends is limited to the passive receipt of goods, information, and entertainment from impersonal and isolated sources."
--Robert Goldston

I have mentioned before that I do not like my parents’ house. I will explain.

Our house in Schnecksville was home. We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in Penn Hills and I knew every turn those streets took, knew the name of every dog in every yard, knew the backyards to cut through to get to my best friends' houses, knew all the types of animals that lived in the pond out back. It was familiar. It was Home.

Before we moved, I had just earned the privilege of being allowed to bike to Orchard View (the local pool) or King's all by myself. My parents didn't know that I did this already, but I felt like their allowance was an acknowledgment to my being "all grown up." My life was a triangle of paths between school, the neighborhood, and the pool. I didn't have to wait for my parents to get home or finish what they were doing to get to anyplace I wanted to be (and why would I want to go anywhere but school, the pool, or friends' houses?) and I felt safe because I had that Home as an anchor.

In the basement there was a cupboard under the stairs that I adopted. It fit me just right.
I put precious things in it, the things a kid would collect: shiny rocks, books, drawings, a music box I “found” in my sister’s room, it was my cave.

Then we moved. The house was beautiful but cold and too big for my Schnecksville tastes. My parents designed into it a little crawl space that I could turn into another den, but it was in the eaves of the house and had no insulation and lots of spiders. I never used it. We lived at the bottom of a hill and I wasn't strong enough to pedal my bike up it. I was barely strong enough to climb it to the bus stop every morning (my backpack was very, very heavy). Suddenly I couldn't swim anymore because it was too much of a hassle to get to the pool. I didn't have any friends in the neighborhood, either. All the girls were nice and we tried to talk at the bus stop, but they wanted to talk about boys and sports and I wanted to talk about books.

The sudden loss of independence and my awkward teenage bookishness combined to form a poisonous teenage angst that made me HATE that house.

Then I visited my sister in Boston, she was at college. We didn't sit in a car once that weekend. I never considered life without a car before. We were outside all the time. There were so many people. They were all so cosmopolitan. I wanted them all, I wanted to transplant them into my suburban development, I wanted the buildings to follow me home, I wanted to ride the T metro all the way to Orefield.

After that visit, I learned to hate suburbia. I realized there wasn't anything wrong with the house; it was what the house represented. It was suburbia that had taken away my freedom and turned me into a terribly stereotypical teenager who sat in her room all day and said, “I’m bored.”

I still can’t be in that house without feeling like I’m trapped. I’ve tried setting out from that house and just walking. Here’s the funny thing: I didn’t get anywhere. I walked for two miles before I realized it wasn’t worth it. I’m chained to my car when I’m at home. I’m educated enough about carbon emissions and the impact the suburbs has on the environment that I feel guilty every time I use my car to drive somewhere that I would be able to walk to if I lived in the city. I love living in a city, I love riding my bike everywhere.

I hate the suburbs. And I don’t often use the word “hate” because it implies anger and anger is just a turn-off. This is my personal experience with the suburbs, but I can go off on a lot of other reasons the suburbs are terrible, but I'm sure you can just read Suburban Nation, instead.

Note: I'm aware that I moved from one suburb to another. The fact is that I was well-adapted to the Schnecksville suburbs and the shock of the change to Orefield suburbs was what made me realize I hated the whole thing.


gsbrace said...

I grew up in Laurys Station and lived on route 145. Riding on this road was pretty much forbidden. Not that there was anywhere for me to ride by bike. No sidewalks or shoulder.

Looking back on my childhood, I enjoyed the medium sized back yard and swimming pool, but now that I live in allentown (and lived in West Chester and Bethlehem), I've discovered that I missed a lot. Since I gradated in 1999, I haven't lived in anything but a borough or city.

Anonymous said...

I see what you mean about both Schnecksville and Orefield being suburbs. But Schnesckville is a neat little village where things are closer together, so I can see how it would be easier for a kid to get around there on a bike.

Now that I'm in downtown Atown I use my car a lot less. It's funny. Some of my friends that have lived here for a while seem to think some neighborhoods are far apart, but if you get out on foot you see a lot more and become familiar with all those blocks that we would normally fly past in a car from point A to point B. In the middle of winter my husband and I walked a mile in the snow to 19th St. Theatre. It was still light out when we came home and the walk was really pleasant. Plus, no icy driving.

Now I just wish Elias market had a closer location. Ahh, the produce!

Katie Bee said...

I definately enjoy city living more than suburb living. Washington, DC is AMAZING and I'm sort of dreading going back to the suburbs.

Schnecksville is definately a little tight-knit community. I used to think that my mom knew everyone in the world because whenever we went to the grocery store she ran into people she knew. Orefield's not so much. But it's still not as suburb as other places (check out the suburbs around Atlanta, those are genuinely frightening).

I hope that I'll also be able to say that I haven't lived in anything but a borough or a city.