The Suburban Condition

What is the suburban way of life?

Subways, submarines, substitutes, subtractions, submissions, suburbs. The etymology of the word ‘suburb’ suggests a sub-form of urban life. A way of living that is (sub)urban, i.e., under or inferior that which is urban. A lifestyle that lacks qualities of the urban which originates it and which still defines it. A sub-life, or an urban life under conditions which do not quite meet a definition of life in the city.

Suburban life is very different from rural life The rural is erected upon the reproduction of human beings through their engagement with nature, through transformations of land and its productivity which are at the very essence of labor and existence, toil and pleasure. Suburban life, on the contrary, seeks to offer human beings the amenities of urban life, without the stress of urban overpopulation and sensorial pollution.

An existential transformation occurs when one moves out of the urban setting. Suburban provides the opportunity of rediscovering the horizon. The utmost experience of a horizon is at a beach or on top of a mountain. Cities subtract the horizon from human sight, and overlap rectangular blocks in a mosaic that has as its primary objective to subtract the philosophical vision provided by the horizon. Urban nearsightedness is a cultural form of myopia. Inhabitants of cities are shortsighted, and believe all that matters in the world to be inside their curveless mosaic. No horizon leaves them without perspective. Can suburbs recover perspective?

There is a wildlife adapted to urban life — crows, owls, small rodents, skunks and raccoons — and there is wildlife which would never survive inside cities. Indeed fox, wolves, coyote, hawks and deer finds suburban life rather attractive. There must be some parallel between the kind of animals who enjoy suburbs and humans who also prefer this habitat.

Suburban lifestyle is frequently links to driving cars, long distances, highways and shopping centers. It is true. All the above are important elements of the logistics of like in the suburbs. All of them, however, are solutions, as a matter of fact bad ones, for problems that arise from not being able to arrive by foot at urban facilities and consumption venues. The myth of the driving force of cars and highways must be met with some skpeticism. Suburban life would be impossible without mass transit railroad networks, a major form of public transportation that take commuters to and from work in the city. The existence of public transportation, not the preference for cars and highways, is the defining of the mobility of suburban people. If they depended on their car to get to work, they would have moved back into the city.

Silence is a primitive element of the construction of the suburban way of life. The one who chooses to move out of the city usually seeks a place to live where the level of noise is significantly lower. City pollution is sensorial: the smell of carbon dioxide, the sight of too many billboards, the noise of buses and cars, the rubbing against other people on sidewalks and mass transit, and the tastelessness of the hurried lunches over a half-hour break. No noise, green images, flowery smells, loads of armspace and homemade food. Silence as metaphor for the sensorial transformation provided by the suburban condition.

There is a middle class that discovered that it can afford something better than the all too expensive, tight and crowded life in gentrified inner cities. There is another, poorer, middle class which also found out it afforded something better, in their case a house away from the ghetto and away from all that was associated to a prior experience of deprivation. These two middle classes converge in their angst to flee the city. In their new suburban condition, they seek to preserve the urban lifestyles they inherited and to cleanse their daily existence from the perils of overgrown cities and their deteriorated quality of life.

Aesthetics. Suburban beauty is a strange concept. Starts from architecture. Every house looks the same. There is no concern with differentiation in the suburbs, as the residences lined up on every street look so similar that one frequently is surprised with mistaking one’s house for another’s and vice versa. Uniformity of architecture is coupled with uniform landscapes. Cities often share similar traits, for instances the brownstone residences in cities in the East Coast. Yet that which has historical roots in urban settings, and which explains the dynamics of gentrification therein, is the product of explicit aesthetic human impulses in the suburbs. We are not before working class housing converted into chic upper middle class nieghborhoods; that is, houses do not happen do be all similar in the suburbs; people, residents or developers choose that way, and none of it has historical roots. Suburban beauty, in other words, is about being like others, mingling and taking pleasure out the anonymity that springs from it.

Cars line on main streets flowing towards the station. It is early in the morning and commuters flock to catch their train to work. Yellow buses stop throughout the itineraries to pick up kids to school. At the station, passenger side doors opens for the working crowd to unload. Others park their vehicles in designation spot and rush walking running to the platform. Ladies stand in front of the station waiting for their lady bosses to come pick them up for the daily chores and babysitting for which they are hired. In the end of the afternoon, a similar period of intense activity invades the suburb’s otherwise placid routine. Twice a day. Before work and after work. For two moments in a workday, the suburb can be as active as the city. Only two moments.

A suburban village is not a small town. (elaborate). Next to a suburban village, however, there is always a small town carrying those services the villagers want out of their local commerce. Hospitals, shopping centers, fast food chains, there are many types of services villages do not carry because the people who live there refuse to license. Liqour stores, dry cleaners, delis, local restaurants, real estate agents, doctors, dance and music schools —

Village life.

Local Police

Eletronics – telephone, cars, televisions.

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