Tuesday, January 15


One constant comment I heard from my mom when she came to visit: "Wow! I love this. You can walk everywhere!"

I don't live downtown, but in what some people would refer to as an inner suburb. Boston is a small big city, so I would probably be within the city if it was any other big city. My whole youth, though, was spent living in the suburbs. The contrast between my life then and my life now boils down, to a large extent, to transportation.

In the suburbs, we drove everywhere. The only places we could walk to were school, a friend's house, and, if you were in for a hike, the pool. None of these three choices were easy-breezy walks, but they were doable. Now, in the city, I walk or ride mass transit everywhere. We own a car (leftover from our days in the suburbs), but we've never used it here. And I love how easy it is to get around. I walk to the library, the bank, the laundromat, the park, the grocery store, the post office, restaurants ... I can't think of anything I need that would require a car.

A good number of suburbanites stress the importance of owning a home, having their own backyard, and being near nature. City dwellers, in turn, seem keen on being close to amenities (walkability), always having something to do, and being part of a community. Interestingly, I've been reading about the history of suburbs and I've found that our fascination and ultimately desire for suburban living is partly based on the pastoral ideal and the competition of ownership. On one hand, suburbanites find more difficulty with being connected and being part of a community (a factor inhibited by cars and individual ownership). On the other, city dwellers tend to move out to the suburbs for better schools and more space.

I wonder how much of this issue could be solved by better planning. Planning often focuses on the city, but with the large majority of Americans living in suburbs, perhaps planning should be focused on these regions. If multi-use zoning was allowed or even (gasp) encouraged, suburbanites would be able to walk to more places. If suburbs had a plan before they sprouted, we could inhibit the sprawl of suburbs into exburbs, begin systems of mass transit, and base the community around a town center.

On the same token, better planning for cities could create more greenspace, providing a sort of community backyard, a sense of more living space, nature, and perhaps increasing the number of people moving into the city. The school system, well, that's another story.


Momma Val said...

It almost seems the way they set up most suburbs, that they discourage walking. I wonder if there is any proof to that. Living in a suburb but living near tons of things I find that what I could walk to I can't very easily. There either isn't a sidewalk or the lights aren't cross-friendly. Some of the lights are so short it's hard to make it through with a car. How could a person possibly walk across? Walking to a mall that is within walking distance is very dangerous when you have a stroller and have to walk across a huge parking lot with cars whizzing this way and that. I wish I lived in the country. Then you only have to go to town when you need it and park and walk where you need to go when you get there. I like to be away from everything otherwise, suburbs are too cozy for me as it is.

chicago pop said...

Older, denser cities, and the suburbs that surround them, do seem to represent two distinct forms of civilization. Or at least two types of daily experience. In many cases, in fact, suburbs are much more a product of planning (zoning) and forethought than the old industrial cities like Boston originally were. Chicago, where I live, grew up largely on the basis of free market forces. Today, it is a walkable, dense, and happily congested city that folks from other places want to imitate. But the market did it all, back when no one owned their own transportation, few could afford to own their home, and the economy demanded a mixture of uses (factories next to houses, shops next to shop owners) crammed in together. Suburban zoning was meant to rectify some of the hygenic (and political) problems of the pre-auto city, but now we're starting to swing back the other way. But sprawl will continue as long as land prices in cities continue to climb.

Little Jezzie said...

I think the suburbs have completely failed to connect with nature, even if that was part of the original sentiment. Honestly, although I live in a relatively walkable suburban area (it's why we chose it), nature?? Not so much. At least our complex has geese and a pond. lol

I fantasize about living either in the heart of a city or on a farm, with lots and lots of sheep. ;)