Sunday, February 18, 2007

Help! I'm Trapped in an Ethan Allen Catalog!

There are many reasons underlying my decision to relocate to the Twin Cities. As I've said earlier, the economy is in way better shape out here, and there are many aspects of the quality of life (eg: access to the arts, sensible road systems, leftist politics) that have brought me out here. Chief among them (as should be no surprise to readers of this blog), is the desire for a more urban lifestyle. By urban, of course, I mean living in a neighborhood with (1) greater population density, (2) more pedestrian-friendly layout, (3) a more diverse population, and (4) a more cosmopolitan focus. Summing up the term "urban lifestyle" is a huge endeavor, but hopefully the preceding list gives you a decent sense of what I have in mind.

All of which is to say that it's especially maddening that, having arrived in Minneapolis, I find myself living in corporate temp housing in St Anthony (a suburb of the Twin Cities) ! As I survey my immediate living area, I discover that I am surrounded in large part by exactly the kind of life I'm trying to avoid. I have become (temporarily) a suburbanite (gasp) !

But let me get past the complaining--I'm only here for a few weeks, so it's really no big deal. My personal experience of this environment does, however, teach us lessons about the suburban life. As I contemplate my fake plant (pictured below) and the perfectly inoffensive Ethan Allen-style furniture, interior (fake) columns, and in-unit washer/dryer that bejewel my temporary apartment, it occurs to me that suburban life is designed to provide the life's material luxuries in the most efficient way for the private enjoyment of people.

Let's parse that previous statement a little bit. First of all, consider material luxuries and how the suburbs provide them:

  • Housing: Housing is the obvious culprit to begin our analysis: by maximizing space available to individuals, suburbs ensure that palatial houses (McMansions) are easy to build. As long as costs to extend infrastructure to those suburbs is borne by the population as a whole (rather than individuals homeowners), it is cost-effective to build large homes outside of city centers.

  • Greenspace: By giving so much space to individuals, suburbs also ensure that individuals can have their own private greenspace (lawns, that is) for their enjoyment. The main drawback, of course, is that unmolested greenspace (untouched by human hands, that is) is not an option in suburban homes' lawns.

  • Security: By isolating individuals from each other, suburbs provide a significant measure of personal security. Since a car is required to move through a suburb, it is difficult for any criminal to come on foot. A criminal would need a vehicle, which makes him more noticeable and, consequently, less likely to commit a crime.

Ok, that's just a short list of the amenities that suburbs do indeed provide to the people who live in them. (I should point out that there are a number of very good counter-arguments to the items I've listed above; most important to note is that fact the security is often provided better where the population density is greater, not lower!).

As I look out my window at the parking lot, however, I find that the easy access to the suburb's amenities doesn't make me any happier. Every amenity seems designed to keep me away from the company of my fellow humans. My in-unit washer/dryer, for instance, is extremely convenient (I can do my laundry at home!), but since I won't be making any trips to the communal laundry room I won't be meeting any of my fellow tenants there. My garage parking spot is conveniently close to my unit--I won't get snowed on in the winter, but I also won't have to walk across the parking lot and through common areas where (again) I might meet my fellow tenants). My commute is conveniently close to the highway: I may be able to get to work quickly, but my route is entirely by car and so I'll never pass anyone on foot on a sidewalk. The suburban life isolates us from each other, even in this 150+ unit apartment building. It's like living in a furniture catalog: the rooms are beautifully decorated, but devoid of inhabitants.


Anonymous Poet in Residence said...

An Abode Less Travelled: The Quest of Sir Gross and the Fair Lady T.

In Cleveland, the have their hate and they eat it too.
For our heroes, this living arrangement, supplimented by suburban vexations, simply won't do!

Blacks on the East Side.
Whites on the West Side.
Applebees on all sides.
Oh, my!

"I want my kid in a good school."
In code words, like the aforementioned, does racism hide.
They divide and subdivide in subivisions of bland generic hell.

Minnie Mouse, Minnie Driver and Minneapolis. Miss Ann, Did you miss a polis, other than miss Annapolis, of a different color? That's Greek to most. But not to the Twin Cities situated between the East and West coasts.

On a January morning the mystery was unraveled, and our heroes moved to an abode less travelled. Mr. Gross has his mate and completes her, too.

Now that's too damned cute to execute by a sarcastic guillotine lose your head routine. What's a hater left to do? Except that voodoo that Cleveland goes to do, so well. Let them eat hate... 'Cause there are no good places to eat on the weekend when the hour rings late.

An abode less travelled: walk to places like public and green spaces, seeing friendly faces of people of all races.

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Urban lifestyle? You mean, like, black?

3:28 PM  

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