Why I Love the Suburbs

I live in a solidly suburban neighbourhood. A bedroom community, as it were, with few jobs but lots of people. There is lots of pavement here and ample free parking. The mall is our social centre. Roving gangs of pre-teens hang out at the local 7-Eleven. The houses are nice, but not too nice. It lives up to pretty much every suburban stereotype you could imagine.

The suburbs get a lot of bad press. Think of terms like ‘suburban sprawl’ or ‘suburban wasteland’. Or the way that narrator Mary Alice talks about the suburbs on Desperate Housewives. With a little lilt in her voice she might say that in the suburbs, every manicured lawn hides a dark secret. And don’t get me started on the Chevrolet Suburban, the poster child for large, gas-guzzling vehicles. In our cultural zeitgeist there isn’t much love lost for the suburbs. And in fairness, most of us suburbanites are here by default rather than choice, because we could afford a house here and it’s not too far away from the other places we need to go.

The suburban castle
The suburban castle

Sometimes I go downtown to walk around and soak up the energy. There is something about being around so many people that is kind of amazing. The way they dress and move even feels different from me. There is a purpose. These are not stay-at-home moms on a lazy walk with 2 little kids in tow. These are busy people. They have places to go and things to do. And, woah Nellie, are there things to do. That’s sort of the point of a city, all of the amenities and resources it offers to residents and visitors alike.

Jon mowing the lawn
My husband manicures the lawn to hide our dark secrets

Sometimes I also head off into the country. I feel lucky to not be so far away from that. I appreciate the vistas, drive fast down back roads, stop in at a roadside stand. Or I drive up a mountain and enjoy the view. Eat wild huckleberries or salmonberries. Throw rocks into the water. I imagine myself living up there, away from the noise and the annoying neighbours. It sounds nice, for a little while, until I consider that it would take me 45 minutes to get to the nearest grocery store. In my Chevrolet Suburban, which I would need to navigate the dirt roads and haul all that stuff home when I made my big trip into town to stock up.

Our patio set
Does it get more suburban than a gazebo and patio set?

At the end of my journeys I always come back to the suburbs. Back to the sprawl and the shopping malls and the spotty public transit. I dig in my garden and feel glad to have it. I walk to the local 7-Eleven and remember my own misbegotten youth. I drop my recycling at the curb and feel thankful for municipal services. Or I drive to the mall and wish that the transit weren’t so spotty. The suburbs surely aren’t perfect, but I’m happy here. And I don’t have to parallel park. I really hate parallel parking. I also really hate corn on the cob, but that’s not related to where I live, so it’s a story for another day.

Do you live in the suburbs, too? Or have you fled them for greener pastures? Please share your suburban reality in the comments.

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  1. I know all the "green" experts out there say urban density baby (ie, many apartment buildings), that's the way to go, and the suburbs sprawl way too much and you can't walk to shopping, etc, etc, etc, and I'm sure all of that is true. But, nevertheless, I grew up in a burb and had a great childhood. Now, in adulthood, I'm still happy in a burb – a different one, in a different city, but still a burb.

  2. We live in a large community in the mountains. Kinda like suburbs but not really. No sidewalks, not lawnmowers allowed, few people outside, and long commutes. No public services. It has its obvious downsides. School is over 30 mins away by car, or 1+hr on country roads by bus. So we are homeschooling. No pretty backyards. BUT we do have nature galore and peace and quiet that I thrive on. We have deer sleeping in our yards or taking walks across the road. We have turkeys everywhere too. I can drive down the hill and walk in the woods along a creek and barely see one house or I could drive a few miles and see waterfalls, and yet I am still in our huge community that until recently was built with the though of keeping nature just as it always has been, as much as possible. Until the "community store/gas station" went out of business due to the economy it was even better. Now we must leave for most every need. I have been living far from the city for so long it is second nature in many ways. What I miss most is a garden the deer won't eat. But our container plants were deer free this year!

  3. I have a house in the country and a house in the burbs. (I know. I'm very fortunate and I do appreciate that fact.) But it is rarely that one hears someone extolling the virtues of the family-oriented burbs, Amber, and so I appreciate what you're saying. I'm not sure what it is that has made people feel that living in the city is morally superior to living in the suburbs, even though, of course, I understand the sprawl, reliance on the car, etc.( I'm not even sure that I like associating with anyone who feels morally superior to a whole other group of people, but I digress.) However , having raised a family here I can tell you that, for kids, it's great. It's not about where we live that is important , it's how we live and who we are. And, of course, it's about the community we create, which can be anywhere. You seem to be creating a wonderful life in the burbs with your family and your cucumber patch 🙂 Good on ya!

  4. I think I recognize your neighbourhood! Looks just like the houses near where I grew up. We feel like we've struck a good balance in New West. Our immediate neighbourhood is all that's good about suburbia (gardens, neighbourliness, parks, quiet streets suitable for toddler walks), and yet we're not far at all from the city either by public transit or car. We've also got good local shops & eateries to visit when we want somewhere to go. I kind of appreciate having a bit of a buffer between us and the big city. Working downtown there are so many temptations to spend money on, and so little of it is necessary. Making it just a little more work to go spend money helps keep more of it in your pocket! When we lived downtown, it was definitely fun (and convenient for work) but we ate out all the time, and made a lot more unnecessary impulse purchases.

  5. I too live in what might be considered a suburb community. But suburbs they were when built in the 1950’s, they are no longer, being wrapped on all sides by further city developments. We have a large yard (with three big trees!), a BIG driveway, and are walking distance from a Starbucks, Shoppers Drug mart, Metro, and Winners. *happy dance* We have a big park nearby, a great community association, and easy access to transit. So maybe not so suburban after all… 😉

    I am a country girl. I swore up and down to my (younger self) dieing breath that I would *never* live in the suburbs. And yet here I am. 🙂 I don’t mind it so much, but I do miss my farm. Someday I will live in the country again, but for now, working in downtown Ottawa, and living where I do, life is fairly easy. When I was on mat leave, walking out to get a coffee was my saving grace. I was glad to live here then. Out in teh country, I would have felt very isolated.

    However, these suburbs, with fantastic neighbours and wide meandering streets are vastly different than the cheek-to-jowl anonymous townhouse anthills that are being built here today. I look at single family homes the size of three of my current house, with no back yards, and no way to walk from front to back yard at the side of the house and I cringe. If I can reach out through a side window in my home to touch my neighbour’s outer wall, then that would be what I consider the true suburbs (at least here in Ottawa) and not my cup of tea at all. Give me some space!
    .-= caroline´s last post ..Feeling Good About Composting =-.

  6. I love living in the suburbs… I love having my little family and a cozy neighbourhood and seeing kids playing in the streets and saying hi to neighbours and the park and the mini malls near our house, and all that! I LOVE it! Most would think I’m a big city girl at heart, but not really. Sure I love going on vacation to places like NYC, but I could never live there!

  7. yes, we’re in the ‘burbs cos we couldn’t afford the space in the city. part of me wants to move back to the city – i loved being able to walk, bike or take transit wherever i wanted to go – but it’s an impossible dream with house prices the way they are (and no, i don’t think that radically downsizing my living space and losing a back yard is an option).
    right now i love my mountain nest but am getting itchy feet for a flatter (more bike-friendly) location
    .-= pomomama aka ebbandflo´s last post ..a little night goth music =-.

  8. Hi Amber,

    We live in a suburb of Toronto and have been here for 9 years. It’s a small town but growing steadily. We live in an older suburban neighborhood and love our larger than average yard and mature maple trees that line the streets. I think we have the best of both worlds since our neighborhood is bordered by parkland, we have a plaza at the top of our street and the grocery store is only a 5 minute drive away. I grew up in the country among wide open spaces, next to a lake, and we had a very large backyard where we planted beans, potatoes, peas, beets, carrots and corn every year – I do miss it. We have considered moving to the country – just north of the city – but as you pointed out there are so many things to consider i.e. the long drive to the grocery store, all of the driving just to visit friends/family, septic systems, well water etc. But the fresh air and peace would make it all worthwhile. I’m still on the fence.

  9. I grew up in the burbs, but I live pretty much downtown now. Most of the time I like things just as they are, but once a year or so, the huz and I indulge in what we call, ‘Our suburban wet dream.’ Still, we haven’t been able to cut the urban chord yet.
    .-= kgirl´s last post ..Tummy Troubles =-.

  10. Jasie VanGesen says:

    Where I live is like… beyond the suburbs. Our town has less than 10k people, nearest metropolis is over 2 hours away. Nearest mall is about 40 minutes away. I have a feeling I’d think where you live has SO MANY PEOPLE. 😛

  11. I could not imagine living in the city. The dirt, the noise, the traffic! Ugh. Give me the suburban sprawl anyday.

    Sure, it’s not as exciting but how any family can live crammed together in an 800 sqft condo even if it IS in Yaletown is beyond me. I love my fenced backyard (where I can thrown my kids out into and know they are safe) and I love having a bigger house (which gives ample rooms to hide from said children LOL)

    I might move a bit closer to the city but I’d never live in it.
    .-= Carrie´s last post ..Buy buy baby-hood! =-.

  12. While I can understand the appeal in the suburbs, it’s not for me. We live in the heart of downtown Vancouver and absolutely love it! Steps from Stanley Park, never have to deal with traffic or parking – sure there are a lot of cars, but I pop my 1 year old in the stroller or the backpack and walk anywhere we need to go in our daily routines. The Art Gallery, the Aquarium, the Aquatic Centre – all within walking distance. And there are a lot of families downtown – it’s not some child-free wasteland!

    I had to drive out to Langley during rush hour one afternoon for a job and it took two hours. Two hours I could have spent biking around the sea wall with my son. If I had to do that both ways 5 times a week it’s entirely possible that I would lose the will to live. 🙂

  13. I am a child of the suburbs too. I loved having my friends within walking distance, and a corner store to buy candy at with my allowance. We moved a little farther out in the sticks when I was 9 and that was hard for me…. also terrific to be able to play on a beach and build treefortsin the woods, but I desperately missed the little store and smooth road for rollerskating. My husband is a rural child right from the beginning, and feels strangled by the proximity of neighbours and noise restrictions. Our first home was right in the heart of the old-quarter suburbs great for walking to the mall with a stroller. But hubby HATED it, so we moved to a semi-rural suburb. Somewhat close neighbours, but no amenties, and a short drive to the sticks. I feel comforted that I know who my neighbours are and that they are watching out for me as much as I watch out for them (of course there is the partier neighbour, and there is the crabby neighbour, but they are the exception, not the rule). I have to hop in the car to get to a store (no transit nearby), but the kids can all walk to their friend’s (and to school). It’s a compromise. And it has worked for 10 years in this location!
    I can understand the appeal of urban life (but I love my garden too much). Maybe as a single I would gravitate there. But as a married, my husband needs the wide open spaces to make a big mess in the garage and noise in the driveway. Not all suburbs would allow us, and rural would suit him much better…
    .-= *pol´s last post ..Turkey, Ham and Three Dirtbikes to ride =-.

  14. I don’t think I qualify as living in the suburbs, but I loved this your post and the captions!
    PS I drive a 13 year old second hand 2 door Nissan Micra (the name says it all), and I successfully haul 3 kids, groceries (mostly all in the trunk), sports bags and backpacks (on kids laps) … it’s cozy:)!
    .-= Francesca´s last post ..On our kitchen table =-.

  15. I think I would go crazy in the suburbs. I want to have coffee and groceries within a 10 minutes walk, I want stores and restaurants at the corner of my street, I want people and movement. I want to walk every where and not have a car. I want to be downtown!
    We are lucky in Ottawa to be able to live downtown. I grew up in Winnipeg that isn’t really a place to have kids and live downtown.

  16. Oh I so envy your lifestyle!

    We live in the middle of our little town. Squished terraced houses, back yards a few metres square. No drive-ways or front gardens for the most part. It’s all pavements and rubbish bins and cars parked on the street.

    I long to move somewhere a little greener but property here is crazy expensive, we’ll be lucky if we can afford a mortgage till we’re well in our 30’s. We dream of a village community, rural but busy with lots going on, a good school with small classes and within a quick bus ride to a nice town. And space!! Space to spread out a bit, and expand our family!

    One day… x
    .-= Josie´s last post ..Dreamy Meme =-.

  17. Dude. I grew up on Bowen Island. The closest I’ve gotten to not-burbish is New Westminster and Coquitlam.

    And you know where I live now. I wouldn’t change it for the world. 🙂
    .-= Nicole´s last post ..Overheard: Parenting Tactics =-.

  18. i live in my ‘burbia’ here in new westminster
    I can walk to most levels of stores- food, gas, starbuks ( three actually) the library, pool, park you name it!
    i love that i know everone on my street, we have block parties and lane parties, fireworks. and that my kids have extra eyes on them.
    the benefit to me is all the above – although i am not sure that my house costs would be concidered cheap but less than in vancouver!
    .-= victoria´s last post .. =-.

  19. I’m a total suburban girl. I like living in a house instead of a flat. I like being able to find parking. I also like living close enough to a city that we can drive in to big cultural events though!
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..2T or Not 2T? =-.

  20. I’m not big on the ‘burbs. I find it pretty hellish, in fact. I live in London and though I’m not in the ‘burbs per se I’m on the outer suburban-like edges of the city and that’s quite far enough for me. I’d like to move much further in! I would absolutely love to be able to jump on the underground within minutes or walk to Chinatown for a meal and expose my kids to the rich culture, diversity of people and languages and experiences that you just don’t get in the suburbs.

    Having said that, I know I’d also get fed up with city life from time to time so once I have made my millions from my best-selling book 😉 I would love a house in the country, extremely rural. I grew up in a rural area and do love the space and the quietness but I couldn’t do it full time. I guess I truly am a city girl at heart!
    .-= Noble Savage´s last post ..Fuck Fashion =-.

  21. Dude, transit to the mall is not spotty. You’d spend longer walking to the bus stop than you’d spend on it, and it comes like every 10 minutes. You don’t want to take the bus, you don’t have to take the bus, so you don’t — but it’s not about the service. Almost no one takes the bus if they have a car. Just the way it is. But don’t make it about the bus being bad. It’s actually a really, really convenient bus; trust me, as someone who got her driver’s license at the age of 27 and has taken transit in 4 cities.

    I crack jokes about the suburbs too, because it’s easy, but the more time I spend here the more I realize that the suburbs are full of interesting and diverse people. And some dark secrets too, certainly, although if I had dark secrets I’d probably choose the density of a city.

    • It’s true, the mall wasn’t the best example. However, you have kind of made my point. It would take me FAR longer to get to the bus stop and then wait for the bus than I would spend riding it. In fact, given where I live, I could probably walk directly to the mall in less time.

      I stand by my spotty transit point. If I were to try to take transit to the aquarium, for example, it would take at least 15 minutes from the time I got out the front door until I was on the bus. Then it would be about 1/2 hour on the bus, and another 40 minutes on Skytrain. THEN, it would be a 10-minute bus trip and another 10-15 minute walk on the other end. One-way would be over 90 minutes. That definitely qualifies as spotty in my book, at least as compared to if I lived downtown, and it would be at most one bus + walk, and the bus stop would be much closer to my front door.

      So, yes, I drive instead, because I can do that in under an hour. With 2 kids and gear and a round-trip, I’ll make it as brief as possible.

  22. I think it does not matter where you live, urban, suburban our way out in the country (like myself)…you can make it magical any way. I am happy (it took some time for sure) living in a tiny village of about 400 people, 40 minutes outside of Edmonton. It takes me 25 minutes to get to a grocery store in Camrose, but if I were in the city, driving to Costco was the same amount of time. My time in the car is the same as if I were living in the city, it is my `km`s that have changed. I have lived here two years and just in the past weeks have I felt cozy and wonderful living here….

    Before children Steve and I lived in a highrise just off Jasper Avenue (if you know Edmonton at all, this is right downtown). We have contemplated moving back into the city, into a condo. How we live would have to change for sure. But, our children would have a great life in either environment.

    Some days I am envious about being able to bring home take out and have it hot when we eat it. But, I kind love the quiet of the village. The deep black of the night. The brillance of a clear, uniterupted star filled sky. The stillness of the world if just sit. At the same time, I have a fantasy of picking up and living in the heart of NYC with my family….I keep telling myself, if I can make it here (Hay Lakes), I can make it anywhere!
    .-= Heather´s last post ..Thanksgiving =-.

  23. The only way I would live in the city is if I won a home in a lottery, and then I’d sell it as soon as I’d lived there long enough to avoid paying certain taxes.

    The idea of being crammed next to my neighbors in a busy city doesn’t appeal to me. But, to each their own.

  24. Sarah Joseph says:

    I moved from the city to the ‘burbs in May. I’m still adjusting. I like the quiet street we live on and I’m thankful that we are still within walking distance to many amenities. I wish there were more amenities within walking distance and I wish that the traffic into the city wasn’t such a deterrent from going to visit my friends or them coming to visit me. Overall, I’m pretty happy here.

  25. There are quite area downtown, if you can afford. We live one street away from Coal Harbour. We love this area. One block to Stanely park and one block from Sea wall. I walk my dog to anywhere I want to go. I can walk to Capers for special stuff, safeway, and nofrills. I do not like malls but those stores on Robson. When I feel down, I go for a walk on seawall. When I like people’s interaction, I go shopping on Robsons. I worked downtown for two years and I walked to work. I walk to doctors when I have time, and I take a bus when I don’t feel like walking.

    I do everything I want without driving and I can do it anytime I want. I do not like to live in suburbs because whenever you go out, you always have a purpose. I lived in Richmond for 3 months, and I hated it. I don’t drive and I had no place to go but small malls. Bus always takes forever. Going out just to kill sometime will consume me at least 1 hour. Nothing is close by, and everything is limited.

    Space is small, but less cleaning than a house. Also, as long as you don’t keep things you don’t need, you always can make space.

    I am expecting in the end of this year, and I still want to live DT until the baby is 5 years old. Lots of kids live in Coal Harbour and Yaletown. Lots of green stuff in Vancouver DT that other places cannot offer. Neighbors are friendly as well. Whenever we have to go on for a long trip, our neighbor always offer help. We have less worry of break in. 🙂

    This is my opinion.

  26. We currently live 30min. from the city in a small town of 3,000. There is a little local store and a tiny gas station, a curling rink and bar. There are two lakes nearby (5min) and A National Park 40min. North…we are in the middle of the city and National Park. My husband applied for a job in Kamloops, B.C. and went for the interview yesterday. We “may” move to a city….I’v never lived in a town of more than 30,000….it’s scary thinking about it. We now live in a 1400sq ft home on a 3acre manicured yard with a hill for skiing and toboganning. I’m nervous leaving something remote, quiet and safe and taking the kids away from all they know (kids grade5/8). Any suggestions? Would love to hear from anyone!
    Thanks so much.

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