Suburbia

I generally enjoy readingAtrios’s take on better urban planning. I’m a big fan of urban mass transit, especially now that I’m in a place where it is available only minimally. (We only just got bus service that connects the town where I live to the one where I work, and between the transfers from one system to another and the normal vagaries of bus schedules, it’d take me almost an hour and a half to get to work every morning. Given my post-work schedule, that just doesn’t work for me.) I got to experience just about the best version of urban living I can imagine–I lived in London for the better part of a year. I loved the Tube, even after commuting a half an hour to and from work every day for six months. I got to where I really enjoyed the commute time as a chance to separate my work and private lives. (And no, driving commutes don’t have the same effect–they’re just annoying and stressful.)

I find it amazing that so many people seem to take it for granted that Americans want the picket-fence suburbia version of the American Dream. I’ve had that for the last six years, and frankly, I’d much rather be living in a high-rise condo or above a storefront or something. The fact is, I hate yardwork. Hate it. Having experienced both, I much prefer the idea of urbia to suburbia. If I could get out of the house we’re in without losing an arm and a leg (and if I could overcome my own natural inertia), I’d be in a condo right now.

So all that leads me to conduct this very unscientific survey (sort of a follow-on to the country mouse/city mouse post A did a few Saturday’s back): If you could choose, free from constraints such as job availability/commuting issues/family issues/pet issues, would you prefer the house with yard, or the urban condo/loft/whatever? What are the things about either option that lead you to that choice? How would mass transit factor into your thinking?

p.s. One of the wierd factors I consider is the fact that an upstairs apartment means far fewer bug encounters. I’m not phobic or anything, but I do see that as a plus.

19 thoughts on “Suburbia

  1. dr2chase says:

    I’m ok in semi-suburbia, but I’ve got no love of grass. I like to grow stuff (pawpaws, crabapples, berries, flowers, etc). Grass is useless, unless you have livestock, and that is Not Allowed.

  2. hoppy says:

    When I was younger I preferred suburbia, with a big lot, where I had gardens, fruit trees, flowers, a workshop, and enjoyed every bit of it. Now I can no longer do all of that maintenance myself, and paying someone to do it is a sure ticket to the poorhouse. So, I now prefer urban living in a condo, with a nice sized deck where I have a small container garden.
    My wife and I have been aching to move closer to downtown for several years, but housing gets too costly there. So, we decided to find a condo with rapid transit close by. Sorry, that isn’t really possible either. So, by default we are in the outer area of the city, in a condo, but still dependent on cars to get where we want to be.
    Most cities who are getting into the mass transit mood late are so naive they don’t even consider that turning a 30 minute automobile trip into an hour and a half, with half of that spent waiting for the connecting bus, might not be popular. They also don’t understand that the wait for a bus is part of the commute time. Nor that using mass transit to attend a concert is a problem if the transit line closes down for the night at 9:00 pm.
    I could continue, but you get the idea…

  3. Catherine D. says:

    No, sorry. I’ve got tolerable (although not anywhere near optimal) bus routes where I live, and I also have a yard for the dog and no neighbors alongside or on top of me. After twelve years with wafer-thin Chicago apartment walls, I’m content – I truly dislike having so many people around me.

  4. pansypoo says:

    grass is useless, but like watching birds + critters and my mini garden. but city. commting easier and better estate sales.

  5. virgotex says:

    Respectfully, I don’t think it’s accurate to present only two clear choices. City or Suburbs. Doesn’t match the facts for a great deal of the country.

  6. Jim Pharo says:

    Urbs, baby, urbs.
    Nothin’ but urbs.

  7. Michael says:

    Second the nothin’ but urbs vote. I’m in a small-lot not quite hundred year old bungalow that’s close to work and nightlife, but I wouldn’t mind even greater density and decent public transit.
    Yard work here is minimal but not non-existent. And there are things that need to be done. Sigh.

  8. BlakNo1 says:

    Straight-up city boy. Always have been, always will be. When I go to my friends house in suburban Maine, I have serious trouble sleeping because it’s too quiet. I never, ever want to own anything bigger than a 2-bedroom apt. I have no desire to won a car, nor to have kids.

  9. KyCole says:

    Moved from 5 acres, barn and pool 3 years ago. The ex still lives there and is trying to sell, but its 45 minutes to the city and nobody wants it. I live in a walkable neighborhood and can walk to my job, the grocery and lots of little shops and bars. I do have grass- but I cut it with a weed whacker. So I have the privacy a house affords, but the convenience of the city. I’m 2 houses from the street the bus travels. Best of both worlds in my opinion.

  10. shoeflyin says:

    I actually have the best of all worlds – a house within 5 miles of downtown Atlanta (with enough yard to let me garden as much as I have time for), but also a small cabin in the mountains. Transit is terrible here, it’s quicker for me to ride a bike to work than to take transit (and it’s usually too hot/cold/dangerous is my usual excuse for not biking). I don’t think my dogs would approve of high rise living, and the cabin has saved my sanity many times over the years.
    I feel pretty lucky but we’re not wealthy or anything, it’s a matter of priorities. We bought the cabin in our late twenties before we even had a washing machine in our house in Atlanta.

  11. FeralLiberal says:

    I enjoy the cultural aspects of city life, but for me, the more green and less people around me the better. Mass transit isn’t an option for me and I currently have a 35min. commute to work which is tolerable. But I’m looking forward to the day when I retire to the FeralFarm, 68 acres in the middle of nowhere and the nearest neighbor over a mile away.

  12. Peregwyn says:

    All those people in the urbs, all so close to me, where I can hear their conversations, their TV, their radio, them just walking around above me…I feel like I can’t breathe. Do not want.
    A place like KyCole’s – maybe. I would have to see.

  13. agave says:

    From Atrios:
    I get that people think that low density suburbs are great places to raise children. This might be true. But they’re generally horrible places for teenagers.
    From my Melissa:
    He’s full of shit! I grew up in the South Valley (a suburb of Albuquerque) and I took the bus into the city all the time. I could walk to a library and there was a comunity center and a park across the street. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!
    He really doesn’t.
    We now live on 1/2 acre in one of those evil low density exurbs. Mostly pine, oak and hollys. I hate yard work. So I don’t do it. The little grass we have just grows. I blow off the driveway once in a while.
    I think what bothers me is the gross generalization of what it’s like not to live in the city. The this or that over simplification.

  14. missy says:

    We have the best of both worlds: a house that’s within walking distance of Vancouver, WA’s “uptown” and biking distance of “downtown” (and easy access to mass transit into Portland), plus a postage-stamp yard that’s big enough for a small garden and a couple of dwarf cherry trees, but only takes 20 minutes to mow.
    That being said, though, I would love to have a condo association to take care of all the crap that can go wrong in a 62-year-old house.

  15. Ian says:

    I hate just about everything about urban environments. I have to work in one, and that’s more than enough. My ideal home situation would be one where I could neither see, nor hear my nearest neighbor, but that’s pretty much impossible (unless you are very wealthy) in this part of the country

  16. Jim Pharo says:

    Walking distance to Vancouver AND mass transit to Portland? Must be like a 200 mile long house or something…
    Cool, dat.

  17. Bmore says:

    I was 19 the first time I got on a subway – in Paris on a college trip!
    I got subway immediately. I flew around that town down below the street level. I immediately said “Thank you” to the people of france.
    I realized that any town with a subway was my town – London, DC, New York and Atlanta. A bus isn’t even close to the same sense of freedom you can have in a mature subway system – that you can go anywhere, quickly and for very little cash.
    I don’t give a crap about intercity rail – its a benefit only felt by the relatively wealthy. I’d rather spend the money freeing ma urban hellhole from buses(spit).

  18. Interrobang says:

    Bmore — Toronto, Toronto, Toronto. Toronto’s subway system is better than DC’s, if less extensive, in that you can actually get intracity on it. Also Montreal has a truly kick-ass subway with a sound like no other subway on the continent. Yeah, baby, I’m all about urban rail.
    On the other hand, I do really like my city house in a venerable old streetcar suburb (remember those?) five minutes’ walk from the downtown core, which combines the benefits of urban living with the benefits of suburban living and scraps the rest.

  19. Kaleberg says:

    We have retired to a town in the country. Our commute is mainly from our house to Olympic National Park which does not have mass transit to the various trailheads. (It would be wonderful if it did.) We have more yard work than we can handle, largely because we bought the lot next to our house, so we have learned to live with weeds. We’d consider higher density living, but in small towns like this one there are no high end condominiums or apartment buildings. There were proposals before the real estate bust, but nothing came of them.

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