Many readers know that I'm "one of those computer guys", but I hope they don't think I'm a good enough hacker to break into Rod Dreher's Beliefnet blog and write this. Of course I might have written some parts of it around six years ago when our oldest son was two and I moved to a safer part of the greater Cleveland area. But no, I think Rod wrote this piece himself; it's basically a common sense apologia for the suburbs as a place to raise your family. He admits near the end that it is "rambling", so I won't hesitate to excerpt bits of it and comment upon them.
I have surprised myself by how much I've fallen out of love with idea of living in the city, over the suburbs. With kids, it's just too exhausting. I'd have to make a lot more money than I do now to make it worthwhile. Whenever we get ready to buy our next house, it's not going to be in the city―here in Philly, there's a four percent tax added to your wages―but in one of the suburbs. I'd be lying if I said schools weren't a big part of it. We can't afford private schools where we live now, and the urban public school in our neighborhood leaves much to be desired, for the usual reasons.
Really. This is like stating, for the record, that as much as you find smoking sort of cool you have discovered that, for you, it negatively affects your health.
The older I get, and the older my kids get, the less tolerance I have for the kinds of things that I didn't much mind when I was younger and in love with city life.... I do think it's important to re-examine one's beliefs and assumptions in light of the evidence of one's experience, and that's what I'm trying to do here.
Kudos to Rod for admitting this. Seriously. One of the big problems that I had with the whole New Urbanist slant in Crunchy Conservatism is that the people in love with the urban are almost all childless academic anti-capitalists of the liberal persuasion who never mention kids and look down at people who have too many of them. They think that's too suburban, no doubt.
Erin brings up the old house thing in the combox thread, wondering if I'd changed my mind about the desirability of old houses since writing my book, which I completed in the first months of living in our old house in Dallas. Yes, I have....
A little vague, after all, there are old houses and there are old houses, i.e., junk. But it seems like the man can finally see why someone who claims to be a Christian might decide it's not immoral to purchase a split level built in 1970.
It's not at all that I've decided, or am moving toward deciding, that suburbia is utopia. I firmly believe the way we Americans built our suburbs was foolish and not amenable to human flourishing in community....
An obligatory knee-jerk disclaimer which he goes on to contradict...
[S]everal colleagues who live in the Philly suburbs, and who read my bit about the incivility, potential danger and resulting anxiety from the Fourth of July fireworks celebration downtown pointed out that they had gone to their local suburban town's Fourth of July celebration, and it was very communal and peaceful and pleasant. It sounded great. You can bet that if we're still in this neighborhood next Fourth of July, that we'll take our picnic blanket and go out to one of the burbs my colleagues mentioned. Why would I have to go out to a suburb to have the kind of communal festival experience I want, rather than in the city, where, according to my theory, this sort of thing should be more possible? I think about that ... and will think more about that when my wife and I start thinking once again about investing in a house.
The truth is that Rod's theory is just that―a theory. Reality for most people I know is quite a bit different. Most of the time I've found festivities in a suburb to be much more communal and friendly than those in a city, and more akin to that small town feel that everybody idealizes. Rod puts his finger right on the thing I've always rejected when he says "rather than in the city, where, according to my theory, this sort of thing should be more possible". My question is this: what makes it more possible to experience a communal festival in a city? Then he mentions another living room elephant.
No place is an Athenian republic, but considering the dysfunction of the Dallas city council, and the prospect that city taxpayers were going to be paying more taxes for fewer services, and the guarantee of dysfunctional government, I developed a Strange New Respect for the boring dependability and competence of suburban government.
Boring is good when it comes to government. All adults know this. I don't know what really makes suburban officials boring other than the fact that they are white people. I suppose I'm not allowed to speculate whether that makes them more competent.
[F]ar from being a franchise-eatery wasteland, the 'burbs often have the best ethnic restaurants).
Talk to some of the restaurateurs around Cleveland, especially in the Asian immigrant community, about why they moved away from downtown. You'll get an earful, and since none of their ancestors were plantation owners, they will not hesitate to be specific about which population subsection is the problem.
Well, I don't really want to skewer Rod much for this post. Even though a lot of stuff here is standard Rod fare (what's with pulling David Brooks in with his newly discovered anti-Walmart shtick? Is Brooks the poster child for male menopause or what?) I think it at least represents progress in the development of proper tolerance for the tastes of other Americans. My contention all along is that talking about remaining in a metropolitan area like it is some moral high-road is problematic if not simply un-Christian. Your first duty is to your family, not to the entire population of your region, and when you find needles in the driveway, who needs Gideon's fleece? This post also might be the man's attempt to allay his guilt before he settles into a less crunchy home with newer construction. So in addition to a clean conscience he might get insulation and windows that work as an added bonus. So I raise a glass of Bud to the man, get it while it's on sale at Marc's.