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Monday, November 19, 2012

Suburbia

This week I'm visiting in-laws in deep suburbia outside of Atlanta.

It is odd how lifestyle in suburbia is so fundamentally different from that in an urban or semi-urban setting. Everyone drives everywhere --- pick up grocery, go to movies, hang out at Starbucks, etc. Naturally people settle into their three- to four-bedroom single-family houses. Their time is consumed by lawnmowing, floor-sweeping, cooking in the open kitchen, and, perhaps, gazing at the big, green backyard for hours on end and napping on the back or front porch. I would bet (since I have no real data to prove the theory) that suburbanites spend more time with their spouse and children and less time with friends and social acquaintances. It takes a lot more effort, time, and gasoline to go out.

There are sidewalks, but no one to walk on them. One person I know takes his daily walking exercise in a mall. He drives 2 miles up the parkway from his house to a shopping mall and makes loops from Macy's to Burlington Coat Factory and back. I can understand why. It feels incredibly lonely for one to walk on bare concrete sidewalks with cars rushing by and not a human figure in sight. Walking inside a mall, one is surrounded by not only blaring neon signs but also straggles of teenagers and their giggles and chatters. Instead of a sense of being surrounded by steel leopards running by you, one has a sense of living in Asimov's Caves of Steel, permanently cut-off from the sun and natural air. Of course, the best setting for a walk is alone in the woods, but alone by the highway is disturbing.

As I've been living in a more-or-less urban setting for years, I've taken my own lifestyle for granted. Perhaps the urban lifestyle has its own unnatural aspects and artificiality. I promise I will reflect on that at some point during this week.

I am not interested in the simplistic, idealized, wishful-thinking-driven theories of Richard Florida. Rather, what I am interested in is how the divergent lifestyles between urban and suburban residents subtly shape their views of life and psychology --- it can't have no effect on a person's mind being surrounded by your house and lawn and the walls of your car versus being surrounded by strangers without such distance and barrier.

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