The Suburbs Are Making a Comeback. Have We Learned Nothing?
More cars, more subdivisions, more strip malls… but we know there are better ways to live
In the Salt Lake Valley, the world is humming merrily along. The belches and clatters of machines fill the air — the sounds of Inevitable Progress. Housing developments bloom, seemingly overnight, springing from expanses of rock and dirt and tumbleweed.
My partner grew up in the Avenues of Salt Lake City, a quiet urban neighborhood with sidewalks and tall, shade-casting trees. His mother rented a string of one-bedroom apartments until she could finally afford a home to call her own. Homes within the city limits were beyond her reach, as they are for so many of us, so she moved to a suburb. Then to another suburb. Then to another suburb after that.
The suburbs that bleed from the southern perimeter of Salt Lake City all look more or less the same. There are the wide, treeless, multi-lane roads, illuminated at night by the glare of fast food drive-throughs. There are big box stores with their vast parking lots, the continuous procession of cars that scuttle from one to the next. There are the empty stretching residential streets lined with too-new houses and too-small trees, and the people inside, nearly always inside, basking in their square footage, surrounded by All Their Things.
Like my partner, I grew up in an urban neighborhood where people walked places. The streets were just wide enough for two cars to comfortably pass one another and each house was its own unique entity, a different color, style, and height from the house next door. My childhood neighborhood had a settled feeling, like an old-growth forest, a place where roots had been laid. The ecosystem evolved over the years, but the changes were steady and layered. An old house decaying over there, a new house sprouting here.
The neighborhood where my mother-in-law now lives reminds me of the reforested areas I sometimes see on hillsides that have been logged — tidy rows of trees, all the same height, the same breadth, the same distance apart. It both looks like a forest and doesn’t look like a forest. Your brain tells you it’s a forest because it’s a cluster of trees, but your brain also tells you that something…