Watts (chipotle) wrote,

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The bohemian suburbs

I've been thinking about the difference between "urban," "rural" and "suburban" living recently.

I have friends who've lived in rural places (usually farms), and friends who'd like to move to rural places. Around here the place to be is in or by the mountains. tugrik likes New Almaden; my friend Dave aspires to the mountain town of Boulder Creek. And myself, I've long pictured a cabin on a secluded, wooded lot, where nights are defined by black skies, wind rustling tree branches and the occasional distant coyote bark.

My own experience has been 100% suburbia. It's been rare for me to live in a place where I couldn't walk to a store, but it's been rare for it to be anything more than a convenience store. Some places have been a little more rural, like where my mother lives in Ridge Manor (when she moved there, you had to drive to the convenience store); some places have been a little more urban, like the place I live now. From here I could walk to a strip mall with a McDonald's, a taqueria, a Starbucks and a drugstore.

Other than cargoweasel, I haven't heard people talk about the virtues of urban living. Half the people seem to think "the city" is only a nice place to visit, and the other half don't even agree with that. It's crowded and noisy and grimy. It's crime-ridden. It's expensive. You know the drill.

Suburbs, of course, are what our parents and their parents created when they fled cities: a place quiet enough to feel rural, yet not far removed from the metro area. Of course, this creates an ever-expanding "commerce belt" around the city which is eerily uniform no matter where you are in the country. When you move in, your closest business will be a gas station. In three years, there's a second-tier fast food place like a Subway. In four, there's a grocery store anchoring a little strip mall. And in ten years, maybe less, your subdivision's main entrance is on a busy road with three lanes in each direction and you have a Red Lobster and an Olive Garden and a Target and a Home Depot and a Best Buy, and the papers are abuzz with the mention of the big mall that Westfield will break ground on next month. You've hit the big time. You're getting a Cheesecake Factory.

Of course, you can't walk to any of them, except the convenience store.

Now what? Do you embrace chain-store cosmopolitanism? Do you try to find a place on the new edge, taking another hit in your commuting time? (Of course, by now there are offices in the commerce belt.) Do you move some place really rural, betting it's too far away from, well, anywhere to become a bedroom community? Great, if you find a way to keep an income.

Or do you consider going the other way?

I like the idea of that cabin and the dark sky and the sounds of wildlife. But I like the idea of having a few dozen different stores, restaurants and cafés in a four-block radius. When I want to get out and go to a place for rejuvenating my spirit, I may go to the woods, but I'm no outdoorsman -- I'm going to drive somewhere and park and watch the stars for a while. When I want to actually work on writing, I'm more likely to go to the neighborhood coffee shop. And when I get home from work and think about searching for a jazz club, or just browsing for a new restaurant, where could I go?

I'd drive into the city. Except that when I get home, I probably won't.

Musings like this will inevitably make people ask if I'm planning to move anytime soon. I'm not. I like my housemates tugrik and revar, I like this location, and, yes, I like the rent share. (In an area as expensive as Silicon Valley, that always counts, particularly when you don't actually have a stable income.) But I won't pretend I don't think about living alone again. And I wonder about downtown San Jose apartments, particularly lofts. Yeah, "aspiring writer in a city loft" is a cliché, but that's okay. It's a cliché I think I like.

So what's your experience been like with rural, suburban or urban living? Have you been in a city and loved it or hated it? Have you lived in the middle of nowhere and appreciated it? Does suburbia take more knocks than it deserves?


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