Hating suburbia


A favorite activity of many city dwellers, liberals and intellectuals is bashing the suburbs and those who live in them. I know, because I was once such a city dweller.

Having lived in cities long enough to declare myself an urbanite, I often proclaimed that I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to live in a suburb. I loved that everything was so close by in the city. I loved that I could walk to the grocery store (though I confess to driving to it most times because then I could get more stuff). I loved being close to so many restaurants, theaters, etc. I loved (sort of) that one could take public transportation instead of driving. Of course if you’ve suffered under Chicago’s transit system as I have, you know it’s not exactly a delight, but I digress. I loved the energy of the city, the fast pace, the feeling of life brimming with vigor and confidence.

Like any self-respecting urbanite, I cringed at the prospect of going out to the suburbs for any activity other than visiting my parents. I thought that every woman in the suburbs was a soccer mom. I thought every man in the suburbs was a beer-swilling, tailgating, couch-sitting boor who had never read a book or been to a museum. I thought that suburbanites’ idea of fine dining was an evening at Applebee’s or Red Lobster.

Speaking of dining, I recall once meeting a friend for lunch in the city at a favorite neighborhood restaurant. She was a suburbanite, I was not. “Everyone looks so… urban and hip,” she said. “Including you.” I looked around and looked at myself. I didn’t think anyone looked particularly chic. It was early afternoon and everyone was pretty casually dressed. It was then that I realized that what was the norm for me was not the norm for my suburban friend. I admit to feeling proud then. Even in our casual ensembles, we city dwellers were somehow surpassing the apparent dowdiness of the suburbanites.

But now I am a suburbanite and I realize that this was all terribly misguided.

For instance, did you know that when you move out of the city, you are actually allowed to go back to it whenever the mood strikes you? It’s true! They actually don’t check your identification at the city limits. No, you just breeze right in and go wherever you want.

Did you also know that not every residence in the suburbs is a single-family house? So no, not everyone has a lush, green lawn and an ample back yard. Some of us aren’t even allowed by our management companies to grill in our driveways. Imagine that!

Did you know that not everyone has children in the suburbs? Did you know that there are single people out here? Unimaginable, I know! They even have places to go to dance, drink and carouse.

Did you know that there are great restaurants in the suburbs? Some of them are even run by renowned chefs. The only difference when you go to one of these places versus a similar establishment in the city is that you’ll have a free place to park.

Did you know that a city isn’t the only place to find a theater that shows independent films or hosts other live events? While none can claim the charm of the Music Box, they do the job equally well. 

Did you know that people are very involved in their communities in the suburbs? Did you know that many are the very picture of civic participation? Chicago lakefront liberals can only dream about such an engaged citizenry when they write their op-ed screeds about why no one voted in the last aldermanic election.

So if you’ve been a suburban hater in the past like I was, or if you are still one now… give it some thought. It’s not so bad out here. Take it from me.




  1. Anonymous May 27, 2010

    I have had bitter regard for the ‘burbs for most my life. From when I was plucked out of Chicago at age 11 by my loving parents looking to give me a better education (the nerve!) from until I came running back looking to prove my hipness at 21, I never much took to the suburbs. I spent much of my 20’s hating all over them. Now that I am in my early thirties, they don’t bother me all that much. I think this is partly due to my getting soft; but not viewing the suburbs as the end of intellectual existence also comes from the line between urban and suburban is becoming thoroughly blurred. If you were to take that same hip 21 year old and place him at what is now North and Clybourn, he would not guess he was in Chicago. Plus, like you mentioned, the suburbs have evolved quite a bit in recent years. I had some kick ass fatoosh and spicy chicken kabobs in Schaumburg last week. Yeah, Schaumburg.

  2. Anna Tarkov May 27, 2010

    Rick, that’s hilarious :) It’s such a great point too. What many people think of as “the city” and what they love about an urban environment is disappearing. And yeah, Schaumburg/Hoffman Estates has some great Middle Eastern food because there are a lot of people living there who are, surprise, from the Middle East.

  3. Anonymous May 27, 2010

    Me and the wife will be settling into Orland Park this summer for the duration. Got us one of them single family homes. City is good for a 20-something renter, but if you’re buying in for the long term, the ‘burbs will get you a little slice of paradise in a good school district. Because even these days, the cost of real estate is freaking ridiculous.

  4. Anna Tarkov May 27, 2010

    Len, congrats!!! When is the housewarming? :)

    You couldn’t be more right. I remember all too well the days when hubby and I first started looking at places to buy. I had of course been hearing reports that the housing market had taken a dive so I was expecting to be able to land a single-family house within our budget in the suburb of our choice. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. We saw zero single-family houses in our price range. I was told by our Realtor that contrary to popular belief, housing prices really hadn’t moved that drastically in the Chicagoland area. He said that the coasts fluctuate a lot more than the Midwest. Still… I can tell that the townhouse we ended up at once cost a lot more than what we paid. All the people here have Acuras, Lexuses, BMWs, etc. Meanwhile we have a 2007 Chevy Malibu. So I know we got a good deal on this place :)

  5. Anonymous May 27, 2010

    I might be turning into my old man… god help me. But when it came time to put down some roots, well, as much as the exciting urban lifestyle appealed to me, couldn’t bring myself to pay 300,000 for a 1 bathroom condo… damn, I’m getting old. How soon will it be before I start hollering at kids to stay off my lawn?

    I’ll keep you updated on the housewarming 😉

  6. Anonymous May 27, 2010

    Would anyplace west of Western Avenue or North of Lawrence be considered Suburbia? If so, that would make my life alot easier since I own no car.

  7. Anna Tarkov May 27, 2010

    @chicagosean I’m afraid those areas do not qualify as the suburbs :) But like I wrote, don’t fear the actual suburbs for all the reasons I mentioned and many more. As for not owning a car, my hat’s off to you. Chicago is a much harder city to not have a car than, say, New York where the public transit system is top notch in comparison.

  8. Anonymous May 27, 2010

    I have found NOT having a car in Chicago to be a splendid experience. There are very few times I miss having a car – and its mostly for things like traveling to the suburbs to play golf.

  9. Anonymous May 28, 2010

    Hahahaha….I heart the suburbs. I think its weird to say its cheaper, really, since I’d pretty much make up the difference in rent by having a car and insurance, but honestly, it’s got its benefits. The city is great, but let’s face it: I tend to hang out at the same few bars, my commute would probably be the same, just a different type of train, and all that “diversity” everyone’s always yammering on about is kind of a ruse if you consider that the places most of my friends live (Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park) are probably waaaaaay less diverse than most of the suburbs. Plus, I’ve always wanted to live the dream of having everyone know everything about me in the event I ever compete on a reality television program. You can only do THAT in the burbs.

  10. Anna Tarkov May 28, 2010

    True, it’s not cheaper necessarily. It all depends on where you want to live. In Homer Glen (near Mokena, Orland Park), you can get a 3 bedroom single-family house for 250k. You can’t get that in Northbrook/Glenview, no way, no how. And yet both are perfectly nice.

    The diversity thing is absolutely true. That’s one of the points made in that WSJ op-ed I linked to. A lot of people in the city like to imagine they live somewhere soooo diverse, but the reality is that they’ve probably never set foot in Rogers Park, Albany Park, Pilsen, Hyde Park, Chatham, etc. The bars in, say, Wrigleyville are only diverse in that there are people there from so many different nearly all white suburbs. Viva diversity! 😉

    Finally, as for people all knowing each other, that’s somewhat unique and usually isn’t true of everyone in a given burb, even Mt. Prospect. Example: we’ve lived at our present location for about a year now and I can’t tell you the names of any of our neighbors. So the suburbs can be just as anonymous as the city.

Comments are Disabled