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In Defense of the Suburbs

When did suburbia become a dirty word? It must have been some time ago because people have been bashing the suburbs and the people who live there for decades. It’s fashionable to sneer, snicker, and sanctimoniously prattle on about how the suburbs lack diversity and culture; how they cause sprawl; and how they are bad for the environment.

I’ve had enough. A few weeks ago some snarky professor from Columbia University was on NPR saying that suburbs are not sustainable and he proposed ending the mortgage tax credit claiming it was subsidizing the suburban lifestyle. He also claimed millennials are rejecting the suburbs in favor of city life because they know better than their parents and prefer not to own cars or a home in the suburbs.

This clichéd diatribe sent me over the edge. Here’s a simple concept: people move to the suburbs because it’s pleasant. Because for many people owning a quarter acre of land, a 25 hundred square foot home, and a two car garage beats the hell out a cramped apartment in the middle of the city where parking is a privilege, silence is scarce, and the nearest cactus is at a botanical garden or a public park. Historic neighborhoods have their charm, but so do sparkly new neighborhoods with their own little parks, manicured landscaping, and brand new shopping centers.

We don’t all live downtown because we all don’t want to live downtown.

Downtown Phoenix is a great place to visit, but on a hot summer day I prefer not to be greeted by the smell of diesel fumes and dumpsters.

Is it really wrong to crave a backyard, a pool, and a few cacti? Am I a war criminal because I prefer to drive to work? Am I a Neanderthal because the only way I can afford vaulted ceilings and a tile entry is to live in tract housing?

As for subsidizing the suburbs, how many projects get a helping hand from the government because of ‘urban renewal.’ How about that light rail system that makes it easier to travel around downtown? How about the endless government buildings that are constructed, expanded or renovated downtown? How about ASU’s Downtown Campus?

And when our professor friend points out that millennials don’t live in the suburbs, maybe it’s because they’re broke because of this lousy economy; or perhaps they’re paying off student loans so that universities can afford to employ sanctimonious professors, or build lavish downtown campuses.

I love downtown Phoenix. I just don’t want to live there. And I’m tired of taking heat for it. I have nothing against people who live downtown. But doing so doesn’t make you more moral, or superior, or Mother Theresa. It just means you like to live in the city. Good for you.

So forgive me as I shop at JC Penny’s, eat at TGI Fridays, cut my lawn, clean my pool, and keep my car running. It’s a pretty good lifestyle, and if any of you ‘proud urban dwellers’ have a problem with that then you can kiss my suburban ass.

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