A House Hunt, Part 1: Ode to Suburban Sprawl

"Whatever things look like in ten years—or twenty, or fifty, or more—there’s one thing everyone agrees on: there will be more options. The government in the past created one American Dream at the expense of almost all others: the dream of a house, a lawn, a picket fence, two or more children, and a car. But there is no single American Dream anymore; there are multiple American Dreams, and multiple American Dreamers. The good news is that the entrepreneurs, academics, planners, home builders and thinkers who plan and build the places we live in are hard at work trying to find space for all of them." 
 - Time Magazine's The End of The Suburbs

On a recent "area tour" with a refreshingly earthy real estate agent I stumbled across online we spent a full afternoon scouring some of the off beaten paths of the city we're looking to move to in the next year or so. Old wood shingled houses with decaying decks, scattered streams and wild cacti growing rampant. Tucked far enough away from the city to lend a false air of country life - where word on the street is, the locals gather quite regularly to play bluegrass and drink wine together on rooftops in the summer evenings. A place she would tell us, marked with genuine emotion - based on the slim knowledge of our interests we offer up - that we were most defiantly destined to live here. As we drove past the area's only mechanic - a man in blue coveralls without shoes deemed "barefoot Ralph" I started to think she might be right. Even in spite of it lacking one of the major things we had originally decided was most important in choosing our next move: a bustling downtown to cater to four growing boys.  

See, we do not by any means live in what anyone who deem a hip neighborhood. There are no fancy restaurants within walking distance, no museums to boast of, or quaint coffee shops to drop into on Sunday mornings seeking gormet lattes. The local shopping is approximately 6 miles down the highway and offers up the bare basics of generic (mostly corporate) consumeristic ideals. A big name movie theater, a Chilis, an Old Navy, Ross, Target, so on. The only water features nearby that I can count are man made and serve as trite landscape accents to local strip malls. The little taste of country we do have resides in the from of a barren hillside behind our community, untouched by home builders manning  ruthless bulldozers breaking land everywhere else. Rich with wild flowers and dirt roads that don't go anywhere but provide us just enough rural lot to satisfy our quench for some mid day off roading, stick hunting, and all kinds of other general little boy dirt dwellings whenever the urge strikes. In way of city, the closest we have to a downtown vibe is the sad remnants of an unfortunate main street revival that happened about 15 years ago which knocked down the old brick buildings and replaced them with awkward architecture and artless remodels I still find enraging every time I pass them by.  The shops in the strip aren't even worth mentioning.  

Yet with all there is to complain about or undermine regarding life here in the suburbs, in a small, uneventful town like this where I was born and raised, and settled with my own children on the outskirts of it's continually stretching border, there are also many ways it which it can't be matched. For instance, the track home community we live in was built in the early 2000's to cater specially to younger, growing families. Offering up a multitude of neighborhood parks, big yards, and a fancy clubhouse that hosts annual holiday events with three luxury pools and a great kiddie water park on site to host our summertime slumps whenever the weather edges on unbearable, inching up past the 100 degree mark, typically around the tail end of July.

We also have block parties and Christmas light competitions. The kids know all of the kids across the street and down the block and go to a school that is equally divided by various ethnicities. We have neighbors who call to check in on sick children. Who help lighten the load when it comes to carpool duties and school party responsibilities. Who are quick to lend us eggs when we're out, or shovels when we can't find ours. Who buy overpriced wrapping paper for fund raisers and aren't bothered that our kids roam barefoot and freely around the expanse of this small culdesac erupting in play in the form of nerf gun wars, dodge ball games, and hide 'n seek. A cushioned sense of community linked to people living at arms length from one another who go to the same market, and attend the same Easter hunt year after year. An old school notion of neighborhood that doesn't exist as commonly as it use to decades before. And for that, outside of all that we regularly complain about, is where we know we've been most fortunate. 

Which is not to overlook the qualms that arise living in a preplanned track home community setting. For one, it's very much out of the way and mired in the armpit of two major traffic jams. Sometimes it takes Mike over 2 hours to get home and the same amount of time on route there. And two, track home aesthetics never been my cup of tea. I was raised in a 100 year old house filled with antiques and helped renovate the 1920's Spanish bungalow Mike bought while we were dating. I love everything inherit in an old home. And maybe never quite warmed up to the fact of this one being so new, cold, and seeminlgy unwritten. A house without history is a little less to love in my opinion but we've done our best to strip away what soulless attributes we could upon purchase and replace them with some of the things we love best about old homes. Wide planked wood floors, white subway tile, hallway arches and old brick accents. These days it certainly feels like home. So as much as we are itching to get out and break away from the stifling grips of our current HOA, to loose the traffic sucking away our spare hours, I don't regret a single year spent here because of the ways of a street so similar to my own childhood that enabled us to ride reckless around the alleys on our bikes until the sun went down. Playing basketball behind the garage with a grip of kids down the street. Makeshift hockey games in the driveway, kick the can under the Ginkgo tree ,and birthday party scavenger hunts that had us lugging trash bags from house to house asking for donations. My kids have had it pretty good alongside the rotation of children that have filtered in and out in between the years with the same freedom to unravel in the hours after school in a front yard scattered with skateboard ramps and remote control car races. They get along, they quarrel, they fight and make up like clockwork every day. The temperature of this block shifting sometimes by the hour. But overall, the kind of wholesome scene that feels good to grow up in. 

So sure, I read about the shifting changes of the suburbs and how they're devoid of valuable cultural identity - a soul suck you grow up in and try desperately to escape, and while we dream about our next house being somewhere in contrasting extreme to this one: be it soaked in new city or old country vibes, I have to say whatever perks that move might bring, I know I'm going to miss plenty about these streets here. Lined with tricky tacky houses that all look the same. Where the kids are out until the street lights fade and everybody knows your name.