Sunday, 4 July 2010

A suburban myth

A number of people I know live in the suburbs, mostly ones with family but some singletons too so I was quite amused the other day when someone who lives in the City proclaimed that if they had to live in the suburbs, they would die a slow death. I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the statement but thought this may offend so instead opted for a smile and a conversation diffuser about different strokes for different folks. It got me thinking though, what exactly do city dwellers think goes on the ‘burbs?

I know that countless American films and TV series have dealt with the subject of life in suburbs but I can’t think of a single one of them that resembles my life or the lives of my friends. Many of us moved to the areas we now live in because of good schools and space and also because we had other friends or family living nearby – not to be scoffed at when you have little children. In terms of our social lives, there’s very little change; we still go for drinks after work or head to restaurants in the city. With so much to do in London, we have chosen not to limit our socialising to the areas we live in, in fact if the truth be told, very few of us actually socialise in the small towns we live in. Why would we? The function of our residential area is simply to make our lives easier which it does, we didn’t decide to trade up on our social lives or on variety just because we signed a mortgage agreement for a 3 or 4 bedroom semi-detached house in a quiet street.

Just as there are urban myths, there appears to be a suburban myth perpetuated by the overactive imagination of film makers and bought-into by insular city dwellers that the suburbs represents some kind of a Stepford wives’ world with neatly mowed lawns and housewives who bake and have only their neighbours as their friends. I for one know my neighbours because it makes good living sense but they’re not my friends and I have yet to receive a basket of freshly baked cookies from them. I suspect that probably won’t be happening any time soon as they’re both busy professionals with demanding jobs and social lives. Most of the mums I know work; with jobs ranging from Marketing Managers to Pharmacists to Business Owners and cooking is a necessity rather than an art form. Their husbands tend to work in the City and will at times grab a drink with their friends near work or head to their favourite Ghanaian sports bar for some waakye and chicken stew. As far as I can tell they haven’t become frustrated and discontented spouses forced to share a beer with their dull neighbour who works as an insurance salesman. Likewise the mums who stay at home are far from desperate for intellectual stimulation and close to committing suicide.... Revolutionary Road it ain’t!

Obviously we all have different reasons for choosing to live where we do and our choices may change along with our circumstances. Contrary to the belief of some suburbanites, I don’t subscribe to the view that people will gravitate towards the suburbs when they have children. There are clearly children who will be raised in the city, whose school run will involve jumping on the London tube. I think it’s silly however to assume that one life is better or more fulfilling than the other. London is hugely diverse and there are no clear distinctions between city centres and peripheries. We find parks everywhere and some of the largest ones are located in the city centre so city kids do not have to be cooped up in one bedroom flats. The choice of living in Zone 4 or 5 and commuting by train should however not warrant a fear of life itself. That kind of attitude just plain silly if you ask me which I’m assuming you are. There are advantages and disadvantages for both residents of the city and the suburbs and the idea that one is better or more intellectually stimulating than the other reflects a thinking that is not even remotely routed in reality. It boils down to the individual and what they choose to do with their lives, if you’re dull in the burbs, chances are, you’re going to be dull in the city, trendy bars or not!

No comments: