Monday, August 11, 2008

Suburbs as Safe Place

Not long ago, I was standing with an associate of mine in front of his suburban home and gained an interesting insight into why the suburbs are so profoundly attractive to some. "See that house right there," he nodded toward a neighbor's home. "The livingroom is on that corner," he pointed and the "den is on that corner. Over there is the kitchen. They have three bedrooms and two baths upstairs."

"How do you know all that?" I asked him.

"It's the Windsor model," he said. "It's just like ours."

"Does it bother you that the neighbor's house is just like yours?"

He looked truly puzzled and perhaps a little offended. "What do you mean?" he asked. "It's nice to know exactly where everything is. If one of the houses catches on fire, the fire company knows exactly how the house is laid out. And I like knowing what's behind all the neighbor's front doors."

I checked his expression to see if he were joking, but he wasn't. And I realized it was the same kind of reasoning that brought people back again and again to McDonald's or any chain (even when they're out of the country or have many other options). One always knows what to expect, which can be comforting in a world which moves so fast and can change so quickly. Perhaps the suburbs are so appealing because they represent safety and certainty in a world where people are overwhelmed and exhausted and afraid.


Unknown said...

I've always wondered about the connection between the "sameness" of suburbia and the "safety" of suburbia. I'm making the assumption that some people believe that by living in places that look alike, you also have a better chance of being saved in a fire because the firemen will know where the kitchen is...although this doesn't answer the question of where "you" might be at the time of the blaze.

As interesting as the firefighter question might be and whether or not, as an end result, we increase our chances of surviving a fire, all that I've ever read about sameness (at least in biological systems) leads me to believe that it is the most certain path to extinction (which is definitely not "safe"). Sameness, or lack of diversity, ultimately leads to rigidity...which makes systems brittle, inflexible and unable to cope with new threats.

I wonder if in our drive to protect ourselves by creating a false sense of safety via sameness, we are actually brewing the recipe for disaster?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful point -- worth exploring.