Friday, September 6, 2013

But You're a Suburbanite!

OK, so we've addressed head-on some of the key aspects about me that will become apparent as this blog comes together:  my politics, my faith.  But another thing that is going to come through in my blog posts is that I am a suburbanite.  As we'll explore at a later date, most devotees of voluntary simplicity would not think suburbia meshes well with that concept.  As I'll explain later, I appreciate that preconception, but don't necessarily agree.

So here goes. 

I live on the edge of a sprawling urban metropolis.  Ten years ago, most of the land currently occupied by our suburban municipality was either farm land or left in its natural state.  Now it is quite developed.  Lots of roads, lots of buildings, lots of human beings.

My family and I live in a large single family home with a big backyard.  Our subdivision is full of other such homes with similar architecture.  It is managed by a fairly aggressive HOA that threatens fines and legal action if you don't have the right number of trees in the front yard or if your weeds get unsightly.  Most of our neighbors have minor children.  The only people on our block during week days are a few moms with preschool age kids.  Everyone else is either off at school or earning a living.

All the families in our neighborhood have cars.  At least two.  Sometimes more.  That is the nature of where we live.  Public transportation is virtually unheard of in our neck of the woods.  Some of the year the weather is too harsh to safely walk or bike very far.  People die from exertion during such extreme weather.  So we get in our cars to get around protected from the elements.

If you drive 5-10 minutes from our neighborhood, you'll be out of the residential area and run into lots of churches, restaurants and shopping opportunities.  There are also four different terrific public libraries within a 10-15 minute drive.  But if you want to explore other cultural offerings such as theaters or museums, you have to get on the highway and drive at least 30 minutes--depending on where you are going and the time of day.

Our family has lived in our home for about five years.  When we first moved to this metropolis, we considered buying a home in the city center near the museums and closer to my job.  In an ideal world, we'd be in the car less and closer to the amenities of the big city. 

We looked hard, but there were several reasons we ultimately opted to not buy a home in the city center. 

First, the housing stock was a lot more expensive closer to the city center.  Even small homes in need of TLC in neighborhoods with graffiti and potholes were pricey.  For the cost of one of those, we could get a bigger, newer home in our current neighborhood. 

Second, quite frankly most of the homes that were anywhere near our price range in the city center were in need of significant TLC.  They were older homes.  They had been through a lot.  Roofs and/or air conditioning units were going to need replacing before long.  Mold was sometimes lurking behind walls.  The wiring was old.  Sometimes it was of questionable safety.  Other times, it may not have been able to support constant use of computers and other gadgets of our modern lifestyle.

And because many of the homes were older, there were frankly concerns about the health of our children.  The homes we might have afforded were built in the era of lead paint.  Some of them might have also had asbestos.  Those types of contaminants have extremely serious health consequences and they are not easily remedied.  They impact the home itself, as well as the surrounding yard.  Children are particularly vulnerable to such contaminants. 

Parenthetically, living in the city center also poses other potential problems for children's health.  Like many sprawling metropolitan areas, ours has serious air quality issues.  When we first moved to this area, I heard a radio report about it and the corollaries to childhood asthma.  I've had anecdotal confirmation of these corollaries.  A significant number of my friends who live in the city center have kids with asthma and other respiratory problems.  Those issues are much less prevalent in our suburban area where we're away from the worst of the pollution.

The next major reason we opted for the 'burbs is we needed a fair amount of space.  We are in our home a lot.  At the time, I did a lot of work from home, so I needed a dedicated home office to take care of business.  My husband went back to school a couple years ago, so he also needed room to spread out his books and study.  We homeschool our children, so we're home most of the day.  Unlike many families who aren't in their homes most weekdays, we get a lot of use out of this space.  If we had a smaller home in the city center, we'd be on top of each other and feeling cramped.

Finally, we aspire to adopt more children or become foster parents.  When you grow your family in that manner, there are inflexible rules about the size of your home.  In particular, you have to have enough bedrooms.  And the bedrooms each have to be large enough per the rules for the number of children you will have.  Many families have aspired to become foster parents, but find out too late they don't have a home that will satisfy the rules.  They either attempt to add on to their home, move to a larger one or give up on the dream of foster parenting.  We didn't want to be in that situation.

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