Many of my friends and myself feel that the American suburb is a terrible thing. The houses are all the same, the restaurants are all chains, the stores are all warehouses, and the people are all fake. I had the privilege of growing up in a neighborhood that viciously guarded its downtown. This town was not as bad as many suburban towns, but it was still slowly falling into becoming the typical American suburb.
So where did we go wrong? Europe is as advanced as we are and has largely managed to avoid the big box stores and especially the subdivisions. They have retained their neighborly villages and it’s still possible to find a place to eat that makes the village specialty. Hell, it may have invented the village specialty. What is so different about America that has created this suburban culture?
In short, I’m too young to know. However, no one is too young to guess. I’ve hypothesized a few things below, let me know what you think.
- Land values in Europe went up before there were cars. If land outside your village was prohibitively expensive when it became practical to move out of the village, you may not have done so. In contrast, land in America has always been cheap on average.
- Europeans like good food. They’re just raised with more sophisticated tastes and wouldn’t tolerate chain restaurants.
- High inner city crime drove people out of population centers. The US had very high crime rates earlier in the 20th century. Perhaps respectable people needed to get out.
- Bussing reduced the quality of inner city schools. With people afraid to send their children to schools of questionable quality, those with means and desire left the cities. This left only poor and disrupted children in the cities, which inevitably lead to a worse educational system, forcing more people to leave.
- Home ownership became a status symbol. It’s hard to own land in the city, if owning a home became something to shoot for, the suburbs would be very attractive.