Suburban Attitude Towards the City

Jesse Fried • Sep 01, 2017

As a kid, coming into consciousness of the world beyond the town I lived in, my concept of New Jersey was of a network of towns merging directly into each other as far as one could possibly go in each direction. This was as opposed to the rest of the world, where towns were separated from each other by long stretches of cropland, fields, forests, etc.

This rendering demonstrates the suburban blindness towards the city. It now seems clear that the suburbs are an integral part of the metropolis, economically and culturally tied to the city, with surprisingly little in common with small towns. Overall, I'd say they are much better characterized as spread-out urban neighborhoods than as a version of small-town America with all undeveloped land cut out. But suburban development is a kind of perversion of the small town model, so suburbs have a lot of physical and cultural features that are town-like rather than city-like.

The suburbs dwarf the city, no comparison, in terms of the real estate they occupy on God's green earth. You could easily bike across all of New York City in a day - an idea that seems quaint in light of the tangled monstrosity of Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Morris, Union, Somerset, Middlesex, Monmouth and Mercer counties in New Jersey. If we include sprawl too, the mess extends down to the Pine Barrens, well into Pennsylvania and up into the Hudson Valley. You'd have to be raising a lot of money for lung cancer or something to bike across all of that.

I attempted, growing up, to find the edge of the suburbs, by car or by bike. These experiences were always a lesson in how big the suburbs are. Undefeatable, it seemed.