Suburbia: Fun for kids; bad news for teens?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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A couple weeks ago, I ran across a New York Times magazine piece called “Falling for Sprawl.” In reality, nobody really falls for sprawl, which explains why the column was (more appropriately) re-titled: “The Summer I Discovered Suburbia.”

In any event, in the piece, Ada Calhoun (who grew up in New York) fondly recalls visiting her cousins in suburban Ohio.

“Ohio was heaven,” she recalls. “I loved riding bikes down empty sidewalks. I loved being covered with bug spray and lying in the backyard, looking at the stars. I loved that there always seemed to be roaming gangs of kids, snacks on paper plates and ice-cold cans of soda. I loved Blizzards (soft-serve ice cream from Dairy Queen, with candy mashed into it).”

In his 1996 book, “Home from Nowhere,” James Howard Kuntsler (who has dedicated much of his career to fighting sprawl), cops to having a similar experience during his childhood.

“During these suburban years, I was exquisitely happy,” Kuntsler confesses:

“The things we lacked were exactly those establishments and institutions that children of six or seven do not need to socialize successfully with their peers: shops, restaurants, sports facilities, theaters, museums, and libraries. Had I remained in suburbia, I’m quite sure I would have eventually felt the lack of these things and a connection with a larger world that they represent, as indeed my cohorts did who remained behind — which is why, I suppose, their teenage years centered on the artificial stimulation of marijuana and rock and roll.”

Suburbia very well might be great for kids, while simultaneously posing challenges for teens and young adults. The irony is that parents who assume they are only helping their kid by moving them to a safe housing development or cul-de-sac, too often end up surprised when their kids fall prey its nihilistic underbelly.