NYCO posted a very intriguing essay entitled On Neighborliness And Space. I wrote some of my first impressions in my prior post, but I still don’t feel like I got to the heart of my concerns. I focused on NYCO’s comments on neighborliness, contrasted with the ideas of Balogh, another local blogger to whom she was responding. I now realize that I only responded to the first half of her post–hence today’s jeremiad on space.
NYCO’s post is a spirited defense of the suburbs and their oft-maligned design–blank space, not much common area, geared toward car traffic etc. She ably tweaks the New Urbanist design folks who believe that everyone wants to “live up each others’ noses in perfect harmony.” NYCO argues that the suburbs exist because not everyone wants the urban ideal–some people want space, grass, privacy, a sense of upward moblility.
I come at this from the opposite end of the spectrum. I was born and raised in Fayetteville. K-12 in the F-M schools. I fled my hometown to attend college in a big city (Philadelphia). I bemoaned my cloistered background. When I came back home to Syracuse to live, I located in the city. I am committed to the city and would never want to move back to the suburbs.
Syracuse is a city, but it is a city of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods such as Outer Comstock, Bradford Hills, Lyncourt and Eastwood all feature suburban-style houses, larger than average lawns and are practically indistinguishable from their adjoining suburban counterparts. The Sedgewick and Strathmore neighborhoods rival affluent suburbs such as Manlius, Skaneateles and Cazenovia. You can find what you want in the city. Not everyone is forced to live in a five-floor walk-up, concrete jungle.
I still maintain that the urge to flee to the suburbs has more to do with perceived safety and the quality of the public schools. Both of these issues are influenced by race and poverty.
The continual drumbeat in the local media on city crime has contributed to a fear of the city on the part of most suburban residents. Does Channel 3 even stop to think about the message they send by having a pre-produced “CITY CRIME” graphic with a pistol and creepy theme music?
Yes, there are some neighborhoods that face drug crime and increased firearm violence. They are a small percentage of the city and the violence is not random. The violence is either intoxicated domestic disputes or gang turf battles. I work on the Southside, often attending nighttime meetings in the heart of the neighborhoods with the worst crime rates in the city. In 12 years I have suffered one flat tire and one broken windshield. I have never been physically threatened.
The schools are a different issue. Cities are often cited for their diversity, a much more interesting and heterogeneous experience than the sterile suburbs. This might be great for ethnic restarants, movie houses and nightclubs. I don’t believe that this is what families are looking for in schools.
School districts that have the resources to educate their kids and minimize the problems that race and poverty bring to a student’s life are more successful than those districts that struggle with money and non-academic issues brought on by poverty.
You can meet this challenge in one of two ways. Raleigh, North Carolina created a countywide school system that ensures that no child attends a school with more than 40% of its student body from families living under the poverty line. To do this, Raleigh has extensive busing and incredibly inventive magnet schools. Recent tests show students’ scores rising–regardless of race and income.
Or you can just move out to the suburbs. I cannot blame families for making this kind of decision. I received a great education at F-M, untroubled by non-academic distractions in the classroom. I was able to parlay my experience into an Ivy League college education. It is ironic, it was the stifling, cloistered, white bread suburbs that allowed me to mature intellectually and make my way in the great, big and diverse world.
However, I still drive through a lot of the suburbs, see the similar style houses and wonder about these Lost Tribes of Syracuse.