Urban Snobbery: Stop Hating on the Suburbs

Like many people, I was saddened and a little angered by the unrest that broke out in Vancouver after last week’s Stanley Cup final. The destruction was ugly, violent, and ultimately just really really stupid and pointless. As people across Canada (and I’m guessing the States as well) shook their heads and started passing judgment on Canucks fans and the city of Vancouver, one common protest started ringing out from all of my Vancouverite Facebook friends and Twitter contacts: “The rioters weren’t even from Vancouver! They were from the suburbs!”

Whether this is actually true or not I can’t say, but like a lot of large cities, Metro Vancouver is made up of several municipalities, including Surrey, Burnaby and Langley, as well as Vancouver proper. But are the rioters and hockey fans who came from the outlining municipalities really “not from Vancouver?” Yes, they have different regional governments and might shop in different supermarkets. But downtown Vancouver is still their downtown and many of them regularly shop, eat, and work in Vancouver. They have as much stake in keeping the inner city safe and undamaged as anyone else. Even if suburbanites were solely responsible (and I think that’s a pretty big “if”), it’s not as if the rioters were imported from a different country or province to destroy and loot from the downtown core without any worries or repercussions.

All this got me thinking: why are urbanites so anxious to distance themselves from the suburbs? Why is there such an “us and them” mentality when it comes to where a person chooses to live? This issue isn’t unique to Vancouver: how many times have you heart people in other cities complaining about the bridge and tunnel crowd or making distinctions between those with urban vs. suburban area codes?

Listen, I know that the existence of far-lying suburbs is not a great thing for all sorts of reasons. Urban sprawl creates all kinds of sustainability issues and whittles away at the vibrancy of a city’s downtown culture. I personally much prefer city living and try my best to encourage healthy urban development in my own city (which, by the way, is not Vancouver). But here’s the thing: as much as I participate in things that my city’s downtown core offers, I don’t actually live in the “inner city” zone. I can’t afford to.

There is something distinctively classist about hating on people who live in the suburbs. Traditionally, the “˜burbs have been the domain of the middle-class, with their big houses, manicured yards and white picked fences. But cities have changed since the original heyday of the “˜burbs. Yes, there is still a lot of poverty in most urban centers and many renters and public housing dwellers couldn’t afford a suburban home even if they wanted to. But, most cities, including Vancouver, have seen huge increases in the prices of downtown condos and the houses on the periphery of the inner city. Small run-down “character homes” in East Vancouver (which is definitely not the fancy part of town) go for at least $800,000. Want a modest sized house on the west side of town? Hope you have at least a couple of million dollars. So if you want to own your own home or have a yard for your kids to play in and are not exceedingly wealthy, even if you desperately want an urban lifestyle, the suburbs might be your only choice.

So, before you go hating on all those awful suburban people and gripe about how they’re ruining your city, remember that they aren’t necessarily materialistic jerks who want a private space and room to park their three cars. They’re people just like you, compromising certain things and doing their best to get by and create a decent life for themselves and their families. They have as much right to access the city’s downtown amenities as anyone with a downtown address.

By Sissy Larue

30-something, mother-of-two, former rock 'n' roll reporter, currently into retro house-wifey things, bad TV and any movie that I can sneak out of the house to watch.

11 replies on “Urban Snobbery: Stop Hating on the Suburbs”

The suburb vs. urban issue has become a really fraught one in Toronto this year. Primarily because of politics. I live downtown (in a crappy basement suite cause that’s what I can afford) and have heard friends refer to the suburbs surrounding toronto as “the frikkin’ 905” (in reference to the area code). The outer regions of the GTA currently have more voting power than the urban area and contributed to electing the farthest right wing mayor Toronto has ever seen. Likewise, in the federal election, these regions voted conservative, while the urban area voted New Democrat. The mayor issue in TO has lead to a lot of animosity between the two areas (he wants to spend money on roads rather than transit- and made some broad public statements about how bicycles don’t belong on roads). These are issues that are important to both sides (traffic is a huge issue for suburban commuters and public transit is a way of life for people downtown). Anyways, I feel like a lot of the commentary in downtown Toronto about the suburbs is sort of classist… it costs more to live downtown, and definitely way more to own property down town. At the same time, I think the issues in Toronto also grow out of two groups of people having very very different needs.

Up until five years ago I lived in Toronto and yes, the situation is entirely effed up. Because of Rob Ford I think the urbanites do have a certain right to be pissed at the suburbs as a whole (though not suburbanites as individuals) and because Toronto does have a particularly high number of renters from all income brackets, it’s a more complicated situation than people just saying “I hate people from Etobicoke — they’re so gauche.”

That said, the whole 403/905 business predates Rob Ford and even the merging of the GTA, wouldn’t you say. I used to live one block north of St. Clair, a mere 10 minute bus ride to the heart of Queen St, but because my driver’s license said “York” on it, I was teased by everyone I knew.

I had no idea you lived in Toronto for a bit! St. Clair is a nice area too, I almost lived up there. (I live at Ossington and Bloor mainly cause it’s a short bike ride to campus). Also- I hear you on the dislike of Rob Ford. I am a cyclist/cycle commuter (a safe one with a helmet and lights who signals, knows the law and doesn’t wear earbuds) and since he was elected the amount of completely uncalled for street harassment (anywhere from being cut off in traffic by someone who hasn’t signaled to really sexual things being yelled at me has increased dramatically). Maybe it’s because the mayor announced that bikes shouldn’t be on roads.

At the same time, I have an Uncle who lives in Etobicoke (incidentally) and he loves Ford because Ford wants good roads or something.. and my Uncle drives everywhere. I feel like Toronto is almost two separate cities people want completely different things, and vote so differently.

Vancouverite here, and sadly not a wealthy one. I’ve heard a fair amount of blame going to people from Surrey, and it is classist. That said, I did get the impression that many of the rioters were middle or upper-middle class in a financial if not a social sense, probably based on the entitlement and materialism that they showed during the looting.

Also, I’ve heard this called the No True Scotsman fallacy, and my loathing for it rivals the loathing that some here have for the Oxford comma. I couldn’t believe how many times I heard that “no REAL Canucks fan” would have rioted. It’s perfectly possible to be a Canucks fan and a jerk. Anyways, who would spend $150 on a team jersey as a disguise for a riot?

I don’t dislike people who live in suburbs, I just don’t like living in suburbs myself. I spent a year living in the ‘burbs of Silicon Valley, surrounded by sprawling apartment complexes interspersed with sprawling tech companies, the monotony broken only by the never-ending chain of strip malls down the middle of the peninsula. Eventually I cracked and had to move, because there just wasn’t anything to DO for a twenty-something with no kids. But I feel like I can hate on the suburbs without hating on the people who live in them! For marrieds with kids it’s obviously great.

Oh, I totally agree with you. I live in what would have been considered a suburb 50 years ago but is now almost inner city. It’s okay. But when we first moved back to this city we had to stay with my parents for a month and they live in a big new suburb. It was awful. You had to walk over an hour just to get to a store. No one knew the neighbours. I hated it.

Hear! Hear!
I live in a suburb that’s still technically in city limits because I wanted to own a house. The houses for sale in the downtown area are either 3-4x as expensive as a suburban lot, or in a neighborhood severely in need of revitalization. There are only two grocery stores (one for the Rich and one for the Poors) downtown (which spreads for several miles in each direction from center) one of which is ridiculously over-priced and the other is a chain store the corporate office seems to try to forget about, if the limited selection is any indication. Out here in the ‘burbs I’m within a couple blocks of two grocery stores. I work from home, so I’m not contributing to traffic or greenhouse gasses. I don’t like crowds or noise, because I”m secretly Abe Simpson, so the hustle and bustle of living in a city center would annoy me no end.
My suburb is also fairly diverse, the next door neighbors are from Pakistan, the couple across the street is Indian, there’s an Iraqi family around the corner and several black and Hispanic families. Our inner city is becoming increasingly becoming a mix of upper-middle class whites and very, very poor people of all backgrounds, so the ‘burbs are starting to attract more than the Wonderbread families that flocked to the ‘burbs in the ’70s and ’80s. The super rich still live in the ‘burbs, but not in my neighborhood.
Honestly, if I had the money and a promise of internet connectivity, I’d live in a tiny cabin in the middle of a huge tract of land covered in trees to make keeping to myself even easier. In the meantime, the ‘burbs will do.

My “snobbery” about the burbs has much more to do with the way people in the suburbs act toward the fact that I live in the city. I must live in a terrible neighborhood and fear for my life just walking to my car. I can’t possibly enjoy living so close to my neighbors. My house is how old? The schools must be horrible so I’m only living here until I decide to grow up and have a kid and raise a real family. Well they could never go to the grocery store on THAT corner! Etc. It’s all thinly veiled racism and classism. I think urban dwellers build up snide talk about suburbanites in reaction to surburban fears about “those people” who live in the city. (And I’m not in the downtown district, but in a relatively nice, working class neighborhood in the north part of the city.)

Although, in this area, urban decay is rampant and the downtown core isn’t the type of fancypants living you talk about. It really depends on the kind of city you live in what the reasoning is behind it, I’d imagine.

See, but this is the gross generalization I’m talking about. They’re not ALL like that, just like they would be wrong in thinking that ALL people who live downtown are a certain way. People make choices about where they live for all sorts of reasons and you can’t assume a person holds certain opinions or values based on their address.

I will agree that the degree of downtown fancy-pantsness depends on the city in question. From what I understand one could probably buy a place in say, downtown Detroit for a relatively decent price. I myself live in a fairly fancypants city and live in the no-man’s land between downtown and the real burbs. Houses are definitely more affordable in my neighbourhood than the proper inner city (if you cross one major road closer in from my house, homes are much smaller and cost about $200,000 more) and are even cheaper if you venture into the pink stucco pastures of the true suburbs.

Anyway, yes, perhaps some suburbanites living in your city are making classist assumptions. But in the case of Vancouver, blaming the riots on people from Surrey is a case of classism, because I don’t think there’s a real estate marked more elite and overpriced than the downtown Vancouver area (in spite of the fact that the same area is experiencing one of the most out-of-control homeless and addicted populations in North America).

No kidding. My city has a beltway around it and I’ve heard a LOT of snide remarks about living OTP (Outside The Perimeter). Pardon me if I don’t want to pay more money for less space, drive on hideously congested twisty streets every day and never be able to find a parking space. Oh, and assume my car or house will be broken into periodically.

I’ve lived in downtown areas before and they can be wonderful. City neighborhoods are usually better at creating a sense of community (in my experience) and life does seem a little more exciting, but living in the ‘burbs is just easier. If you don’t like, too bad.

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