The dystopian outcome of the suburban utopia

Alvaro Azcarraga/Staff

he white picket fence.

Traditionally made of wood and painted white, ubiquitously encapsulating the American Dream of a suburban utopia. 2 1/2 kids and a dog sprinkled into exorbitantly-sized houses and lawns of typical cul-de-sacs. It has since manifested into a shared aspiration and symbolism of success that has stood the test of time, forging a firm grip on our psyches.

And yet, to a native New Yorker, this picturesque backdrop seemed like a far-fetched myth existing only in movies and novels.

Steel and concrete form the skeleton of New York City, with the subway lines as veins traversing through the city pumping people in and out expeditiously. The train made teleportation seem almost a reality. Living in Queens, I could walk seven minutes to reach the train, wait three minutes for the R local train, take the train two stops, wait two minutes for the F express train and take it for 10 minutes to reach work in midtown Manhattan. Despite the complications of transfers and intermittent walks, I could be anywhere in a short moment. The train system reached even the furthest extremities of New York and transported 5.7 million people on a given weekday. In addition to the train, us New Yorkers, traveled old school. With the vehicles nature dealt us, we exhausted our legs to their limits by walking everywhere and anywhere. The five boroughs were just a metrocard swipe away. I had the independence and freedom to travel anywhere I pleased with the minimal resources I had.

People seemed to live on top of one another. It’s an urban Hunger Games competing for the last seat on the train, the last available cab in sight or even the last available table at a restaurant. Only the keenest and the most vicious survive the tough, cutthroat culture of New York City. We don’t have time for pleasantries and small talk to get to know the stranger next to us. We barely have time to figure ourselves out. Far too engrossed in our own trivialities, we seldom acknowledge the existence of lives outside our immediate circle.

The density and proximity has only caused the buildings to grow taller and taller with clouds dancing around the tips of the skyscrapers. An anomaly to nature, these massive structures house offices, apartments and a variety of businesses that breathe excitement into the otherwise empty manmade constructions. Elevators popping up and down carrying people from homes to work in a matter of minutes. The pure numbers of possibilities of shopping, eating and leisure all within walking distance can make any heart skip a beat with delight. At any time of the day, whatever I wanted to eat or do could be accomplished, genie lamp not required.

Arriving in California, I was slapped in the face with the realization that the suburban myth was actually a reality. Goodbye to convenience and excitement, hello monotonous chill.

Grass, trees and hills dominate the terrain of California’s suburbs. Dotting the landscape of green are speckles of small towns and suburbia separated by seas of green vegetation. Connecting these flecks of civilization is a mere few trains on Bay Area Rapid Transit. Nature’s vehicle doesn’t compare to the man-made vehicles of cars. Living in Berkeley and working in Livermore, I have never felt more encumbered in my life. Without a license to drive, I have to rely on the BART, which arrives approximately every 15 minutes. Missing the train meant waiting an additional 20 minutes, which would mean I had missed the transfer train, therefore I would have to wait another hefty 20 minutes. By the time I arrive at the Pleasanton BART station, I have to wait for my colleagues to chauffeur me to the office. It’s reminiscent of  childhood days when I was too young to ride the train and had to depend on others for transportation. The considerable space between cities and towns makes it impossible to travel anywhere without the use of a car.

The houses of suburbia are colossal, the lawns are perfectly mowed and the garages typically house more than one car. Everywhere I turn, the house next door features the same massive qualities with slight variations in color and material. The houses are a work of copy and paste simplicity that could easily be mistaken as products of an assembly line; the people are a mingling mess of sweet oblivion, curating a uniform landscape. I could walk for miles and miles and not see any store or form of public transportation. To perform simple tasks of grocery shopping, watching movies or even eating out at a restaurant requires driving on the highway. The white picket fence dream, however pleasing to the eye, is an isolating notion.

In suburbia, there are no free museum days, large plazas of small eateries, pockets of cultural diversity or exciting expeditions awaiting. Suburbia is calm, mono-cultural and predictable. Those who adore nature and hikes claim suburbia is a perfect conglomeration of urban necessity and natural accessibility. There’s an allure to the stability and close proximity to nature that suburbs offer. They are seen as the utopian escape from the urban pollution.

Bursting the misconceived ideology of suburbia’s “greenness,” New York City actually emits less pollution per capita than its suburban neighbors. New Yorkers don’t have space for cars, so we opt for public transportation. Pesticides and fertilizers meant to maintain the vision of lush, green lawns are rarely the norm in New York City. Always out and about in the city, city dwellers infrequently use household resources.

With global climate changes increasing at an alarming rate, the American Dream must evolve to curtail the wasteful nature of suburbia. Suburban dwellers are cutting down nature’s flowers and spraying them with chemicals, yet they are surprised when the greens around them start shriveling. We strive to create suburban utopias at the expense of creating natural dystopias.

Contact Nelly Lin at [email protected].