Saturday, March 6, 2010

Are the suburbs on life support?

I had to attend a lecture at the "Mourning the Suburb" Symposium at Prefix Institute for Contemporary Art yesterday. I hoped it might be thought provoking (it's wasn't exceedingly), since where to live (suburbs, city, or even country) has been a contested subject for me for the last 3 years or so. Personally, I love the quiet of the suburbs. The suburb is the land of leisure. I love being able to take a stroll through my neighbourhood and to know that no one is conducting important business or getting riled up at a night club or any other sort of debaucherous establishment nearby. On the other hand, when we do want to partake in business or debauchery, those establishments are just too far away. The convenience of being able to stumble to one's doorstep from fatigue or intoxication is a great feeling. 

The startling absence of museums, galleries, and theatres in the suburbs is also problematic for me. What I got out of the lecture was that the biggest problem with the suburbs is the lack of community and culture. Suburbs don't really have public spaces for people to express themselves creatively. That's why we see things like yard sales. Regardless, this is not un-remediable. A more accessible public space might help to engage suburban residents with their communities. I often receive notices about community issues (political, environmental) being discussed at some public forum unknown to me. I've thought about but never actually attended one of these. If I thought my friends and neighbours were attending, that people not directly involved in politics actually cared, I wouldn't feel so out of place going to one.

The suburbs often receive a lot of hate from both city-dwellers and suburbanites, not to mention environmentalists, but so many people choose to live in the suburbs because there are a lot of positives to them. An OCAD student last semester did a photography project on the bleakness of Brampton. From his photos, Brampton looked like a construction site for building the same house, over and over again. But despite the aesthetic sameness, it's important to acknowledge that suburban residents are as varied as city dwellers, especially in Toronto. I love how American artist Laura Migliorino's photos demonstrate this in a positive light.

It's seems that people are not mourning the suburbs at all. The suburbs have their problems, just like the city and the country, but they aren't dead. Migliorino wrote in her artist statement that "the notion of the American dream as a house in the suburbs is alive and well."

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