Suburbanity

As I wrote in Why This? Why Now?, a big reason for me starting this blog was the sort of things I was reading in the Comments section of EV Grieve’s blog. I was struck by the provincialism displayed in many of the comments, directed at people who may have at one time lived in the suburbs, or visit from the suburbs, or at stores that are associated with the suburbs. At first I thought the commenters were just supercilious, and I’m sure that’s true of some of them, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what people were referring to as “suburban” was only incidentally suburban, or rather tautologically suburban.

When the International House of Pancakes opened on 14th Street, commenters railed against it as “suburban”. When it was announced that 7-Eleven would open on Avenue A and 11th Street, it was vilified as “suburban”, and the people who would shop there as suburban, living out their suburban childhoods, turning the dirty Lower East Side into a suburb. Here are some examples:

Commenter:
evg-suburb-120403-comment

Commenter:
evg-suburb-130306-comment

No 7-Eleven NYC meeting announcement:
evg-suburb-130108-n7e-announcement

So what are they opposed to? It has more to do with standardization than with geography. What is referred to as “suburban” is nothing less than the direction that retail-capital took after World War 2. This was the time that franchising grew significantly. Cities were too prohibitive to build in — ground rent was high, zoning and existing structures restricted what was possible — but the interstate highway system allowed for expansion outside of the city. The land they moved into was not only cheap but plentiful. If there had been enough cheap land in the cities in the 1950s, franchises would have developed here, because capital would not have moved to rural areas to seek higher returns.

There’s nothing wrong with critiquing franchising, but to confuse it as “suburban” masks the real driving force.

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