I have lived in two suburbs now. I have also lived in three major cities. Even with an “n” so low, I think I have the perfect case-controlled study of how artificial suburban life is.
The street names in the suburbs really bother me. They don’t reflect history. They represent some developer’s state of mind. They are meant to feed into some bucolic dream. I have to laugh every time I am on the New Jersey Turnpike and see the water tower of “Milltown” since it (minus an ‘l”) was a popular sedative in the 1960’s. The drug was actually named after the town. I think the developers of that time wanted to sedate everyone. They don’t call them “bedroom communities” for nothing. City streets have real names usually after someone who has achieved something, a local landmark or perhaps a geological site. In my urban hometown there was “Railroad Avenue”, “Canal Street” and “Old Bergen Road”. But sometime in the late 1950s and early 1960’s that all changed. Post World War II idealism made kodachrome moments out of everything. Americans somehow decided that they wanted some mixed up combination of the country and city life, hence the birth of the suburb.
It was attempted in my urban hometown wasteland, although half-assed as usual. Sometime in the 1960’s an old landfill site in that city had an enterprising developer who reworked a tract of former swamp and renamed it “Country Village”. Suddenly the streets names became generic, upscale and pastoral as to fool people into thinking that they didn’t really live among what was commonly known as “The Back Highway" or near a Ryerson Steel plant. I knew “Suburbia Court” since my late uncle lived there. There was “Suburbia Drive” ,“Sycamore Road” along with “Ferncliff Road” and “Colonial Drive”. You can’t erase what nature intended. They had perennial flooding problems.
The same thing happened in the two real suburbs I currently live in or formerly inhabited. We moved to Notre Dame country in the late 1990’s and bought a “spec’ house in an upscale development that had beautiful houses but no soul. The street names were “Shamrock Hills”, "Dublin Drive" and "Shannon Brook Court." Everyone is Irish in South Bend Indiana. Notre Dame Football seems to be the only industry left. They still lament the “Studebaker” and "Uniroyal" names like some revered old but dead soldiers. Next to Catholicism, ”Footballism” is a religion onto itself. The ceremonies are similar only with tailgating altars, coaches as priests and news organizations as lectors and commentators. Real Celtic people must cringe at this distortion.
Moving to the East Coast was no better. The developments here are all named in honor of the fine tradition of fox hunting: stalking a poor beautiful animal by herds of famished hounds and full of themselves Englishmen on horses. There’s “Hunt Valley”, “Foxcroft”, “Fox Hollow”. Is honoring a quirky and non-animal friendly sport really make people think they live in a better place?
I will escape suburbia someday. Goddammit I don’t even have sidewalks in my neighborhood. It’s back to the city or really rough it in the country. Actually, if I am lucky, both. I love the contrast.