Guestblog: In Defense of the Suburbs

Jennifer Reed, friend of mine and author of the blog Guerrilla Wordfare, had an idea in need of a home, and I'm thrilled to post her guestblog here. If you have any comments, please leave them here or drop Jennifer a line [guerillawordfare at gmail]!

Like many in the tri-state area, I live in a suburb and commute to Downtown Cincinnati to work. Like others who choose this lifestyle, I often feel blame from people so rabid about renewal and revival they associate anyone who lives beyond the city limits with economic failure and business closures.

I live in the Eastgate area, and I have my reasons. Sure, my house looks like the stereotypical suburbanite abode, with its white fences and a wreath on the door. But I'm also near family, own a home I could never afford if it were only one county over and enjoy an admittedly quieter everyday life than I would if I lived in the city.

That being said, I love being Downtown and work on Main Street. I spend my money on independent dining establishments and in local shops. I frequent Findlay Market and our fine museums and am often present to cheer on our Bengals and Reds. I've paid my fair share of parking fees, given to the homeless and tweet about the latest and greatest events on Fountain Square.

Why, then, do I read so many blog posts, news stories and message board comments that angrily assume that my zip code determines my love for or loathing of Cincinnati? If I'm to believe everything I read online, I'm a scared suburbanite and a silly sheep. I cross the streets to avoid other races. I am blind to the small business owner's plight and the beauty of Porkopolis. Oh, please.

Why do so many people feel the need to bash where I live? Most responses to my answer when asked are to the effect of "Why the hell do you live all the way out there?" Or worse, people are surprised by my love of museums and festivals and by my knowledge of local history when they discover I'm not a city dweller.

My answer to these jeers is this: I live all the way out here because I like it. I frequent Downtown because I like it too. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Are Downtown residents somehow more justified in their shopping habits or more culturally advanced than someone who lives mere minutes away? I'd venture to say that many frequent Cincinnati establishments for the same reason I patronize family businesses in the suburbs: primarily because they're convenient. Secondarily, because it feels good to support a local business. Am I the only one to admit that love of convenience in the city is often given the veil of doing good?

That's not to say there aren't a great deal of folks out there who are fighting a good fight to revitalize Cincinnati neighborhoods. I know you're out there. For every person who shops at a chain store, there's another who passes five to get to a local joint. There are people opening businesses, renovating old buildings and putting folks to work.

And it's also not to say that the suburbs don't, in part, deserve the bad rap. After all, any exit ramp in the 'burbs will lead you straight to strip malls and big box stores. But I also enjoy a nearby Ohio State Park, several nature preserves, drives in the country and excursions to Amish bakeries and barn sales.

What's my point? Don't judge a local by their distance from the city center. And I love you, Cincinnati. It's just that sometimes, I'm not feeling the love back.


Brian Reynolds said...

Agreed. There are absolutely merits to living where you live (and kind of where I live), but I hope you are sharing your love of downtown with your suburban friends. I think they're the ones that started the war. Downtown-lovers are just fighting back :)

John F. said...

I think the simple answer to "Why do so many people feel the need to bash where I live?" is that the same people are used to being bashed for where THEY live. This defensive reaction isn't necessarily productive, but I really do think it's that simple.

I grew up in suburban Indianapolis and found it soul-numbingly boring as a teenager. And as a 30-something single guy now, I find the suburbs isolating and (still) boring. It would make me very unhappy to live there, so I don't. However, it's completely legitimate for anyone else to live there especially if it makes them happy. Bashing anyone's personal life decisions is stupid. When I'm old I hope to live in the country. Or in a monastery. :)

JR said...

Jenny here...thanks for the comments (and thanks to Erica for posting this).

Brian, I have to give my parents credit for exposing me to the city early and often. I like to pass that on to as many people as possible. We have friends from college who come and visit us and we always take them Downtown for dinners, games, shows, museums... you name it.

John, I think that's a good point. It's like a reverse "grass is greener" effect! How strange! I too would find the suburbs intolerable if I didn't get my daily exposure to city life. Maybe it's just a matter of finding a good balance and recognizing that others may have a different idea of what that is?

redrabbit said...

Thank you all for the comments on Jenny's post!

I am guilty of a lot of suburb bashing-- I grew up in Eastgate too, and have hated it for years and years. But as I mentioned in the very first post on this blog, I've moved beyond that-- I realize that there is a right place for me (and it ain't Eastgate). However, cutting on the 'burbs is something I ought to be a little more sensitive to. It'll always be home in a lot of ways.

5chw4r7z said...

As everyone else has stated most if not all city residents are so tired of being told they'll be shot when someone asked where they live, its almost become a kneejerk reaction in self defense for us to look down on anyone from the 'burbs.
You're right not everyone wants or needs to live downtown, its not for everone and its starting to get crowded sometimes I wish for the Cincinnati I had when I moved here in 2004 when I could stroll into a restaraunt and sit down without a reservation.
But one thing I want to know, what is convienient in Anderson?
You live in a house you can afford farther out, but what is the hidden cost?
I pay $40 a month to commute to work, how much do you spend?
I spend $0 in travel costs to go to the museum, the theater or library.
How much more house could you afford if your travel cost was $0 and you could walk?
I've just decided I'd rather spend that commute money on myself rather than a car.
To each his own.

JR said...


I own a Yaris, so I spend about as much as you to commute (to give you an idea, we made it from Cincy to DC on one tank of gas).I tend to spend a lot of my time in the countryside and outdoors camping, hiking and canoeing and my close proximity to several parks and canoe put-ins in Milford make it convenient. I do visit DT attractions a lot but often combine those trips with my commute.

We did look for houses slightly closer to the city and for what we purchased our new build for, we would have been renovating a home that was falling apart in the city. We found that we would be paying for the location rather than the quality of the house, which is a tradeoff we didn't want to make.

I do know the people you describe-the ones from my neck of the woods who think you're tripping over bodies if you come downtown. But what about people like me who know that's ridiculous?

If you don't mind taking a look at my blog, you'll see why I prefer to live where I do and own a car. It just works with my interests. If I lived downtown, I'd need a car anyway to get to the other things I wanted to do that are close to where I am now :-)

Amyl said...

The residents of downtown and OTR are very small group. What's interesting to me is that most of Cincinnati's active bloggers (that blog about Cincinnati related things) live in that area. So it's an very active and vocal minority. The population afraid to come downtown is much higher than the We <3 OTR cheerleaders.

Jerks live all over the place. Cool people live all over the place. You are cool and you live in the suburbs. I live in OTR and the people next door are jerks. Living in OTR doesn't give anyone an instant cool card. When someone says something about jerky people and their suburban existence don't take it personally. It doesn't apply to you.

What else are we supposed to get out of this? People should be nicer on the internet? Yeah, everyone needs to be more aware.

redrabbit said...

Oh my gosh, I LOVE this comment.

Jerks DO live everywhere.

On Jennifer's behalf, I'd like to throw in the fact that a lot of this banter happens OFFLINE, not just on the internet. (She and I have had this discussion before.) But that doesn't take away from the fact that yeah... jerks live everywhere.

Amyl said...

I was being sincere but I guess it didn't come off that way.

So, yay for anyone who is for progess in Cincinnati. I like (and read) all your blogs but I'm now going to retreat back to my Tumblr dashboard and stay away from comments.

redrabbit said...

I was being sincere too! I liked your comment!

I was just throwing in a comment about how this stuff isn't just internet-based.

5chw4r7z said...

JR, Amyl and RedRabbit,
Since you've brought up jerks, the other cool thing about downtown is you have a lot of people to chose from to be friends with. I've pruned all or most of the jerks from my life and surround myself with the most positive and intelligent people I can.(I need to because I'm an idiot)
When I lived outside Youngstown in the sticks, I was stuck with my few neighbors.

Heather said...

I think the same thing can be said about neighborhoods within the city limits. People frown when I say I live in Pleasant Ridge because it's probably 50% black. Ooh isn't it dangerous? Um no! And I can't see spending twice as much to live 5 minutes away in the blessed Hyde Park! My friends bought a 2 bedroom - 1 bath - no driveway home for $210K in East HP. My 5 bedroom - 2 bath - 2 car garage (tandem) home in PRidge was $150K! For that amount of money - I'll drive the 5 minutes to HP Square!

Slightly different argument - but still the same end. People have different things that are important to them - we all balance those items based on our own values.

CityKin said...

I'm a native westsider, and a current OTR resident, so by my standards you have two marks against you. The way I see it the further east you go the uglier it gets... until you get past Batavia..

But you're still welcome to work and spend your time and money down here. In fact, thanks. Hope to bump into you sometime!

liz said...

great post and lots of interesting comments!

bryn said...

downtown cincy is not THAT great, that is why most people do not live downtown and prefer to live in the suburbs. grocery stores are hard to find and the city feels like it shuts down at night; of course there are certain parts that are more "lively" but cincy is nothing like chicago, DC, Portland etc. cincy is just different, it is conservative and not progressive at all. there is a small group of people wanting to revitalize the city but without political and financial support nothing is ever going to really change. plus people in the mid-west are different then people on the east and west coasts; people marry younger here, have families and therefore there are not as many YPs left that want to live downtown.

Anonymous said...

I want to like Cinci. I want to love Cinci. More than anything, I want Cinci to feel like home...but it just doesn't. My husband grew up on the far west side and then moved away for school. After school we spent almost a decade outside Chicago. I spent the majority of my time in downtown Chicago and loved it. The city never made me feel unsafe, threatened or dirty. Went to Bulls games, Cubs games, museums and theatre. It's a cool place. Husband took a job in Cinci 4 years ago. The first time I drove downtown was to go to the book sale at the library. Someone approached me and asked me for money while I was doing something in the back of my car with my 2 year old. That same day, I had lunch downtown and was given a bagel that was literally covered in mold. Not the best first day downtown. The second time I went downtown to visit my husband at work someone again approached me at my car asking for money. It's a very unsettling feeling especially when you are with your child. Am I afraid of homeless people? Absolutely not. In Chicago, you get to know the homeless people. You see them in the same spot every day. You say hello to them and you wonder if something happened to them if they are not there one day. We lived a block away from a train station and there were frequently homeless people hanging out but they never approached us or made us feel threatened.

Over Christmas we took our little ones (4 and 2) downtown for the train display. We had to walk 2 blocks but in that time we had to walk over condoms and vomit. Again...never happened in Chicago. Not kidding. Never.

Cinci (ok the 'burbs) is now home. My kids will grow up here. This will be my kids' city. I want them to love it. I want them to think it is great. I just need to find a way to think it myself. I'm trying. That's how I found this blog...

VisuaLingual said...

I agree with the above comment that Cincinnati is not ALL THAT. The basin area isn't really ALL THAT, either. But, as much as the anti-inner city frustrates me, that kind of pervasive provinciality enables me to live an affordable life in OTR that is pedestrian-friendly and convenient. So, when people quiz me about the horrors of living where I do, I sometimes defend it or explain what I love about OTR. Other times, I get tired of being an ambassador and just bite my tongue.

The main reason why I was willing to move to Cincinnati in the first place was because I knew that we could afford to live in a central area and lead the kinds of lives we're now leading. So, although my own instinct is anti-suburban, it follows that I should actually be pro-suburbs, because that helps me afford my quiet little life.

Kevin LeMaster said...

One other thing to consider...not all suburbs are created equally. Some offer much better lifestyle choices than others.

Nire said...

Very insightful post. I grew up in West Chester. Most people cringe when I mention that, though I never truly understood why. Growing up there was fantastic - I had a great childhood. BBQs, bike riding throughout the neighborhood, huge backyards, trees, pool parties, wonderful friends, a great education. I respect my parents for choosing to raise my brother and me in an environment like that. I still love visiting my parents there - I couldn't imagine saying a bad word about the suburbs. After moving around for a number of years, I finally own a place downtown. It's perfect for what I need right now. However, if i ever have a family, I would have a difficult time denying them the great upbringing I had in the suburbs.

Does that mean I love downtown any less? Not at all. I would not have purchased a home there if I didn't believe in downtown's growth and prosperity. It simply means that different places meet different needs at different times. For now, downtown gives me what I am looking for, but who knows what the future will bring? And I wonder if I did leave downtown for the 'burbs if I too would be referred to as a suburban sheep?

redrabbit said...

Wow, thank you all for the fantastic comments! Sounds like I might have to ask Jennifer for another guest post some time, eh?

Make sure you visit her blog, too!

Reedie said...

I promise I'm not just trying to up the comment count of this one so Erica invites me back (well, ok maybe I am).

There are three points that strike me as I re-read these comments:

1) It is sometimes assumed that Downtown can fill most needs as far as dining, entertainment and culture. For me, it's just one side of the coin. I enjoy all it has to offer, but I also need to go further afield for my other interests. So while I might be criticized for having to drive to go to the CAM, if I lived in the city, I'd still drive to the suburbs to go canoeing.

2) Some who agree with me do so in a way that's almost backhanded...sort of, "Live in the suburbs if you want, that just gives us city folk more room." I still think there's a pervasive attitude that places anyone who lives in the city as being more "in the know" than someone who doesn't. I would put money on my being able to pass as a downtowner through conversation alone. In fact,I've shown DT residents things they didn't know about. The Toynbee Tile, for instance.

3) I think you just have to look harder in the suburbs for interesting people and places. They exist, they are just more hidden. And I think that's part of the excitement.

5chw4r7z said...

You drive, make a car payment, parking, insurance and wear & tear all for $40 a month?
If I could pull that off I might live farther out to. But until I can, I'll spend all that money on myself instead of a car.

Viva la Downtown

Reedie said...

I know what you're getting at, but it's the assumption that I only use my car to commute to work that raises an issue here. Before my husband's diagnosis, we were out of town every single weekend on a road trip, and that's no exaggeration. If I only drove to the grocery store and to work, I'd totally agree with your thoughts about owning a car. However, my car is a base model $12,000 Yaris with a great warranty (and $12,000, even with gas and wear and tear, wouldn't have added much to a house we could have bought in the city). I'd venture to say that with as many trips we take by car, it's a great investment as opposed to renting a car every single time. The other assumption you keep making is that everything I could possibly want is downtown. It's not. I love the things that are there, but I also explained my multitude of other interests that aren't downtown.

On another note, I again got the shocked look when I explained where I was from on Friday night. We were eating dinner before a show at the Aronoff and were having a conversation about our occupations, interests, etc. with a downtowner. When we said we were from Eastgate, he couldn't believe it. Is it so impossible to fathom that someone who lives just 20 minutes away could possible know a good restaurant and be cultured enough to attend a show? This is what I'm getting at.

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