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Opinion: Cordova Hills & Suburban Living

Last night, the County Board of Supervisors approved the Cordova Hills project to create a new suburb in the eastern end of the County.

I watched some of the session on the project on television and was struck by a couple significant misrepresentations being oft quoted by the opposition which were fortunately corrected during the session.

One was that approving the project would threaten federal transportation funds, which was corrected by a former federal transportation official who found nothing in the project warranting such a claim.

Another was that the project should not be approved because it was so far away from everything else, which was corrected by the board chair reminding people that it was only far away if you live in the city of Sacramento, but for those people who live in Rancho Cordova and Folsom, it’s right next door.

Our organization doesn’t have any particular feeling about the Cordova Hills project as it is not adjacent to or even close to the American River Parkway, but we are concerned about suburban development in general.

The Parkway is surrounded by suburbs and the Sacramento region is largely a suburban region so the health of the suburbs is important to all of us and the approval of good suburban projects—which Cordova Hills appears to be—is good for the region.

The suburban home, lifestyle, and residents have been the recipients of criticism ever since people began moving from the congested, polluted, and dangerous cities out to the nice house in the country, and the call for the end of suburban living as if it is just-around-the-corner, is as much a fantasy as the validity of much of the criticism.

The typical urban planner in Sacramento probably looks out over the sea of suburban housing surrounding the American River Parkway and sees a lot of wasted space, but the people fortunate enough to live here—your author included—see sacred space; space devoted exclusively to their families and their private lives, space where their children are relatively safe and can grow to maturity within the most defining aspect of the American Dream, the California suburban lifestyle, the Sacramento Dream.

To the urban advocate, being a suburbanite is virtually always suspect, and it’s reflected in our language. The Oxford Dictionary has as one of its definitions of suburban: “2. Having characteristics regarded as typical of residents or life in the suburbs of a city; esp. provincial, narrow-minded, uncultured, naïve.”

However, being urbane, from urban, fares much better. “2. Having the qualities or characteristics associated with town or city life; esp. elegant and refined in manners, courteous, suave, sophisticated.”

Prejudice against suburban living as somehow living an inauthentic life is widespread and repeated regularly.

It was a stance I also held—though I was raised in the suburbs—when I was young and single, living in downtown or midtown Sacramento, when I was sometimes able to even forgo owning a car and during that period of my life, I truly enjoyed urban living.

However, once I was married and we had a child, the importance of more space, a back yard, and easy access to entertainment and shopping with free parking, and the relatively low crime rate in the suburbs, led to us living and remaining there.

While the car, among many members of the urban planning community, is largely tainted by the negative narrative of suburban living—and correctly the cause of some air pollution—much of the value of being in our own car as we tool around the community to work, play, and shop, is the way in which it provides an extension of our personal space and comfort, as a buffer against the often chaotic and hard-edged nature of the public space we all have to traverse daily.

It is also the only way you can really shop at Costco.

There is value in all types of living arrangements and the many arguments about why one is better than the other are generally more based on sincerely held ideological zeal rather than logical thought.

The two major environmental reasons given for the evil of the suburbs, air and water pollution—though urban environments have also long contributed to each—have largely been addressed by better technology.

Living in the suburbs is at the heart of the American Dream and virtually every day, I am reminded in some way of the great joy that is part of our family life largely resulting from our life in the suburbs, whether it is the busy chirping of the flocks of birds eating from our bird feeders or bathing in our bird baths, or the squirrels eating up the sunflower seeds sprinkled on the patio each morning, or the occasional hawk finding our back yard to keep the dove and squirrel population in check; or the warmth of the winter and early spring sun when sitting in the back yard, and the refreshing cool of the pool under the blazing Sacramento summer sun; and the peace and quiet largely surrounding us broken occasionally by a barking dog or the playing of the neighbors children or the murmur of a barbeque party; being able to jump in the car and within a couple minutes to be shopping in the grocery store or ordering in a restaurant for a spontaneous meal; or take the short walk to the river; it is all wonderful, all part and parcel of suburban life in the suburban communities surrounding the American River Parkway and the river flowing through it.

But, as much as I now love living in the suburbs, I will never forget how much I once loved living in the city, and for that reason, Sacramentans can be thankful we are blessed with an abundance of many ways of living our lives.

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