I grew up in the suburbs and I raised my kids in the suburbs. As far as my parents, and then I, were concerned, the suburban schools were the only place you should send a child for their education. The urban schools had a bad reputation and, in fact, the Kansas City School District is still struggling with their reputation. There are some stellar charter schools, but there’s a long history of the city schools being consistently rated sub-par.
After my children were raised and school districts were no longer important in my world, I moved to the city. I have now lived in three different neighborhoods in Kansas City, and I have loved each and every one of them. There are so many parts of town that I travel to in my current life that I would have been scared to enter 20 years ago. Part of that fear was based on being raised in the suburbs, but it was also because our urban neighborhoods were declining.
Many of these neighborhoods have been revitalized and are now safe and interesting. That doesn’t mean there’s no crime, there is; but if you’re careful and aware, you can live safely and happily in these neighborhoods. I am currently living in one of those neighborhoods in the Midtown area. It’s a wonderful combination of old hippies and young college students with a few eccentrics thrown in for spice.
I am always careful about where I choose to live, but one of the many things I love about Kansas City is how the neighborhoods have grown and blended. You can drive through so many different types of neighborhoods in a relatively short distance. There are areas in this city where one stretch of the street has buildings surrounded by wire fencing topped with razor wire and then, just two blocks away, there are million dollar homes that people vie to purchase.
Two of my daughters and four of my grandchildren live in the suburbs so I do go back into that world for visits. Even though it’s only about a 40-minute drive, there are times it feels like I am driving to a different state or country. There is a different look and energy to the suburbs that no longer feels comfortable to me.
I love the diversity of the city; I am used to looking around and seeing people of all cultures and colors. The last time I met my daughter at a gym in the suburbs I was shocked to see how everyone in the building looked the same. Not only did they look the same, the styles they wore were all identical to each other and were a little outdated. It felt like there was a marked lack of friendliness and openness that day. Contrary to the stereotype, I find that people in the more urban parts of town are a lot more open to talking to someone they don’t know. At the gym in the suburbs that day, I didn’t see anyone take their eyes of the television screens to talk to or even acknowledge the person next to them.
Another thing about the suburbs that bothers me is the fact that you can drive down most streets and have no idea which suburb you’re in; they all have the same stores and basically the same styles of homes. There is a lack of individuality or personality to these communities. Iconic older homes and locally owned shops have all been torn down or run out of business to make way for cookie cutter houses and corporate stores.
I also think there are definite differences in how people drive in the city. I have lived in the city long enough now that I get nervous driving in the suburbs. People veer in and out of lanes of traffic much more aggressively in the ‘burbs. My theory about that is that a lot people in the suburbs have a long commute into the city to work each business day. They take the freeway into town and because of the congestion on the roads they have to drive more aggressively. This aggression becomes their norm and they drive that way even when they’re in their smaller suburban communities.
There is congestion driving in town, but I know which streets you should avoid because of heavier traffic and more lights, and which streets you can drive over with very little traffic and few stops. Even on the heavier traveled streets I still don’t feel the aggression from other drivers that I feel when I go out to the suburbs. Ironically, I feel safer driving in the “bad” parts of town than I do when I visit my daughters in their “safe” neighborhoods.
On one of my trips to the suburbs the other day, I drove past the park near my house. At one end of the park, there were crowds of young, urban, white men and women playing organized kickball. At the other end of the park there was a crowd of young, urban, black men playing cricket. As I turned the corner, there was a middle-aged man staring at me over the wide neck of the beverage he was drinking that was wrapped in a brown paper bag. We waved and I continued driving.
I know there are people who would be intimidated by all of these people and cultures, but seriously, how can you not love a neighborhood like that?