Each time I visit freinds in suburbia I’m confronted with the reality that there is no public realm. All space is private – if not legally or physically then certainly culturally. I’m reminded of my transgressions when I don’t follow the rules. The space in front of each house is de facto an extension of the front lawn and outsiders are not welcome there. Of course, the second a driver leaves the cul-de-sac the assumption is that traffic should always flow quickly and convenient free parking is a God given right at all times. The space between private locations is a conduit rather than any kind of destination or amenity.
People who live in cities have a much higher tolerance for strangers and expect most outdoor space to be used by the general population. In fact, the existence of street life and activity is a prime benefit. Both urban and suburban residents are self-selecting groups that opt in to their preferred arrangements. People who hate crowds don’t remain in the city for long. People who find the isolation of the suburbs unpleasant don’t linger if they have other options.
This afternoon I found myself in Grumpy Old Man mode. A car parked illegally with half the vehicle blocking our garage door. One of the guys in the building needed to pull out and couldn’t. The frustrating thing is that there was actually enough space for this car to fit legally if it had pulled up a few feet. Whoever parked there must not have been used to the finer points of parking in a constrained urban environment. This is the third time in recent months this has happened in this same exact spot. So we had the city tow the car. It’s not something we enjoy doing. Getting a car back from the impound lot is a lengthy and unpleasant process that usually costs around $700. This is the city version of a love note explaining the rules to suburbanites who drift in with a different set of cultural expectations.