The latest in the cities vs. suburbs debate seems to be that of identification. Is it okay to say you’re from the city when you really live in the suburbs? Or should such behavior be ruthlessly ridiculed until the offender admits where they’re actually from?
Laura Bliss and Sam Sturgis over a City Lab say urbanites should not knock their suburban brethren. Hillary Kelly at New Republic insists suburbanites should correctly state where they are actually from.
I, however, come from a middle ground with both perspectives.
As someone who lived in Downtown Cleveland for three years, I loathed hearing suburbanites talk about living in Cleveland to visitors, friends or family. Shopping at a lifestyle plaza 15 miles away from the city limits is not life in the city.
However, I too am from the suburbs by birth. And during my first urban living experiment in Chicago, I told acquaintances that I’m from Cleveland.
The reasoning is something Bliss and Sturgis touch on in their piece. It was a matter of convenience. Few outside the confines of Northeast Ohio know what or where “Mentor” is. But everyone knows that Cleveland is a city, even if the New Yorkers I have encountered over the years cannot even come close to placing it on a map.
(Here’s a clue; it’s next to one of the largest bodies of freshwater in the world.)
That’s all it was, though. Convenience. It was not a matter of positive connotation, as Bliss and Sturgis also suggest for folks from Camden, New Jersey or Gary, Indiana. In fact, identifying with Cleveland came with all sorts of negative connotations when living in Chicago.
“Oh, the mistake on the lake,” one gentleman told me, brushing off Johnny Carson’s material from decades ago.
Even within the region, admitting my suburban blood would have been viewed far more positively than the evil, dangerous, apocalyptic city. Though things have changed in some respect as millennials and empty nesters march back to the urban core, there are still plenty of individuals who would not be caught dead living in the city.
And these, I propose, are the ones who should be ridiculed for telling someone they live in the city of XYZ.
There is a substantial amount of pride involved for many who identify with the city; even if suburbanites would look at certain urban neighborhoods, shaking their head and wondering how anyone could ever live there. So why should these people, who ruthlessly shun city living and those who choose to live there, be given a pass for identifying with the city in conversation? I don’t care if it’s a matter of convenience. You don’t get to say, “I’m from Baltimore” if the idea of living there turns your face pale.
As always, there is a gray area and exceptions to the rule. Surprise, surprise, I believe I meet the exception.
No, I am not from the city. And there are those, it seems, who believe I should have been corrected when identifying with Cleveland while growing up. However, being able to say those words, “I’m from Cleveland,” as meaningless as they mean seem to some, quite possibly planted the seed in me early on for urban living. Had someone chided me until I admitted my suburban existence, who knows what I would have identified with and where I would be now.
Luckily nobody challenged me on this, possibly because I was still developing into a fully functional human being and had time to change. Chastising a kid for identifying with the city is probably not urbanism’s greatest cause.
What I propose is simply allowing life to play out. If someone with years of growing up ahead of them chooses to identify with the city, let them. Who does it hurt? Perhaps that child or teenager will grow into a productive, contributing member of your city.
Should the late-20s come (and this hypothetical individual is still wondering how you manage to do your grocery shopping in the city or stay safe at night) then by all means, send them packing back to the manufactured lifestyle they have chosen to embrace.
- LeBron James: The Obligatory Response From A Clevelander(article-3.com)
- Google Street View Shows The Merits Of Urban Density(article-3.com)
- How to Bridge the Generation Gap in Sustainability and Sprawl(article-3.com)