A common question I’m asked when I meet someone from Minneapolis or St. Paul is “Where do you live?”
“Where exactly is that?”
I’m always disappointed that my urban acquaintances know very little of the suburbs surrounding their city. But I’m never more disappointed than when urbanites spout clichéd opinions about suburban living.
Not long ago a Facebook friend posted her feelings on the blandness of the suburbs, positing on the beige-ness of every house, the only difference in color being “beige, taupe, buff, butter, mushroom, ecru, linen and bone.” And she pronounced all of them ugly. I must admit, the statement really hurt. I happen to live in a beige house.
So forgive me if I sound defensive when I say that I live in the suburbs and I love my community, cream-colored houses and all.
I didn’t grow up in the city or even the suburbs. I grew up in small-town Iowa. When I moved north to the Twin Cities metro, the suburbs felt to me like the big-bad city. Now I’ve lived in Lakeville for the past 30 years and I’ve become used to taking flak from urbanites. I’ve heard the suburbs defined as a place where they cut down all the trees and then name the streets after them, where diversity is a home that costs less than $250,000. My urban friends have said “they still love me even though I live in the suburbs.”
I’ve discovered that every suburb is distinct and has its own personality. Too often those who know little about the suburbs group all of them under the same label. But lumping all the suburbs together is like lumping Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa under the same banner. (And no one I know would do that!)
My city friends make the trek to my house just once a year, which is always such a big deal because it’s sooo far away. They will only come in the summer. And they always get lost because of our curvy roads with foreign-sounding names such as Ipava Avenue and Interlachen Boulevard.
For them, crossing the Minnesota River is akin to entering another state. They often tease that I live closer to Iowa than the Twin Cities.
Of course, these same friends think nothing of me driving to their homes. Because we suburbanites are basically driving machines. They think suburbanites are used to driving from our cultural wastelands to the city, anything to beat the boredom of anonymous chain restaurants and big-box retailers, or all that empty space, which is all the suburbs have to offer other than three-car garages and carpools. My city friends can’t understand why I choose to live so far away, or why I subject myself to such long commutes. I’m too nice to remind them that I can drive to downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul in 20 minutes via freeway. It often takes them longer on city streets.
The other complaint I often hear is that only rich, white people live in the suburbs. The daughter of one of my urban friends played on a suburban soccer team. The joke was that her daughter was their diversity because she came from the city. But suburbs like Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Richfield and Hopkins have increasingly diverse populations. In contrast, perhaps due to gentrification, an acquaintance who lives in South Minneapolis tells me she can count on one hand the number of non-white students in her daughter’s entire preschool.
And as far as poverty is concerned, according to a June 21 article in the Star Tribune, poor people living in the suburbs of the Twin Cities now significantly outnumber the needy in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Many urbanites think that life in the suburbs is boring, that all we do is attend soccer games and barbecues, and that we spend most of our time mowing the grass. The thing is, my urban friends spend their free time doing the exact same things. Are they cultivating a sense of urban idealism that doesn’t exist?
Rather than calling Lakeville a suburb, I prefer to use the term “town.” It has a wonderfully thriving downtown area with cute boutiques, a wine bar, a bowling alley and a coffee shop (one that isn’t a Starbucks, though we have a couple of those, too).We have a library that offers great programs, including our annual community-wide book club known as OneBook, OneLakeville that involves a month-long series of free events to encourage reading and build community. We have one of the youngest mayors in the state, now serving his second term. And we have lots of walking trails.
Did I mention lakes? We have five of them. Plus 47 parks within city limits.
I’ll admit sidewalks are hard to come by and that the cities offer great restaurants, museums and parks all within walking distance. That’s still no excuse for cutting down the suburbs and people who live there. Living in Lakeville is no less virtuous than living in Minneapolis. I’ve found a wonderful community here.
Loretta Ellsworth is the author of four young adult novels and the forthcoming WWII novel “And Then We Danced” (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017). She loves her urban friends, even if they do give her a hard time. Find her on Twitter: @LEllsworth.