I never want to be a Suburban Soccer Mom

Posted by on September 8th, 2021 at 9:07 am

Destination unknown.
(Photo: Daniel Lobo/Flickr)

My mother’s life vocation for a decade was to drive from one soccer practice to the next, on endless repeat.

You know what I’m talking about. The setting is The Suburbs. It doesn’t matter which suburbs. They’re all the same. Sterile. Isolated. Where every neighborhood is a self-contained island, and every house its own island within the neighborhood. They have sidewalks, but they don’t go anywhere. A pedestrian can only walk in endlessly boring loops, staring at endlessly boring houses and lawns, or cross the street to go into the next subdivision and walk in endlessly boring loops over there. To escape this monotony, you must have a car. Otherwise you are stranded, by design. There’s no other way out. Not even to buy a cigarette, which I don’t endorse, but think I would definitely need, if I ever had to move back.

I grew up in the ‘burbs, and the stifling, car-dependent, design meant that, as kids, we couldn’t get anywhere on our own. We had schedules full to the brim with sports practices and extracurriculars, and we were effectively stranded until we turned sixteen. And so enters, by necessity: The Suburban Soccer Mom. This default lifestyle required my own mother to schlep me and my sisters, all afternoon, every afternoon, to every activity. My mother’s life vocation for a decade was to drive from one soccer practice to the next, on endless repeat, with drive-thru dinners crammed in-between. She was stuck in her minivan like a prisoner in purgatory. God bless her sacrificing soul; and God save me from such a fate!

My husband and I have another life in mind. We dream of our kids getting themselves to their own activities by bicycle, bus and light rail. We dream of our kids freely exploring their community, zooming down hills on bikes, running around at the park, and biking to the corner store for ice cream or groceries! We dream that our kids could, without a chauffeur, visit a friend’s house or stop by the library. My husband and I would like to restore the seemingly bygone days of childhood transportation independence and freedom. That’s the sort of life we dream for our kids (and ourselves), but it’s an unconventional and even controversial idea, according to modern American lifestyle and parenting standards.

First, the typical idea seems to be that when people have children, they are supposed to move farther and farther outside of cities, in favor of bigger yards, more space, and (supposedly) greater safety. This leads to longer commutes (and less family time, unless you count car rides), not only to access city jobs, but also everything else. Farther-out suburbs often have zoning laws that prohibit mixed-uses, so it’s impossible to have a residence near a grocery store, hardware store, clothing shop, or coffee joint. Schools are often far away from students, as they service sprawling suburban districts without a core. Public transportation is non-existent. Cars are a requirement. Long drives, and constant driving, are inescapable.

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Secondly, American parents and their neighbors don’t believe kids should ever be out of parental sight. Something terrible is likely to happen. The unwatched child will be abducted, never to be seen or heard from again. That’s a pretty terrifying belief to challenge. What kind of parent would risk such a thing for the sake of a bike ride?

Thirdly, even if a parent were lucky enough to live in a place with walking, biking, or public transportation access to desired destinations, and apparently crazy enough to allow children to transport themselves around town, state and local laws can actually make this a dangerous endeavor. Child neglect laws, ambiguously or specifically, can target parents with criminal neglect for letting a child walk to the corner market, or spend time “unattended” at the local playground. Concerned neighbors can — and do — call Child Protective Services for such parenting offenses, forcing parents to endure lengthy and invasive investigations while fearing the threat that their children will be taken from them, this time from the authorities.

These are formidable obstacles to our dreams of independent active transportation for our children. Where do we live? How do we handle the neighbors’ fears, along with our own? And can we be confident that the laws will support us, if we make this radical choice: to let our children transport themselves?

The author.

Much is rightly said around here about biking and other active transportation infrastructure, but there are also less obvious sorts of intangible infrastructure to consider, especially when it comes to childhood transportation indepence. These include zoning laws and urban (and sub-urban) planning, new housing and commercial developments, societal attitudes, fears, mom-shaming, public transportation rules, and even criminal negligence and child abuse laws.

That’s a lot to take on. Dreaming of the life we want for our family is the easy part. Making it happen? That is going to take some work. Might even be an uphill climb, but it’s going to be worth it. Because I refuse to live in my minivan for the next sixteen years!

— Shannon Johnson, shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com
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That lead picture is just depressing. I don’t understand how anyone could enjoy living in a place like that, where nothing is within walking distance and all the McMansions are identical. And it’s not like you can even have good outdoors access (which would be the one saving grace to me) since it’s all private property.

I grew up in a similarly-styled area (nothing within walking distance, no public lands), and whenever I go back to visit I’m constantly reminded how terrible it would be living there.

Jason Skelton
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Jason Skelton

Photos of suburban housing remind me of cancer cells, undifferentiated proliferation crowding everything else out.

Middle of the Road Guy
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Middle of the Road Guy

On the other hand…no homeless villages, trash heaps or mentally-ill chasing people around.

Marvin Himmelfarb
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Marvin Himmelfarb

Yes and we have that in abundance in east PDX. But at least it’s not “the ‘burbs” !!!

cct
Guest
cct

Hey look – it’s future Alpenrose!

John Muir's Ghost
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John Muir's Ghost

Based on the photo, we have no idea how far it is to the nearest store, school, or anything else – those could all be just outside of the picture. Also, as shown, there are many different home sizes/styles and they don’t look very big so I would not call them McMansions.

Much of the article was about raising children and opportunities for them. She seemed to complain about people wanting big yards for the children to play in. The back yards in the photo are larger than in most urban areas, but homes with larger front yards would be even better for kids to play in. With that many homes close together, if there are lots of kids, then the more and larger yards available the better for the kids to play in outdoors. In the photo, there are woods in the upper and lower left and some in the middle – possibly great places for kids, and adults, to play. The great outdoors is accessible just beyond your door no matter where you live.

Having said all that, would I prefer to live in that place if I had my choice? No, but it would be far better than inside the city limits of any large US city with the constant traffic, noise, trash and crime. That is no place for children or adults. If I had my choice, I’d live in a rural area like I did as a kid. Almost no crime, little traffic, outdoor opportunities of all kinds in any direction, etc – basically it was utopia for a kid. Schools were good, people were proud of their neighbors, churches ,schools, towns, and the nation – unlike much of urban America today.

Ed
Guest
Ed

Well hope you’ll agree it’s a very good thing Mr Muir most people don’t feel the way you do! Because if they did and moved to those idyllic places you allude to… they would disappear of course. Even more of the country would be brutal ex-urban sprawl, destroying the very things your sentiment wishes to attain. Americans have always had an unhealthy dislike of cities, which may explain why ours suck so much. Part of the oh so destructive spread out/endless frontier fantasy.

You were born a century or two and a few billion people late. A mature culture recognizes the fragility of the countryside (commonwealth) and agrees to live densely – precisely in order to preserve, not destroy what you claim to value. The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated nations on earth but you often won’t sense this in the countryside. Because cities and towns are dense and when you get to the edge of them… bang! you’re often immediately in a rural setting. Rather than building successive layers of less and less dense places American style, a town there is “capped” when limits are reached and if growth is needed a new (dense) town in a new place is manifested. Rather than deride the city ask yourself why they’re such bad places to raise kids, as you say. It doesn’t have to be that way as cities are as we create them. We get what we envision, build and design, and cities can be fabulous for children.

I say live close together and preserve what’s left of the natural or even pastoral landscape and forget the Andy Griffith Show nostalgia. We have reached limits and the answer isn’t what you suggest… unless you have a plan to reduce the worlds population by billions.

maxD
Guest
maxD

Ed,
I agree with a caveat. What you describe (living close to preserve habitat and farmland) has been described as a civic pact: Citizens agree to live more closely, and in return, the City provides clean and safe parks, alternative transportation, good schools, well-planned neighborhoods, etc. The City has fully broken that pact. The sidewalks and path are no longer navigable. Transit is unreliable and unsafe. Trash and drug paraphernalia fills our parks and our river. Decades of planning, zoning regulations and health standards and community agreements are being tossed aside to allow homeless housing and create to a new, lower class of citizen with the rights, protections, or expectations of other citizens. And on and on, the City is a mess and not living up to its end of promise. I have long agreed with you: live dense and preserve openspaces- don’t try to provide a utopian bubble for each citizen because there is not enough land or resources. But that requires a government that can perform, even when things out difficult. My days are filled with conversation with people of means leaving the City, or contemplating it. These are people who have dedicated decades to building Portland up in their professional careers (planners, architects, developers), volunteer time (PPS, Friends of Trees, CHAP, etc), or charitable work. The suburbs have obvious flaws, but what do we do when our City becomes unsustainable? That is not an entirely rhetorical questions- I think we are there- what we are doing is not working, and the urgent issues are not being addressed

dwk
Guest
dwk

Your frustration is real.. and the most frustrating thing is, the elected officials do not care and do not even respond.
I have emailed Joann Hardesty, Ted Wheeler, all of them , you get nothing, zero.
Email Earl Blumenauer or Widen or Merkley, you will get a response in general I have found. US Senators are more responsive than our city council..
It will turn around here but unfortunately I think the turnaround will be on a very reactionary scale when it happens..
Blame the current people for this mess. Unbelievable they care so little, they live here, they get around I assume, Does Joann walk by the camps? Ever?

Yuki F.
Guest
Yuki F.

dwk,
I agree. The fact that we have abandoned our bike trails to poorly behaving and even criminal campers is astounding. We can fly 21,000 people of out of a war zone in Kabul in 24 hours but we can’t keep trespassers off our public bike paths in Portland? Make me angry.

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

I was a soccer dad and to think my child would have walked, biked, or used TriMet to go to their events would have caused my child to not want to partake in after school activities.
It came down to time. They would have rather worked on their homework than bike or walk. TriMet was, and still is, a joke for getting people to where they want to go in a reasonable amount of time. Though they might have tried to do homework on the bus, I doubt it would have been successful with all the distractions.
Unfortunately, for all the disdain shown for suburbs like the picture, there’s obviously people that want to live there (I don’t). As long as the City and County continue to favor wealthy developers it’s going to continue being like that.
Now with the lawlessness that is allowed to occur in Portland, if I had a child now in school, I would be even more cautious of letting them go out on my own than I did many years ago when the city was much different.

Oh, and I never thought of being a soccer dad as being “hell”, I thoroughly enjoyed the time with my child and seeing them participate in their events.

Watts
Guest
Watts

If your kids play soccer, you’re likely going to end up driving, regardless of where you live. Even at a fairly junior level, games are all over the place, and while riding is sometimes a possibility, in addition to the time you mentioned, longer trips make kids tired before their game has even started. And if you have more than one child, their games are unlikely to be conveniently located and timed to make it easy to get from one to the other. And TriMet on a Sunday morning to get across town? Good luck.

The idea that your kids will have a car free or even low car soccer experience is a fantasy, even if you live in the heart of the city.

John Muir's Ghost
Guest
John Muir's Ghost

What is wrong with driving a few minutes to take your child to a game that will teach them valuable life lessons? I would not even consider allowing a kid to ride a bike or walk very far in a city – it just isn’t safe – it isn’t even safe for adults. In a suburb? Not so bad if they can walk or ride on a sidewalk or a trail, etc.

Ed
Guest
Ed

You’re not the ghost of John Muir, you’re the ghost of Robert Moses, the architect of your values. Muir is rolling over in his grave; please stop appropriating him!

J_R
Guest
J_R

I share your fond memories of watching and helping with my children’s sports activities. I think they were great growing experiences. I also agree that if it hadn’t been for my ability to provide transportation (often shared with other parents) participation would not have occurred.

However, I disagree with your assertion that the blame for the formation of suburbs is the cities and counties favoring wealthy developers. Cities and counties do prescribe things like minimum bedroom size, large insulated windows, substantial roof and ceiling insulation, paved driveways, connection to sewers, paved streets with curbs and sidewalks, and scores of other things that add to the cost of dwellings. The most efficient and economical ways of putting all those things into a dwelling is through economies of scale and grouping the dwellings. Add to that peoples’ desire to have bedrooms for every member of the household and multiple bathrooms plus specialty rooms for entertaining, for the family, the home office, for television viewing, etc. and the houses become large and expensive to satisfy the buyer. The developer satisfies code requirements and responds to market demand. The result is a subdivision to make it “affordable.”

I grew up with parents and two siblings in a 1000-square-foot, three bedroom, one bathroom home with single pane windows and no air conditioning. It was in a subdivision but lacked curbs and sidewalks and had a gravel driveway for years.

If you think developers are wealthy, you can personally cash in by buying stocks of homebuilders listed on the stock exchanges or buy mutual funds or ETFs. You can even do it with your IRA and invest as little as $100 per month.

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Most of the developers I know are privately held companies and not in the stock market. They are making plenty of money without having to do an IPO.
I’ve invested in mostly tech stocks with my retirement portfolio which are performing quite nicely thank you. 30% gain in the past year alone. No, I don’t expect it to stay at that rate for long.

John Muir's Ghost
Guest
John Muir's Ghost

Last I checked, a few years ago, the permits to build a house in WA County were over $30,000. That’s before you put a shovel in the dirt. That is hurting home affordability. Also hurting it is the urban growth boundary that restricts the number of homes available. I do like having farmland and country roads close by to ride my bike on, but it is driving prices of homes higher.

EP
Guest
EP

That lead photo looks a little more exurb than suburb, maybe it’s the trees and slivers of greenspace. But it’s just a slightly less version of bad.

I hope we see more planned “suburb” communities built with an emphasis on walkability over driveability. Places where there’s more of an emphasis on common areas within, maybe large central park areas, bike paths connecting things, and even walkable “main street” type plazas where everyone living there can go to shop, eat, hang out. Car access is mainly at the perimeter, everything else is walking.

Cohousing used to seem a little “far out”, but now that I’ve got two small kids, a place like this would be great.

maxD
Guest
maxD

I grew up in the country and now live in the city. I get that the suburbs have inherent flaws from a land use planning perspective, but this article denies a lot of their positive, livability aspects. I firmly believe that we need to re-imagine suburbs and the fast “stroads” and strip malls that support them, but to simply dismiss them as soulless and boring misses the point that for most people, suburbs are preferable. They are much closer to large parks, farms, and hiking. Take a look at the mismanagement of our parks and trails and libraries and it is easy to understand why raising a family in the suburbs may be preferable. Except for the insanely large and busy and roads, the neighborhood streets are quiet and promote quite a bit of playing/riding in the streets by kids. Adults have easier access to rural roads for recreational riding. Large lawns are great spaces for small games of soccer or football. The suburbs are quieter, have less gun violence and street racing takeovers, and are better for bird-watching. The sidewalks in may not lead to as many destinations as in the City, but the sidewalks in Portland have become unusable by people suffering disabilities and unsafe for many people. My daughter goes to high school downtown and I work downtown. 2 years ago when she was in middle school she could walk across town, take the MAX/bus, or hang out in the library/park blocks/Director Park for a couple of hours after school. Now? Does anyone feel like it safe enough for a 14 year old girl to do any of these things alone? The suburbs are safer and more comfortable. Portland could be/should be/ and recently almost was providing transit, bike routes, public spaces for everyone. Now, the City has amenities for the rich, but many public amenities have been essentially privatized: sidewalks become bedrooms, parks become private living rooms, paths become parking lots and front yards, libraries become homeless shelters. I still live in Portland. We are a one car family who find ourselves relying more and more on that car. We now drive to hikes, drive to beaches, spend time at home instead of parks, drive to parks in the suburbs or small towns. I would not be so quick to judge people who choose the suburbs, Portland has basically broken all of its promises by sacrificing our shared, public community assets to drug addicts and people who lack housing.

Gary B
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Gary B

I’m not going to dispute your characterization of Portland at the moment, even if I’m not sure it’s accurate in all respects. But you seem to be using the temporary state of Portland to make the case that suburbs have permanent advantages. The large and busy stroads, strip malls, and sidewalks to nowhere are forever. I’d like to think our current crime and homeless problems can be overcome–and not by giving up and fleeing.

Champs
Guest
Champs

The city has chronic, worsening problems and you need to accept that.

The place I enjoyed two years ago has become a horror show. Too often I have to play the game “was that just noise or a gunshot” (frequently it’s the latter), run somebody off my steps because they decided it would be a nice place to sit down and get high, or watch somebody relieve themselves behind the phone equipment across the street.

Every morning I get up to tend my front yard. My girlfriend can’t enjoy it anymore because she gets harassed. We can’t leave the handle on the hose faucet because somebody broke it last year. It smells like a toilet. Every garbage day, I have to throw out over a pound of drug paraphernalia and alcohol/food/tobacco packaging that’s been littered there.

And that’s not even the half of it.

My neighbors took these problems to the city council last year. Do you know what Joann Hardesty’s answer was? Deal with it. “This is happening all over the city.” True or not, that says something about this city’s leadership and direction…

Tad
Guest
Tad

Champs,
That is the comment of the week! Portlanders are getting fed up with the “horror show” you describe. Rise up!!!

John Muir's Ghost
Guest
John Muir's Ghost

Those were outstanding, spot-on comments by maxD and Champs, but “Rising up” will accomplish nothing. Portlanders will either get rid of those in office and put in another political party with actual adults or the same sheet show will continue. I’m not holding my breath waiting for Portlanders to do anything that will make a difference.

PTB
Guest
PTB

Folks running for City Hall don’t have D, R, I or Q after their names on ballots.

jonno
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jonno

Hate to say it, but this should be the comment of the week. The loss of safe, pleasant public space in the city is theft from good citizens and a tax we all have to pay just to live our lives. Yesterday doing an errand loop around inner SE and NE on my bike, I realized that I now make route choices not just based on efficiency, or comfort, or safety from auto traffic, but also safety from people in crisis. Random assaults happen with distressing regularity and I refuse to be a victim – having pepper spray at the ready and constantly maintaining safe distance is not something I have to do when I drive my car. It’s exhausting and disheartening and gets worse by the day.

Marvin Himmelfarb
Guest
Marvin Himmelfarb

Sadly my family and I just drive more as a result. The bikes we once so cherished are just collecting dust. The paths we used to ride are hell-scapes. The neighborhood streets we used to ride are de-facto race tracks with no end in sight.

JJ
Guest
JJ

Max! Well said. I love Portland and all the lil hipster cute neighborhoods but would much rather spend my time in the burbs given the current condition of PDX. On the family side of things, the schools in the burbs and facilities offer so much more too. Also in the burbs there are parks and green spaces and bike lanes too!

dwk
Guest
dwk

We did not get here by chance… We elected and support (BikePortland is a big Hardest supporter) people who are not just incompetent but simply do not care.
As the 52 likes you got and the replies show, most people who are living in Portland now understand how bad it has become so why do any of the city council deserve to be in office?
They are all disgraceful uncaring buffoons who have allowed this city to become what it is now.
Garbage, graffiti and people camping everywhere.

Yoya W.
Guest
Yoya W.

Jonathan, 54 thumbs up! I think the pendulum has swung on your “defund the police, love all the homeless, just bike everywhere” refrain that one used to see in bikeportland articles and comments. Time to connect with the “silent majority”. Love, but with boundaries. The times they are a changin’

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I mean, Shannon could just as easily be describing St. Johns and Portsmouth, and I’m sure many other neighborhoods outside of the city center, as much as a suburb.

I grew up in an exurb and moved away for the most part because I wanted to not be reliant on a car. I lived in Eugene for a long while without a car but I’ve become more and more reliant on a car in Portland because of how bad the non-motorized infrastructure is here. I don’t take public transportation because it’s beyond slow. I bike less than I used to because quite honestly, I’m terrified of the people who drive in this city and riding in the gutter next to speeding cars just isn’t relaxing enough to justify the extra time and energy, and while I do walk to downtown St. Johns a lot, there is zero chance I’d let a kid do that.

I don’t have children but I’d feel far far far more comfortable letting them bike or walk around the neighborhood in the picture than my neighborhood in Portland.

PBOT and CoPs insistence that every single street in the city be available for fast moving through motorized-traffic really kills a huge chunk of Portlands walkability. Our low-value, poorly planned public transportation means most of our population drives everywhere anyway. Why not move to the suburbs and at least get safe streets in front of your house? Traffic moves down my neighborhood street at 10 – 15 mph over the speed limit. I bet it moves a lot slower in the neighborhood in the picture.

If the SW Corridor has gone through, it would have taken less time to get from Tigard to downtown (~10 miles) through low-density suburbs than St. Johns to downtown (~8 miles) through high density neighborhoods. There is something very broken about that. Portland just isn’t the walkable, bikeable city it pretends to be and until leadership changes, that’s not going to change.

Watts
Guest
Watts

From an infrastructure standpoint, I find Portland to be far more walkable and bikeable than it used to be. The main problem I have today is that the city seems to have completely retreated from its most fundamental civic duty of maintaining order. You’re much more vulnerable on foot or a bike than in a car, and if you’ve made the mistake of venturing onto a bike path…

raktajino
Guest
raktajino

Portsmouth and St Johns have pretty good bike infrastructure and transit integration. Yes, we’re isolated because you still have to go E for a while in order to get anywhere. That said, there are greenways, decent intersections, and many bus lines. I’ve lived in SE and inner NE and have been pleasantly surprised by how decent Portsmouth/St Johns is for my car-lite life. (Vancouver, on the other hand, has been awful despite their advancements. And where my cousin lives in a development near Tacoma is even worse.)

I know we can do better. We definitely can. But walkscore/bikescore zero is is not.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Portsmouth and St Johns have pretty good bike infrastructure and transit integration.

Uh, what? St. Johns has no bike infrastructure outside of unprotected gutter lanes on the drag strips of N. Smith and N Fessenden and a tiny little 4-block section of greenway on N Central. N Portsmouth doesn’t really have any quality bike infrastructure but does benefit from quieter streets.

I’m not sure what bus lines you’re talking about. We have slow and infrequent service. My bus commute to downtown would take about 2.5 hours if I did it between walking to the bus, waiting for the bus at a time that is compatible with my work schedule, and the 45 – 50 minutes actually on the bus. It’s a 30 minute drive or a 40 minute bike ride. Why would anyone ever take the bus if they had other options?

Hell, it’d take me ~25 minutes just to get to the Interstate Max station and I don’t live all that far from downtown St. Johns.

If St. Johns and Portsmouth have ‘good’ transit integration, that’s only indicative of the low quality of our overall transit system and nothing else. I’d never take the bus here even though I love the bus/train and take it when I visit other places.

I just looked at a random point on Hawthorne (Powells). Right now, it’d take me 1 hour and 9 minutes to take a bus (after waiting ten minutes to leave my house). It’s a 27 minute drive with heavy congestion. Portland area public transit just can’t compete with private vehicles and wont until we prioritize rapidly expanding our FAST transit system. But TriMet would rather build 1/4 full choo choos than something practical and cheap like BRT.

raktajino
Guest
raktajino

Yeah, it’s definitely a reflection of my crappy norms: I work in Vancouver, I used to commute through Parkrose, and I’ve worked in SW as a bus commuter. Yes, inner SE and inner NE are better, the result of density and effort. There are three bus routes within walking distance of my house, two of which are “frequent,” and a greenway that feels just as safe as Clinton when I rode it every day in the mid 2000s. (Which, yes, is to say it’s too wide and people do speed like dumbasses.) I can ride to inner NE on greenways and intersections that are lower traffic.

Buses always take longer in this city because we don’t prioritize them over sovs. (I agree that BRTs are good, the VINE is the only good thing about Ctran.) The peninsula is isolated in part by sheer geography–the Burgerville is 4 miles from the MAX and it takes ~15 min to drive on a good day. Biking taking about twice as long and bus taking 1/3 longer than driving sounds about right from my rule of thumb after 20 years here.

Sure, yes, my “pretty good” label is because my bar is low. Yes, we need more infrastructure. But the exurb comparison is even more hyperbolic.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

DS9 fan?

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Got a kick out of the house in the lower right photo. Big house and pool with empty lots on both sides and across the street, plus green space in back. Even some fat cats prefer suburbia. Does he know his neighbors?

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Given the parking spaces in front of it, perhaps it is a community building of some sort.

EP
Guest
EP

That looks like the “community center” with a pool and playground. Too bad it’s shoved off to the side as just an added amenity for the sales pitch, instead of being central to the community.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Maybe it’s separated on purpose so that noisy activities, like kids screaming in the pool, disturb few immediate neighbors.

John Muir's Ghost
Guest
John Muir's Ghost

That’s my guess also. It would be a great place for the kids to hang out, and it isn’t a long walk from any of the homes in that neighborhood.

Lazy Spinner
Guest
Lazy Spinner

Sorry but, Portland ain’t all that any longer. The momentum towards building a bike and pedestrian friendly city has been lost. The mayor is more concerned is his legacy which at this point appears to be simply not being hated. The remaining council is more concerned with grandstanding and seeing who can be the most woke. Meanwhile, what was good about Portland has crumbled and I am not certain that it can be re-built.

The houseless population was growing, and being largely ignored by Portland city government, well before the pandemic. Vandalism, graffiti, and the trashing of downtown started before Trump was elected and the anti-Trump protests started. Those suburbs that people seem to hate so much? While Portland has declined, they have been building new infrastructure with better bike ways and pedestrian amenities along with houses and apartments. Hillsboro is building higher rise multi-family units along the MAX lines with secured Tri-Met administered bike parking. Beaverton is building similar housing and a new performing arts center along with placing city hall / city services right next to MAX. Both cities are building new schools and remodeling existing ones. Many of the new elementary and middle schools are being placed in the heart of new neighborhoods with proper sidewalks and bike ways leading to them. When I pedal, I feel much safer from cars out here in the SUV driving soccer parent’s natural habitat than I do in any Portland neighborhood because the suburban infrastructure, by and large, has much better sightlines, better design, and traffic controls. On the non bike/ped front, many of Portland’s cool and trendy restaurants are opening outlets in the westside ‘burbs and in Lake Oswego while they have difficulty staffing and making money downtown/close in due to the perceived dirt and danger. Do they see something that Portland residents are blind to or do they have more skin in the game and can no longer bet on Portland?

It’s been fashionable to bash on the ‘burbs for decades now. While I completely understand why urbanites like to do so, it seems to come more from a notion to justify that overpriced fixer/crackerbox condo/exorbitantly priced rental vs. any real disadvantage to suburban life. I admire the author’s commitment to the alternative transportation lifestyle but, it can also be done out here in Washington County if you bother to truly investigate instead of looking at stock images of some housing development that may not even be local.

Watts
Guest
Watts

In the meantime, the urban/suburban pendulum continues along its relentless flight.

This would not be the first time that urban decline has led to an exodus.

Marvin Himmelfarb
Guest
Marvin Himmelfarb

Lazy, I give you 100 thumbs up! ; )

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

There’s now quite an expanding ex-pat Portlander community here in Greensboro NC, quite a few from Kenton, Elliot, & inner SE, both blacks and whites; many others have moved to elsewhere here in the (cheap) Deep South. As long as you live in certain suburban areas, crime is virtually nil; but heaven help you if you happen to live in the bad areas of town, because the police ain’t gonna help y’all.

The traditionally white suburban portions of most major US cities generally get better local services because they pay more in taxes for such services – it’s a form of bribery – even though such policing is inequitable and often racist. The local police simply prefer to patrol the nice suburbs – there’s less crime so less for them to do, people are nicer and more supportive of the police no matter their race in the suburbs, and residents there are more likely to report crime and what they saw, rather than pretend they saw or heard nothing. There are mixed-race low-status suburbs, typically referred to by planners as “leap frog suburbs”, areas like East Portland, Gladstone, or Beaverton that have become run-down and neglected. We have lots of them here in the South too.

The irony in Portland is that most of the rich parts of the city actually pay less in taxes per unit of land or property value than the poor parts of town according to the county auditor, so there’s really no incentive for police to patrol the rich sections. Or any other part of town for that matter.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

“But it can also be done out here in Washington County if you bother to truly investigate …”

The author lives in Hillsboro.

Lazy Spinner
Guest
Lazy Spinner

Then she lives in the suburbs and has a suburban lifestyle despite claiming to steadfastly avoid it? I looked at some of her other writings and it seems that she lives in downtown Hillsboro. That area is older and lacks a lot of bike infrastructure but, it is also walkable and has independent retailers, grocery stores, restaurants, and access to public transportation. Most of the residential areas in that part of town are on lower speed residential streets and avoiding higher speed roads is doable without major detours. Yes, Hwy. 8 and Cornell Road are tough to navigate on a bike for the bravest cyclists but, it is much easier to get right hooked or not seen at all on the small grid, over parked, and overgrown neighborhood streets in most of Portland.

I don’t reply to pick a fight or belittle Shannon’s experiences rather, the vast majority of new development out here (I also reside in Hillsboro) has bike lanes, sidewalks, public parks/greenspaces, and schools plopped into the center of residential zones or at the edges and easily accessed by low speed neighborhood streets. Could it be better? Yes. Does “old” Hillsboro need some infrastructure love? Absolutely. Having formerly commuted from Orenco to The Pearl District and back by bike almost daily, all of the tension and danger that I felt on those rides came in NW Portland and The Pearl. Washington Park, the path parallel to US 26, and the arterials of Beaverton like Murray Road and Baseline Road all felt calm, clean, spacious, and safe by comparison.

I can only speak for the Westside ‘burbs but, they are not so bad for bikes and have been getting better the past few years. The expanded THPRD Westside Trail system is a mostly car free gem for people in Bethany/Rock Creek/Orenco but, they do require some climbing fitness or e-bike assist for the not-so-strong.

rick
Guest
rick

The author rides a cargo bike with her kids. THPRD and Tigard’s parks department both need to install a giant boardwalk for the Fanno Creek Trail in order to permanently avoid the floods and the bumps.

John Muir's Ghost
Guest
John Muir's Ghost

Then her article shows that she lacks understanding of her own community or else maybe she got unlucky and lives in a place out there that nobody else is aware of, but which fits her inaccurate description of most suburbs.

As seen in most of the comments, few people agree with her description of suburbs.

Trike Guy
Guest
Trike Guy

I was lucky enough to grow up in an era of funded school athletics, in a small school (my graduating class was 36 kids) in a community that never failed to pass a bond to improve the schools. This was in the late 70’s and early 80’s when a mill town like ours was suffering financially.

I lived 5 miles away in one direction, my best friend lived a mile out of town not to far off the route I took to town and my other best friend lived 7-8 miles up the valley on the other side of town.

My first girlfriend lived 20+ miles away in another town.

Time together during the school year was before school/after sports practice. Not because my parents wouldn’t have taken us over (and did occasionally) but because the chores on a small farm usually took up a lot of Saturday and a bit of Sunday.

I was always at school by 7am (classes started at 8:30) to work out or just hang out with friends who lived in town. When I wasn’t riding in I grabbed a ride with a teacher/coach who drove past our house to school.

Fortunately, school sports provided transportations to away games/meets (Nestucca, Dayton and a myriad of other single A schools).

During the summer I worked – There were buses to berry picking, then car pooling with other kids to go around and buck hay and such – until the summer after my junior year when I had a job shearing Christmas trees just down the road.

When my brother and I wanted to get together with friends we’d bum rides or ride bikes there.

My parents didn’t have to drive us around as much as suburban parents seem to these days, but there was no shortage of bonding time (built thousands of feet of fence, outbuildings and the like with our dad. Helped groom horses and take care of livestock with our mom.)

You know what? I wouldn’t go back and trade it for anything. Learning to get around then, working on the farm all taught me to be independent. And still had more than enough time to do some truly *dumb* things with friends 🙂

John Muir's Ghost
Guest
John Muir's Ghost

Sounds like an awesome way to grow up. Thanks for sharing.

nic.cota
Subscriber

Awesome post. I feel this so much.

Growing up in SW ADA County outside Boise, this rings very true to the lifestyles that exist out there, and continue to be pervasive in America. I think a lot of people’s childhoods were a story of feeling stranded and powerless. The idea of getting a driver’s license and it ‘freeing’ you only makes sense when all you could access before were monotonous homes, unsafe highways, and the occasional strip mall.

I just hope the same isn’t in store for my children some day.

John Muir's Ghost
Guest
John Muir's Ghost

I have no idea how many homes I’ve seen in my 6 decades; about 5 decades of it with a driver’s license – let’s wild guess 100,000 homes. I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of monotonous homes. Can’t think of any in fact. What do they look like? Wait! I just found some that might be monotonous in the lower half of this photo:

https://www.123rf.com/photo_59021726_aerial-view-of-la-paz-bolivia.html

And here’s a few more that might be monotonous (can’t really tell from this far away though):

https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/mexico-city-aerial-view-cityscape-gm495782928-78192041

I just looked up Ada County, Idaho on Google Earth. There are no suburbs in the SW part of that county. The nearest thing to a suburb might be the small town of Kuna on the central west side of the county, but it is surrounded by farmland today – probably even more so when you were a child. Then I looked at the city of Boise and realized that there is no place in Boise that is far from farmland, mountains, etc.

Perhaps your thinking of Nampa in Canyon County, but that’s the same story – a small town surrounded by farms and perhaps BLM land, etc.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Sometimes, the name for something isn’t literal. I’m guessing using context clues and common sense that nic.cota is probably referring to this neighborhood right outside of Boise called Southwest Ada County Alliance

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Southwest+Ada+County+Alliance,+Boise,+ID+83709/@43.5620202,-116.3425959,13z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x54ae5739c8f8837b:0x485b5cf00bf0005e!8m2!3d43.5757452!4d-116.3141531

You can see why someone might refer to this neighborhood, which is extremely suburban as simply “SW Ada County”, namely that seems to be what the area is called.

John Muir's Ghost
Guest
John Muir's Ghost

The OP said SW Ada County outside of Boise. The north 1/3 of SWACA is within the Boise City Limits. The rest of it is 2-3 miles from farmland TODAY. No idea when the OP grew up there, but it was likely all farmland not long ago. Would I live there? Not if I could help it – it’s too close to the airport and Boise, and I’d prefer a rural location if I had my choice, but it looks quite nice starting at 1:10 in this video:

https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/article243580922.html

Apparently bike safety isn’t a big concern in SWACA – only 27 people have watched this video on it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyrrAqXBiHs

cher
Guest
cher

I grew up near Boise. My experience was pretty much as nic.cota describes – suburbia, strip malls, big roads.

There is absolutely not more farmland there today compared to when I was a child. The Boise metro population has nearly doubled in my lifetime (I’m in my 20s). Most of those people live on former farmland. Kuna is emblematic of this – it was a farm town of ~5K in my childhood; now its population is almost 25K. Nearly all those new residents live in subdivisions built on farmland. Farmland in the Boise area is rapidly being gobbled up by new housing developments, and that seems unlikely to stop any time soon given their housing crisis.

Nampa is a city of about 100K. Hardly a small town, unless that’s how you describe Beaverton, Hillsboro, etc.

I’m not sure why you would try to explain someone’s hometown to them based on a glance at Google Earth.

Also, I don’t understand why you link to photos of Latin American cities as examples of sameness. What’s the subtext there?

Bozo The Clown
Guest
Bozo The Clown

JMG agreed there would have been even more farmland near any subdivisions when nic.cota was a child. nic.cota did not indicate how old they were so we have no way to know how long ago that was. JMG was just pointing out that those places are not far from open land. If you have to live in towns, and not in the country, then Boise would be very high on the list of nice places. nic.cota was describing their perception of being stranded and powerless and only able to see monotonous homes. Google Earth indicates that description to be less than accurate. The photos JMG linked to show urban sprawl that, should you not be near the edge of it, would fit nic.cota’s description. Hope this helps.

Bozo The Clown
Guest
Bozo The Clown

By the way, how are you communicating with us here on Earth? Didn’t you say ack in 2016 that you were going to Jupiter if Trump was elected President? Are you back already? How was it up there? Lot of biking?
😉

Bobcycle
Guest
Bobcycle

As one who lived in Portland for the last 50 years and enjoyed it all, except for the last 2 years I am saddened by the current conditions of our once beautiful city. I recently realized Portland had deteriorated to the point I no longer wished to live there and moved north to a suburban neighborhood. Where once I wouldn’t ask my grandchildren to walk 2 blocks to the grocery store due to safety concerns I now let them bike 2 miles on neighborhood streets and trails to the local market. They can also ride via neighborhood trails to the sport complex to play soccer. They can safely bike to neighborhood schools. In Portland my daily morning routine was to walk the sidewalk and pick up trash, needles and check for human waste and be thankful I still had my catalytic converter. I loved the city life but it was not enough to offset the current amount of negatives Portland is currently experiencing. Sign me a very happy suburban dweller.

John Muir's Ghost
Guest
John Muir's Ghost

You did a great thing for your family. They will thank you.

Lauro Ritubo
Guest
Lauro Ritubo

Unfortunately in Portland many parents are changing to more suburban habits (driving their kids, instead of letting them walk, bike or use transit). Amongst my friends this is due to the increase in shootings and more people around that are violent, drug addicted or have severe mental illness. Really tough on kids/parents who want a better environment. It’s even bad for global warming. No one with kids that I know will use the I205 path or lots of the Springwater Corridor.
🙁

Recent NextDoor post on this issue:
“….We got away but the woman with the machete charged the car and scared the kids. It was awful. What can we do about this? My kid can no longer ride his bike to SE because there are no routes that are safe from situations like this, and now even being in a car didn’t feel safe.”

maxD
Guest
maxD

Agreed Lauro! IMO, the added insult to the City’s approach is the people with means can adapt by driving more, buying another car, adjusting work schedules, etc. The working poor typically have fewer choices. They rely on the public spaces for transportation (walking, biking, transit). They rely on parks, parks programming and community centers for recreation and childcare. They rely on libraries for technology. As these spaces are given over to the most desperate, they become unsafe and unusable, and the working poor suffer disproportionately.

Laura
Guest
Laura

I don’t blame “suburbia.” Ladd’s Addition was a suburb at one time, most of inner SE were privately developed subdivisions in the 1920s.
With the current obsession on college and how to get in (and get $ aid), how much of the car-centricity is the attitude that kids need to have everything programmed? Between a sport (probably not soccer, but lacrosse, fencing or rowing), SAT/ACT and foreign language tutoring, some kind of volunteer service/community involvement, and a couple of actual college courses at PSU or PCC, TriMet just cannot keep up. So mom has to drive, or buy Junior a car.

Ed
Guest
Ed

Super well written piece, and really nails it; thanks Shannon! For those inspired I recommend “The Geography of Nowhere” and it’s sequel by James Howard Kunstler. Also tackles the desperate subject with some dark humor to ease it in. You will never see the American landscape the same.

ActualPractical
Guest
ActualPractical

Psycho drivers are one additional deterrent to free kids…

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

All that’s left of Portland is the dream of what people , well some
People, want it to be. Do you want a welcome mat for people “experiencing” homelessness? You got it! A monthly meet up for antifa and proud boys? Yes! Looking to scope out
Some alternative digs for homeless camps on your public trails? We gotcha!
I live in a burb that was built in 1999. There are 12 foot wide paths a quarter mile away to a trail that runs to a major city. The cops do not let people camp on it. Period.

Until anarchy camps are dealt with, Portland is toast and so is the idea of raising a family in the inner city. Safely.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

This is a thought-provoking piece. I can definitely see why the traditional suburban lifestyle (multiple, giant cars; drive everywhere) is definitely not so appealing, but not all suburbs necessarily force this on folks anymore. The points have all been made in other comments: Urban life sucks right now, suburbs are cloistering, land use rules are bad, “rich developers”, “nanny neighbors”, etc. In my own westside suburb, my elementary age kids both walk or ride by themselves to school half a mile away. They must cross one semi-busy road to get to the school property, but there is a crossing guard and a(n) RFB at that crosswalk. There are amenities (stores, activities) all within 1.5 miles of our house, and those destinations are largely reachable via THPRD trails (as mentioned in other comments), or neighborhood streets. The only concern I would have about letting my kids take themselves places would be darkness at the hours when they need to travel (some activities are at 6:30 or 7 pm) and the seclusion of the trails given some of the NextDoor reports that pop up periodically…

Aside from nanny concerns (nobody wants to end up like the Meitivs or a handful of others, being accused of neglect for allowing their kids to do the same things they used to do at the same age–or even younger!), or safety concerns–I would bet the actual safety issues are roughly equal whether in the city or a suburb–what allows anyone to give their children freedom and live a non-car-constrained life?

I would say it is nearly as much about what you deem to be “necessary” for a satisfactory life as it is about where you live. Do kids need to play sports? Then you’re signing up to transport them at least to games/matches. Do they need to roam the neighborhood or play at parks alone, when you are unable to supervise? Then you are signing up for potential busybody intervention (I support my kids doing this, BTW; busybodies be darned). Do you need to shop at faraway, specialty grocery stores and make huge “stock-up” runs, or can you bop down to the nearby grocery store on foot or a bike and pick up fewer items more frequently? Can you grow some of your own produce?

To some extent, we create the structures we are willing to live within, as far as our own means (privilege) allows: rent or mortgage? location/neighborhood? local public school or distant private? work from home or travel to a workplace? tight daily schedule or flexible? kids or no kids? walk/bike/transit or drive? how much freedom to give kids? Of course, not all of those things are choices for everyone, but when we have a choice, we choose.

I guess the point is that if one doesn’t want to live a particular way, then don’t! It shouldn’t matter very much where you live, as long as you prioritize for your preference and conscience. It is true that in most places in America, if you choose not to have or use a car, there will be things you must give up doing (or expect those things to be vastly more difficult).

The other point is that it is entirely possible to be a conscientious suburbanite, spend the extra time teaching kids how to “Be Careful Out There”(tm), choose daily activities and locations that are doable and reachable without spending hours on end in the car, be willing to put in a little extra effort to walk or ride a little farther than you otherwise would in a “better” neighborhood.