Standing outside of American suburbia

At some point in the last week I saw something that made me think, as I do on occasion, how nice it would be to be pursuing the suburban dream here in America. My wife and I could [in theory] be fairly successful [financially] if we chose to go that route. We both possess degrees in halfway decent paying fields that we have not pursued as avidly as we could have, even though both of us are still using those skills in our work presently. We could be living on the right side of the tracks if we wanted to be.

We chose instead, just after graduating, to serve in mission mobilization with Mission Data International, which we’re still doing. So from the get go we had to raise money for my own fairly frugal salary. My wife became editing manager of our small town newspaper while we raised support, but she quit as we had planned when my student loans were paid off.

I don’t remember exactly what triggered the desire to seek out suburbia this week. It may have been seeing that happy family driving down the road in their newer car, combined with the chaos of moving into a very small house in neighborhood I don’t know anything about.

And now I’m wondering — not for the first time — now I’m asking the question “What is the appeal of suburbia?” Is it merely social pressure or is there more to it? Could it be there is something about the suburban space that hearkens to our subconscious? Is there something in us as humans that yearns for more open spaces (Yes, I know I’m posting this just after suggesting I miss downtown living.)? In recent years I’ve become a little less of a critic of the American suburbs, realizing we can’t just summarily do away with them and wondering, as already stated, if they came into being and proliferated with some substance beyond the greed of speculative developers.

My wife and I certainly have our reasons for intentionally standing outside of the typical pursuit of American suburbia, keyword here being pursuit. Our own interests, passions, point our time and efforts towards ends that, while still personal, attempt to look beyond our own comfort. We hope to be a counterculture for the common good. While this can be done — and should be done by people who feel called to it — in the context of the suburbs, it’s not where we’re at.

As an aside, another aspect of this week’s enigmatic desire to have a suburban life — which the wife very accurately pointed out has enough problems of its own since it’s also populated by people — might a sense of isolation I’ve had over the past few months. Working a more or less full time job away from the computer (along with still working my part-time M-DAT job mobilizing, breaking in a puppy and moving) has taken more getting used to than I expected. I miss blogging, being able to read blogs, being able to read substantial articles on the arts or theology during the week. I’m not a news junky by any stretch of the imagination, but I was disappointed to learn just this morning (in an email from M-DAT HQ) that there was a volcano disrupting air travel for mission trips. We also miss our network of artistically inclined friends back in Northwest Arkansas.

How any of this relates to a desire for a suburban life, which is typically associated with isolation itself, I don’t know. But my mind seems to want to make some kind of connection to it at the moment.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

6 Responses to Standing outside of American suburbia

  1. JohnO says:

    Booo suburbia. Glad I left. Long live the city.

  2. Have you ever seen the documentary on suburbia titled “Radiant City”? We watched it from netflix a couple year back. If you haven’t seen it, don’t read any reviews as it will spoil it. It’s about the pros and cons of “suburbia”.

  3. mev says:

    Maybe it’s not suburbia vs.urban living that’s the issue. Maybe it’s the overrated hype of home ownership. Or maybe it’s the spiritual dimension of contentment. Or maybe it’s the notion of what we think will make us happy. Alas, nothing in this world can truly satisfy. And that’s just the way God intended it to be. Otherwise, we wouldn’t seek him and we would pursue even MORE of the things of this world than we already do. So thank God that neither suburban or city living satisfies. Heaven here we come. Only then will we truly be satisfied. And best of all, we will be living with Jesus. Oh, and yes, now that you live in suburbia you will need to buy a lawn mower, a hedge trimmer, garden tools, weed killer, rakes, etc. etc. etc. Have fun!

    • pcNielsen says:

      See, that thought actually ran through my head. And then I remembered an article a friend shared with me about how a large part of the reason Peru’s economy and people are so poor is because there isn’t really such a thing as property ownership. After reading that article I think I’m on the property ownership boat, but that’s not to say we do it very well here in America.

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