“You’ll understand when you have kids,” my mom says every time we get on the issue of suburban living. Whenever I travel back to visit my parents in the suburbia around Milwaukee that I call home, I remember how much I loved our yard. And my mom’s giant garden. And the patch of woods behind it. And the huge yards and fields of our neighbors, that all blend together into a large swath of open-grown oaks, grasses, maple stands, and even a few seasonal ponds that kept me and the other neighborhood kids entertained for many afternoons. Sometimes I think, maybe my mom is right.
And then she’ll ask me to run to the store to get some milk, and tosses me the car keys.
(Insert heavy sigh here)
Although I’ve been living in fairly dense cities and neighborhoods since leaving home (other than the 3 months in an old mining cabin), I have realized that the actual abode I live in has always has a piece of nature in the immediate vicinity This is not by chance. Right now, I am sitting at my desk staring out in to a ravine, and it’s lovely.
So how can people like me, who don’t mind small living spaces, but yearn for the reprieve of green and open space ever be willing to leave their gardens and greenery and take residence in the hustle and bustle of the urban landscape?
The answer, I believe, is in the quantity and quality of our urban open spaces. Sure, a small neighborhood park here and there is great, and larger parks or reserves offer weekend fun, but most areas lack a variety of passive and active spaces; this refers to shared semi-public spaces as found in mutli-family residential developments, as well as public spaces found in commercial and retail areas. Adding to the problem is the lack of of navigable (and child-friendly) routes which connect them. Design is crucial to the success of usable and functional open space, but is often neglected or designed as an afterthought to architecture and development.
Density and urban living may be more attractive to suburbanites if a variety of open spaces are easily accessible and plentiful. Designers and developer should be mindful of the shared value that open spaces can create for neighborhoods, and strive to create quality places for people to enjoy.
Until then, I can’t tell my mom that she’s wrong.