Archives for category: Suburbs

We agree.  Let’s go see.

First, lunch.  The Hardee’s drive-thru near our office.  Charbroiled chicken sandwiches.  Neal’s driving so I get to eat mine first.  Neal wanted to try the jalapeno something-somethings, which look something like batter dipped french fries.  I try one.  Neal munches while he heads the car onto westbound I-64.

People, some people, around here still insist on saying “Forty” when referring to I-64.  US 40.  It is.  But after a year in St Louis I know it’s the old-timers.  Some of those old-timers really aren’t old.   It’s more a frame of mind.  US 40.  It hints back to a day before the federal interstate system.  Pre-Eisenhower.  I guess that when I was a kid someone was starting to build these interstate roads.

When I was a kid.  That would have been the days of Kennedy, Nixon.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

North on I-170.  East on I-270.  Exit and then south on Florissant Ave.  We turn left into the drive for a community center where Salvation Army and a few other agencies set up last Saturday, will again tomorrow, to serve people of Ferguson MO.  Park.  Go in.  Talk to a couple of the staff.  Who commiserate with us about the troubles.  Back in the car.  I drive so Neal can eat his now cold sandwich.

We continue south on Florissant.  It is a suburb that looks like a suburb.  Businesses, not close together.  Just enough space to give them the look of eyes a little too far apart.  We are seeing police cars everywhere.  St Louis County cruisers.  At about every corner.  It looks like the President could come through.  Not today.

We also see homes.  Neat, definitely not ostentatious.  Tidy neighborhoods.  Closer together than Florissant Ave. businesses.  Humble homes huddling together, still.  It’s early afternoon and they look very quiet.

Now, lots of police.  Cars, but now standing, small groups walking.  I notice the older policeman who seems to be represented in each group of county brown.  How they are described, they look, in their uniforms.  Yes, mostly white.

We have joined dense slowly moving traffic.

Somehow it reminds me of the tourists who visit Paris to see Notre Dame at Sunday vespers.  Worshipers sit.  Around them slowly circulate the tourists there to see the cathedral, hear the organ.  Not engaged, not worshiping.  Just came to see the thing.

On the left.  The burnt-out Quik Trip which is a landmark for these times of trouble in Ferguson.  Dramatic, how the burnt front and center is skeleton like, structural metal bare, swooping upward.  Now it reminds me of Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.  I have an overactive associating mind.

On the right, the McDonald’s which is not burnt but has seen its share of troubles.  Lots of people and dozens of police.  Later in the day we hear it’s because Jesse Jackson was in there.

We see the Schnucks and Target stores and the ominous dark law enforcement vehicles in their lots.  I think Neal said ‘FBI’ and I think I saw SWAT on one.  Here and there, traffic lanes and drives blocked off.  Some shoppers.  All who we see, police and non-police, are in slow motion, not unpleasant.  Even the few protesters with signs seem to have that certain je ne sais quoi.

August night clouds 2014

I’m driving and Neal’s trying to take photos.  When he holds the iPhone up some give us looks.  Not real hard looks, just that squinty ‘hey, what …’ look.

We drive around the Schnucks/Target lots, back to Florissant Ave.  North to I-270.  The yellow then red traffic signal abruptly catches me and we joke about getting pulled over by the police.  We both give little nervous laughs.  We are out of here.



This weekend’s Chicago Tribune reports a one year moratorium by Illinois on online virtual charter schools.

Why? To study how online schools deliver on student performance and costs.

Is that really the issue?

I suspect that Chicago’s western suburban school districts are beginning to feel something of what Chicago and other large urban school systems have been feeling for some time. Threatened by social and technological changes.

For years Detroit’s public schools have been emptying into charter and suburban alternatives. Chicago’s experiencing much the same. This seems to be the case for more of the large American urban school systems. And when suburban systems receive the students, they also get the state dollars. Yes, a challenge but also a situation that strengthens survival of suburban systems.

So, what now for the suburbs as we begin to see further splintering of monolithic public education? You can see how the dawning of online education is giving public education systems the jitters.

But what can they expect if the prime outcome of public education, urban or suburban, is not being delivered? And parents and communities begin looking elsewhere?

Whether or not school districts and teachers’ unions like it, change is certainly ahead.


The suburbs are becoming poorer.  Check this graph of increasing U.S. suburban poverty  from an article by Sabrina Tavernise last month in the NY Times.


Is a suburb birth or death?

Does it signify the end of a rural place?  Or the beginning of an urban place?

It seems implied in a suburb’s birth that a city is coming.  This is irony for many suburban dwellers.  They have left the city for breathing room, a slower pace, a less complex setting.  Even a return to an earlier time.  Nostalgia?

But these places start to become what was left behind.  All the passengers rush to the other side of the ship and it begins to list.

If a suburb is actually start of new urban life, then suburbanites are descendants of Ham.  It is Ham in the book of Genesis whose descendants include Nimrod, builder of Babel in the land of Shinar.  It is there on the plain of Shinar that men decide to build a city, a tower.  And “from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9).

Ever since, men have scattered over the earth.  And now, finally, over half the human population lives in urban places, what some describe as the Urban Millennium.

Suburbs appear but a city is coming.

Yesterday we were driving west, into Hoffman Estates, a northwest Chicago suburb.

Near a busy intersection was a grassy park.  But no way to get to it.  The traffic far too heavy and fast, no crosswalks, and most telling of all there was no one in the park.

Actually, it wasn’t a park.  A faux park.  Apparently created near that intersection for the visual pleasure of those of us driving past.  Looked inviting without any intention of people walking on its grass.

I wondered if this is a characteristic of suburbs.  They are neither city nor country.  Though that’s changing in many suburbs as the distinction between urban and suburban begins to blur.  The faux park in Hoffman Estates seems to express a suburban yearning for outdoor spaces.   But as seen from a car window.

Are suburbs a twilight zone between city and country?

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