How would you answer the above question? I’d love to know.
I’ve been thinking lately about suburbia’s intersection of urban and rural, where you can hop a car or train for 30 minutes in either direction and be standing among skyscrapers or cornfields. Does this ability make suburbanites unique? How does it affect our sense of self and our relationship to the widely-varied ecosystems we experience on a daily basis? Does it cultivate a sense of entitlement, or does it deprive us of a more “down-to-earth” life that we might find in a big city or small town? Does it create more or less of a sense of community? Might it make us “bi-eco-cultural” in ways that benefit us?
Does any of this matter? I think it might. A few recent studies that I’ve read about have shown that being near trees is good for us, both mentally and physically, and that when we spend less time in places where we can see a distant horizon, our mood and even our vision is affected. Just today, Mary Schmich, Tribune columnist, cites the CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute, Elissa Bassler, who notes, “Your ZIP code is a lot more important to your longevity than a lot of things.” Fewer and fewer urban and suburban kids spend long hours playing outdoors these days. There’s an actual term called “nature deficit disorder,” coined by author Frank Louv in his 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods.” That’s depressing.
The planet obviously needs more of us to care about it and tend it. Plant and animal kingdoms are moving and changing at an ever-increasing pace, intersecting with humans in new ways. Coyotes now make themselves at home in urban alleys and suburban parks; birds’ and butterflies’ migratory patterns are in the midst of wild swings; tree lines are shifting up mountainsides. Many regions are working to bring back indigenous prairies and wetlands in an effort to reverse these trends.
As I work to create a full-length collection of poems centered around the idea of the Midwest and suburbia, these are themes I’m pondering. I’d love to hear what others think about the suburbs – the good and the bad – and how a life lived there forces daily negotiations with people, nature, and transportation that are unique. Please post your thoughts below or drop me a note!
Photo credits: Coyote in NYC, DNAinfo.com