In Defense Of Living In The Suburbs

He's no suburban snob, but Michael Wedmann thinks non-city dwellers are getting a bad rep

Okay, I admit it. I live in the suburbs. And I like it. But I'll try not to be a suburban snob. In my job, I spend a lot of time either in front of a computer or in my car en route to see clients and often I tune in to talk radio to pass the time. On a regular basis, I hear the “downtown dwelling” commentators and pundits lauding the advantages of inner city living while mocking us suburbanites. Many seem to think the suburbs should be restored to farms and everyone outside the city proper boundaries will be ecstatic to be back living in the city. I have a few problems with this theory…

For the record, I am writing from experience, I have lived in a small town, in downtown Toronto, South Etobicoke, and now Clarkson which is in Southwest Mississauga. All areas have pros and cons. But I don’t think the suburbs are getting a fair shake from the media.

If I relied on what the media often portray as suburban living it would be a rather dreary lifestyle, entailing driving from a two car garage for two hours to a job in the downtown, and at 5 pm driving back for two hours into that same garage, to eat dinner, sleep, and repeat. The burbs are often portrayed as cookie cutter houses in undistinguishable neighbourhoods, with no transit or infrastructure for kilometers…the land of the car! And of course with NOTHING to do for fun or entertainment unless you return to the city. In other words, no redeeming qualities can be found here.

Yet so many of us are choosing to live outside of major centers. Why? Is it only about housing costs? Are people moving to places like Milton, Port Credit, Oakville, Burlington, and Stoney Creek purely to find affordable houses? On the surface, it may seem that way, but when you dig a little deeper there is more to the story. Housing costs in many of these areas rival those of Toronto, and in most cases, the taxes are higher. The average house price in Oakville is now over $1 million. The 2016 report on the best places in Canada to raise families names Oakville and Burlington in the top five, yet these towns are often deemed as “bedroom communities”.  Toronto and Vancouver did not make the list, while other outlying areas fared quite well, including Port Credit, Vaughan, and Aurora. So why are we constantly branding the suburbs as such hopeless places?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a big city basher. There are some great neighbourhoods in the city and I respect people’s individual choices. If you want to live on the 20th floor of a condo, that’s great. If you want to raise kids with no backyard, all power to you. But some of us are opting for other venues. In our case, the lack of available houses with enough space for a family with kids and the crazy bidding wars are what drove us out of Toronto into Clarkson, a 20-minute drive from Etobicoke. Had that situation been different, we would probably still be Toronto dwellers.  So while economics got us to look outside the big city, what we found there is what keeps us.

In our community, yes, we have plenty of bungalows and, yes, almost everyone has a car. BUT despite popular belief, many don’t use the car to commute to Toronto every day. In our neighbourhood, we have a multi-use trail leading to the GO station that is well traveled by cyclists and pedestrians each day, while cars rest in driveways. And despite popular belief, many industries have left Toronto for outlying communities like Mississauga and Vaughan. For example, my wife does not commute Toronto, but instead 15 minutes west to Oakville.

When our first child was on the way and we lived in Toronto, we were on several waiting lists for daycare, with no assurance of getting a spot. With our second child in Clarkson, a waiting list was not required and we found we even had a choice of locations! The quality of the daycare workers and facilities has been excellent. Enrollment in community center activities has been seamless. Want to sign up for swim classes? No problem! No crazy cut off times, no 5 am waiting by the phone or computer to register for fear of not getting a spot. 

Speaking of our local community center, it’s a great facility. The staff is competent and helpful; programs are run efficiently for all ages. The infrastructure is well maintained and equipped with current technology. The buildings and grounds, while often not new, are well kept and clean.  In Toronto, we often experienced facilities that were old, and tired. Bathrooms were often locked or out of service, staff often difficult to locate, and programs minimal and usually sold out.

While recently at a family gathering which drew people from various cities and communities, I heard several comments on how fortunate we were to have so many recreational opportunities for our kids and our family. And they are correct. Yes our property taxes are higher than what we paid in Toronto, but if it means our parks are plentiful and not over crowded, the playground equipment is not broken or ancient, the grass is cut regularly not after it’s a foot high, the flower beds are maintained, and the beaches cleaned of debris, I’m okay with it.

What else is good out here in the boonies? We have found the schools to be small and not overcrowded, with caring teachers and administration. The teachers and all staff seem to know every kid by name. The school spirit is good and kids get the extra help they need, when they need it. This may be true in other places but we have found it here.

Our neighbourhood has families that know each other and help each other out. My neighbour is the owner of a snow blower and I have come home more than once to find my driveway cleared. It’s nice to be able to chat on the driveway, and it's great recognizing a bunch of the kids that come to the door on Halloween. The neighbourhood kids are polite and live outside playing ball hockey all year.

I spent the best part of a year in this community home on Parental leave. Despite what many think about the suburbs, we went many days at a time without the need of a car. This is a walkable community. All our basic needs and more are within walking distance. Grocery store, bakery, pharmacy, bank, library, pool, arena, schools and the train station are easily reached with a 10-minute walk. When we wanted to go further we biked. Bike lanes are plentiful and traffic is not in constant gridlock. As a “Stay at Home Dad” I had very little need or desire to head into the city. There is plenty to do here to keep a family and kids busy. 

Now perhaps my view is skewed by the fact I don’t live in one of the newly built areas. Clarkson is an old village that got swallowed by amalgamation. The houses are older with mature trees lining the streets, great restaurants, and Clarkson Village remains a quaint, viable, and desirable place to be.

But it’s still by definition a suburb, just an older one. So while I try not to judge those choosing the downtown lifestyle, perhaps some reciprocation could be extended to those of us that have chosen a different path. Contempt prior to investigation is rarely accurate or helpful.

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