This weekend I was lucky enough to be able to take a short trip to see my family, friends, town, and house. I love going home, but only because it is home. I know the streets, the houses, and the neighbors. But, every time I arrive on the outskirts of my town all I can think is, “god, this place is ugly.” I didn’t grow up in a slum that outwardly looks ugly. I didn’t grow up in the inner city or near anything that you might think of immediately. The place I grew up elicits two typical responses: 1) the perfect American dream with picket fences, barbecues, neighbors, happy kids, etc. And 2) visions of strip malls, parking lots, big box retail, and lack of that infamous “sense of place” we love to talk about.
That’s right: I grew up in suburbia, on Long Island or what I have dubbed, the “ultimate suburbia.” When I finally got off Long Island and went to school at Mary Wash, I met people who came from real small towns. Small as in, they could distinguish the beginning and end of the town. There could be miles of open space in between these towns. I just could not grasp this concept. I had to see it for myself. If you are unaware, that is not the case on Long Island. One town bleeds into the next. The only way to indicate that you have entered another town is a sign on the side of the road. In one instance, a branch of the volunteer ambulance for my town sits just past the sign for the next town. Odd. I instantly became fascinated with my friends who knew the boundaries of their towns or those who came from a town that did not have its own school district. Pretty much every town is its own school district on Long Island.
Eventually I wondered, had I grown up in a small town would I have the same loathe of suburbia? Would I have the same enchantment of small towns? Here I get to the point of the title: nature vs. nurture or perhaps more accurately, the environment vs. the education. All have played a part in creating who I am. I credit my initial draw to preservation to my mother, who instilled a love of old houses and mysterious places in me. And I credit my understanding of what can happen without respect for place and important (i.e. historic) resources to living in suburbia.
Despite what growing up in suburbia did for me later in life, I will never again live in such a place. Out in the country, in a city, in a small town, sure. All of those have character, but the auto-centric, immediate satisfaction, status crazed suburban lifestyle is not for me. Currently I live in a gorgeous southern small town (that looks like it’s trying to be a New England town) and the pine trees and blue sky just make it one of the prettiest places. Although I’m always sad to have leave home to come back to this temporary home, I have to smile when arriving in town and comment on its beauty.
How has your environment influenced you? Would you rather have grown up elsewhere? For the record, I treasure my childhood and no, I would not trade locations (but that is because my memories are there.) What indicates a “pretty” town to you (take the meaning however you like.) How does one location influence your opinions of others?
More posts to come on these related topics.
*Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on any of these topics, I just like thinking about them and hearing what others have to say.