The SUV in the driveway, the golden retriever with a red bandana romping with two children in the front yard, the Colorado winter vacations, the bumper sticker with MY DAUGHTER IS AN HONOR ROLL STUDENT AT HUBBLE MIDDLE SCHOOL—those are the dreams of the denizens, like me, of suburbia.
After college and their roaring 20s, many Americans find themselves in a subdivision with a lawn and a mortgage and a couple kids. Hip twentysomethings may mock the suburbs and its bourgeois values, but when their first child arrives the nesting instinct sets in. A neighbor and her husband lived on the north side of Chicago until the kids came; then they moved to a western 'burb for safety and quiet. "I miss the energy of the city," she says five years later. "In fact, when we moved to the suburbs, we had a hard time sleeping at night because the neighborhood was so quiet."
Such deep quiet is how suburbs were originally conceived. The architecture of today's rolling acres of spec houses in farmlands arises in part from the pastoral, bucolic cemeteries on the outskirts of cities in the early part of the 20th century. Whether blue-collar or white-collar, Yankee or Southern, West Coast or East, North Dakota or southern Texas, most 'burbs are arguably organized around the provision of safety and opportunities for children, and neat and tranquil environs for homeowners. Suburbs have grown to dominate the American landscape precisely because, most of the time, they fulfill those promises, in spades. That very success presents challenges for Christians. Naturally, there are exceptions. There are suburbs just as plagued by poverty and crime as inner cities. But in this essay, whenever I refer to the suburbs, I will be speaking to what I know: cozy, safe, ...