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Growing Up In Sprawl

August 28, 2010 Steve Patterson, Urban Renewal 8 Comments

Our driveway was three cars wide by three deep, plus room for two more in the garage. We didn’t have sidewalks, when I was older I biked to stores — without a helmet. At times I got glimpses of older neighborhoods.  Our family doctor was located in an older commercial district just south of downtown Oklahoma City, known as Capitol Hill.   As a kid the area was likely in transition downward.  There were vacant department stores and storefronts but there was a clear grid of streets — with sidewalks.

ABOVE: Steve Patterson on the big wheel recieved on his 5th birthday
ABOVE: Steve Patterson on the big wheel received on his 5th birthday

My father would occasionally do carpentry work at our doctor’s house.  When he did I always wanted to tag along because our doctor lived in a big old house in the Heritage Hills neighborhood. When I’ve returned to Oklahoma City over the last 20 years I drive through these areas. They weren’t where I spent my childhood, but where I would escape to once I turned 16 and started driving. If a bus system existed I knew nothing of it.

I racked up a lot of miles for a high school kid with a new license, exploring areas that had long been written off or destroyed by Urban Renewal schemes. I preferred the remains of urbanism to the newness where I lived.

I’m curious why I desired a more urban environment? Most of my friends from high school have done as most people did and just locate in newer versions or sprawl further away from the center. Was it the used brick as the veneer on our frame house that got me curious about old brick buildings? The house next door was veneered with a pink brick made of concrete, it looked as bad as it sounds. Was it the fact I’m gay? I hadn’t read any manual on how to be gay.

Why some people have a strong need to break out of suburbia while others are quite happy fascinates me. My two older brothers were about 7 & 16 when they moved into our custom built new home, less than a year before I was born.  They had both experienced older homes before the move to the new home, in the new subdivision, near the new shopping center.  One has traveled the world with the Navy and he appreciates walkable urbanism. My other brother prefers drivable sprawl.

Does the urban gene skip the middle child?

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jeff says:

    As the oldest in my family, I'd have to agree that I find myself preferring the core cities over the sprawling suburbs. After living for a while in St. Charles after growing up in Florissant, it seems to have less to do with the pretty buildings and more to do with the fact that the further out you get from the city (at least here in STL, and even in places like Chicago), the less creative life seems to become. I drive down the block and I lose count of how many cookie cutter houses, Applebees, McDonalds and gas stations I see. I think the last straw for me was when they opened a Mobil station on a corner close to my house ACROSS THE STREET from another Mobil station. I don't mean to sound judgmental, but as an engineer, and someone who makes a living off of creativity and new ideas, it blows my mind how people can be happy with that. It's nice to have some things that are the same everywhere you go, but it's starting to get a little excessive.

    • Zundo says:

      I find myself agreeing on the grounds of creativity, aesthetic and originality.

      I grew up in STL city, then lived in Springfield, MO where our house was on the fringe and finally in Kansas in a suburban/country setting. Nothing up till this point has topped STL, aside from the reduction in auto traffic. Currently I live in a place that is predominantly composed of big box and chain everything. I find myself so frustrated when not supporting locals or being bored by the lack of creativity, aesthetic, originality and walkability. Appreciation of history, architecture and rehabs (buildings) are also great reasons to be pro city.

      As soon as I get the chance, I am city bound!!!

  2. SMOS says:

    I'm writing this from my father's house in Town & Country, where I spent my high school years. I don't know if it was one thing that attracted me to the City, where I live in the Shaw neighborhood with my wife and young daughters. It's the beautiful brick houses. It's the proximity of great (not chain) restaurants and shops. It's the diversity of people. It's the vibrancy of the neighborhoods. When I'm around City people, I feel at home; when I'm around the County folk, I feel foreign.

    My father's house is still lovely, and it is a nice escape (and to let the kids use his pool). But, I feel like I belong in the City.

    • Zundo says:

      I find it interesting that you feel out of sorts with county folk. I am pretty much the same. I also found that I feel pretty comfortable with country folk. I think the tie there is how much I appreciate vegetation and the tranquility of the country. The county though just makes me feel pretty blah and ready to leave the moment I get there. I do think there are places in the county that feel city, if you will. Some of th first suburbs, places like Clayton, U City and Maplewood definitely feel predominantly city to me.

  3. JamesR says:

    Based on my family… Yes.

  4. JZ71 says:

    Complex question, no easy answers. My best guess is a mix of being able/wanting to fix old stuff (versus buying new), liking to drive (versus taking transit) and what you saw as a kid (nearly all of my parents' freiends lived in single family suburban homes; apartments were saved for “old maids” and the poor).

    Some people have more “mechanical aptitude” than others, and if you can fix something yourself, it's less expensive and less intimidating than having to find someone to do it for you. During the '50's and '60's, there were no Home Depots or Lowes; if you wanted to do something, you had to go to the paint store or the hardware store or the lumberyard and deal with folks who typicaly were more focused on commercial customers, not DIY'ers. And while “common knowledge” is that gays, many times, are the leaders in turning an old neighborhood around, I don't know how much empirical date there is to back that up.

    I was forced to ride the yellow school bus for much of my elementary and secondary education, was prohibited from having a vehicle on campus during my freshman year in college, and had to park on the perimeter of campus during the balance of my undergraduate career. Guess what, one requirement for every place I've owned or rented, during grad school and after, has been off-street parking – I like the freedom my SOV gives me, and I'm willing to live with the compromises.

    Similarily, having roommates throughout college, and some interesting neighbors while renting, the freedom to do what I damn well please is one big attraction of a single-family home, along with not having to share with random characters I have no control over. In an older home, you don't have nearly the same restrictions that come with living in a condo or a newer, covenant-controlled community, and neither do your neighbors. The diversity is good for this old hippie, but comes with the potential for less-predictable outcomes (social, racial, physical and economic), but at a slightly-greater distance.

    Finally, there's that need for some people to grow stuff. In suburbia, besides nurturing your kids, you get to nurture your lawn. I have one, but it's not a big priority, and I'd be perfectly happy with a much smaller one. For others, like many of my neighbors, it's both a challenge and a way to prove their worth. Since many older urban areas predated the power mower and chemical weed control, lots tend to be smaller . . .

    • Zundo says:

      I think it is more than the gays that are the leaders in turning an old neighborhood around. The others I seem to see playing this role (in addition) are the creative class and those who have a family history there. Those in the trades also play a key role too.

  5. stljmartin says:

    I enjoyed this simple exercise you shared. I have nothing at this time to add, but I can tell you as the middle child, No.


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