I live in Montreal, in a neighborhood where everyone is noisy all the time: soccer fans, college kids, street people, muscle cars, good drivers honking at bad drivers, bad drivers sobbing uncontrollably, kids playing the street. Just about everyone makes a joyful sound. Only junkies on the nod in the park withhold their contribution from the citys din. I live in Bedlam where the moon is always full.
Take a plane and a train and I am in a suburban Connecticut. This world has free standing homes with commanding entrances, color coordinated gardens, trees that reach for the sky, and lawns that roll on and on. There is some noise: birds, lawn movers, houses ceaselessly renovating themselves. But all this happens so far away, it might as well be happening in another county. The only blight on this landscape is the Cris Craft someone has left at the far end of their property. This is Connecticuts idea of an eyesore.
Even on the weekend, people are well appointed, beautiful, rested. They are genial and say hello to strangers. But then everyone here does have something in common: they have won one of lifes lotteries. Actually, you cant live here unless you have won most of lifes lotteries: intelligence, beauty, ambition, determination. The little local store looks like a film shoot, with everyone from central casting. The women are more interesting than Stepford wives but not less beautiful.
Montreal in the post war period was a little like Cape Canaveral. My neighborhood was all Jewish families preparing kids for lift off. Fifty years later, these kids now help run Canada, serving as distinguished jurists, university presidents, top surgeons, politicians, lords of capital, architects and writers, Mordicai Richler among them. This is that urban neighborhoods are good at, mixing raw talent with urban opportunity. Houston, we have ignition.
By contrast, the suburb is the place that ideas and ideators are supposed to come to die. Softened by self indulgence, lulled into a sense of complacency, stupefied by good fortune, things coast to a stop. Before you know it, your career is a Cris Craft sitting at the end of the garden. Every so often you think, “we really should take that out for a spin. And then you dont, again today.
This is in any case what the intellectuals tell us. The suburban paradise is a trap. It is the worst place for something who has taken orders in the University of Chicago priest hood. The instructions are clear: renounce the world, refuse distraction and blandishment, indulge the idea, not the ideator. And particularly: do not live in a leafy suburb!
Hmmm. But has anyone actually done an empirical test of the proposition that suburbs are bad for the life of the mind. Shouldnt someone actually do a participant observation?