As city folk with city jobs, city flats, and turnkey city amenities, it’s almost too easy to snub Suburbia. After all, we have access to everything! Well, everything that’s cool and original, anyhow. Want to buy an obscure punk album? Done. Need to chill out at a place that only plays drum ‘n’ bass and specializes in green salsa and orange guacamole? Right this way, madam. Want to catch an Oud trio? They’re here all week.
Yeah, we city mice can do anything we want, any old time. Except, of course, when it comes those huge power centre depots. You know: the IKEAs, the Toys ‘r’ Uses, the Walmarts. Not every city is built this way, but in Montreal, you’ll only find those kinds of shops in suburbs or at the edge of town. Seriously! My friend registered her baby shower gifts at Babies ‘r’ Us, and my options were the one in Laval, the one near a highway in the east, and the one on a highway in the west. I opted for the one I could access by public transit: east it is!
If you haven’t been to Montreal, you probably don’t know this about our island: only the central part of it is actually city. The rest is suburban areas. They used to be their own municipalities, but then a merger was imposed on them during Mayor Tremblay’s controversial “Une île, une ville” project. Technically, everything on the island is part of Montreal Met, but in practice, those municipalities are their own little entities. And once you’re there, it isn’t difficult to see why.
These areas were planned completely differently. They’re newer also, so gone are the 3-storey row houses, the (surprisingly dangerous) spiral stairways and the balconies. They’ve been replaced by, well, real houses with sizeable bathrooms, and maybe even a big backyard. Ah yes, and the sprawl…how we city mice love to criticize the sprawl.
But yesterday, while mosying in Anjou’s Power Centre Central, I found myself enjoying the quiet, uncomplicated, friendly nature of the suburbs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a snob: I won’t live in the burbs. In fact, I’ll sacrifice proper living arrangements to avoid it. But when you’re there, it’s easy to get enchanted, and here’s why.
1. Clean living
Okay, some people will call it “whitewash,” but for a fleeting moment, I’d like to enjoy it for what it is: cleanliness. Look, I get it. The suburbs were created to keep out what white people considered undesirable: grafitti, squeedgy kids, and most ethnicities. And I’m with you on this one: at night, I’d rather be walking home alone on a busy city street than a barren suburban avenue. But during the day, it’s nice to stroll along a sparkling, sanitary boulevard with brightly coloured lamp posts and street markers, and coming across the odd bench that doesn’t need a park to exist. What can I say? It’s lovely!
2. Sensational silence
Maybe it’s because I ended up in a power centre on a Thursday afternoon instead of a Saturday morning, but it was nice to hear a whole lot of not much. City life equals constant noise, even on a quiet residential street. I found myself interacting with noise differently in the burbs as well. The sound of a car driving by seemed more like a gentle hum, where it’s an intrusive whoosh in the city. I even noticed that birds were chirping. Not that they don’t do that in an urban environment. It’s just that it’s harder to single them out in the muddle of things screaming for your attention.
I love how things are kind of clustered and glued together in Montreal. There’s hardly room to take a breather between buildings that don’t necessarily match, and it’s all part of the charm. But I can also appreciate the spaces between places in the suburbs, and how each is made to fit the town’s over-arching concept. The Toys ‘r’ Us goes there, and the Best Buy goes here, and there’s never going to be any confusion between the two. I also like the soothing ubiquity of lawns. I know the surroundings are highly manufactured, but really, so is everything about a nightclub.
Warning: I’m not being ironic and this is not a veiled criticism. This occurred to me when I walked into the Pier 1 Imports, and it was the first time I’d been inside this chain for years and years. It actually gave me a bit of perspective. Back in Moncton, New Brunswick, Pier 1 was where you went to get original, design-y bits and bobs for the house, and if you had real money to spend, some nice backyard furniture. Now it’s a haven of similarities, with that Martha Stewart quality to everything. It says that you’ve read the right 5 books on culture and design, but you still want to get those tinted, textured drinking glasses at a reasonable price. Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to buy myself that bamboo breakfast tray. True, their products are generic, but they’re also pretty enough to provide the illusion of personal style, which would still be an illusion even if you shopped at some posh deco store in Montreal. I guess what I’m saying is that there are many ways to be pretentious. Some are less complicated than others, and that’s where Pier 1 comes in.
When I moved to Montreal 12 years ago, I was a very different kind of driver. I let people take a left turn. I stopped at crosswalks. I even had a series of clear “mea culpa” gestures for every faux pas. Now, I just ram. It’s not because I have a sense of entitlement. It’s just that it’s the only way to survive in this city that distributes licenses to lunatics, and rather freely. Whether I’m driving, biking or walking, I’m mouthy, defensive, and angry. So in Anjou, when the cars stopped to let me cross, or when sales clerks didn’t seem annoyed at my questions, I naturally felt all fuzzy inside. I’m always psychologically armed to the teeth when I perform even the simplest tasks in the city. So yeah, it’s nice to let my guard down for a blessed minute.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to move. The truth is, I hate driving, and that’s always part of the deal with the burbs. I love my chaotic city life, and how the things I need are nearby. But you know, if I had my way, I’d have my condo on St-Hubert Street for the days when I’m feeling MacBook & Malibu, and a little country house on Lakeshore Drive for my Scotch & Smith-Corona nights.