I live in suburban Ottawa, Canada'a capital city. I grew up in Chateauguay, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal. I feel that I'm now well-acquainted with suburban living. I am somewhat ambivalent about the 'burbs. The particular neighbourhood I live in has all the amenities a family could hope for - parks, skating rinks, shopping and schools. We have a lot of great neighbours who seem to look out for each other. On the other hand...
To meet the housing demands of a growing population, along with developers' desire for maximum profit, houses are being built on ever-smaller lots, one shoe-horned in next to the other. Row housing is now ubiquitous, and cookie cutter houses, which are cheaper to build, are the norm. I despair when I'm out driving and in the distance I see a new-ish subdivision in its bleak homogeneity, completely denuded of vegetation and looking not unlike Soviet-era housing complexes. Inevitably and ironically, these new neighbourhoods are often named things like "Oakridge" or "Pineview" after the types of trees that were cut down to make room for these awful eyesores.
In an effort to halt urban sprawl, the City of Ottawa has decided to pursue a policy of "intensification". Some elements of this policy include limiting the amount of land available for development, "infilling" or allowing new construction only in vacant lots or lots severed from larger properties, and approving higher density construction (i.e. apartment complexes, duplexes and the like) including on infill sites and in residential areas that comprise primarily single family dwellings.
I understand wanting to limit sprawl. As anyone who has seen Toronto from above can attest, sprawl is a blight on the landscape. It is also infrastructure intensive requiring new roads, sewage and other utilities to service new subdivisions. Also, more and more transportation is needed to reach the business hubs in the big cities, which leads to greater pollution. Some have even posited that greater population density leads to lower crime rates because more people are on the streets at any given time and that acts as a deterrent for would-be criminals and also because it is easier and more efficient for police to patrol more people packed into a smaller space.
So, I can appreciate that living in cities and intensifying urban and suburban development has benefits, but I don't like living under these conditions. Already in my neighbourhood, homeowners are severing their lots and selling the property for mind-blowing amounts of money and new houses are being built on them. Even my house, which was built in the mid-1980s is on a postage stamp-sized lot. I can stand in my bathroom and piss out the open window into my neighbour's toilet. Jamming us all in together also reduces our privacy. I can't have a private conversation on a summer day with the windows open because all my neighbour's can hear possibly getting the gossip mill churning: "Hey did you hear about that pus-like discharge Geoff is having from his, well, you know...". And nude sunbathing? Forget it.
What bothers me most about living in suburbia (and urbia for that matter), though is the ceaseless noise. The sources are many. The thumping bass of "boom" cars that are loaded with preposterous noise-making capability and usually piloted by teenagers and 20-somethings, or as like to call them, the deaf generation (Douglas Coupland: I expect royalties if you use this term in one of your books.) While I'm on the subject of cars, my street is a chorus of slamming car doors at all times of day and night. Even worse are the car horns that sound whenever someone arms their car alarm. One summer night, between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. I counted THIRTEEN honks! The bastard that thought this feature was a good idea should be executed. Plain and simple.
Then there are lawn mowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers, power tools of every description, yapping dogs, loud mouth neighbours that stay out all night yammering despite the fact they are right underneath our bedroom windows, drunken teenagers roaming the streets on weekends, blaring music from the neighbour's house and on and on. One neighbour down the street is even raising chickens which make a racket when they are laying eggs The potential for conflict is huge. Some people like the noise. One friend says it's the sound of life. I appreciate the sentiment, I just don't share it.
I often wonder how I would feel if I could get up one morning and go outside with a cup of coffee to read the newspaper and not hear even one solitary man made sound. I am also saddened that unless we make a special trip, my young daughter will never get to see the Milky Way because the light pollution from the cities obscures our view of it. I myself didn't see it until I was in my twenties when I was visiting a friend's cottage near Morin Heights in the Laurentians. I doubt that even there I'd be able to the Milky Way because development has run amok in the area.
I'm sure rural living has its drawbacks, too. Still, I will go to bed tonight with my silicone earplugs rammed into my ears and blinds pulled tight and dream of having a perfectly square four hundred acre plot of land with my house built in the exact centre and a 15-foot stone wall topped with razor wire surrounding the whole property and me sitting in my office with a green crayon writing my manifesto.
Good night moon...
For a decent review of the literature on population density and crime see the following link.
The following is a good link to a blog that deals with population density and noise:
I also have a bunch of URLs about noise pollution for those who are interested.