This past weekend, with my exams completed and my responsibilities as a Resident Advisor fulfilled, I got in the car with my parents and drove an hour northeast of Ann Arbor to my hometown of Troy, Michigan. But once I got home, I remembered one of the many reasons why I enjoy being a student at the University: We live in Ann Arbor.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my cozy home, my half-acre lot colored by roses and rhododendrons and my cat timidly pacing in my backyard while it pretends to hunt something. And, of course, I enjoy spending time with my family after a stress-filled semester: cooking with my mother, bowling with my brother and watching movies with my father. It’s not my home or my family that I dislike — it’s suburbia.

Every neighborhood is pre-designed, its construction coordinated and its architectural uniqueness reduced to a minimum. Every two-story villa has a driveway with a two-car garage, each on a half-acre lot with a maple tree or two. All the roads start with the same letter (in my neighborhood, that letter happens to be “c”) and are populated by residents who work in the same places and whose children attend the same schools. How ironic that an area populated by ardent capitalists should feel so communist — everything, and everyone’s lifestyle, is the same.

To be sure, there is some variety. One villa may have a beige wooden exterior while another might have a more thrilling mix of brick and drywall. One maple tree turns orange in the fall while the other might rebelliously turn red instead. But this sure isn’t the diversity I’ve come to value so dearly as a student at the University.

In other words, suburbia is nauseatingly boring. And, to make matters worse, suburbs have turned out to be an urban planning disaster. Suburban homes consume more energy than those in the city (try insulating a home with four exterior walls instead of an apartment, which might have one or two). Because of the lower population density in suburbs, mass transit is nowhere to be found, so you need to drive a car to get anywhere (increased fossil fuel emissions, anyone?). Plus, with everything so spread out, commutes in the suburbs are also longer. As suburbia expands the outer edge of the Detroit metropolitan area, people tend to leave the city and flock to the suburbs. These individuals usually demand larger lots and bigger homes, leading to the creation of what I call “super suburbs” — neighborhoods with huge lots, colossal and even less energy-efficient homes and no architectural diversity. And where suburbia expands, monotony is sure to follow.

So, basically, my message is: If you are reading this column in Ann Arbor, look around you. If you see some form of architectural diversity, if you notice higher-density development and if you even see people (you almost never do in the ‘burbs), then breathe a sigh of relief. Then, snap a few pictures, e-mail them to your parents living back in the ‘burbs with the message, “Jealous?” They may respond with, “Everything located at a walking distance? A myriad of restaurants to choose from? Movie theatres, parks and mass transit? Disgusting!” But you’ll snicker, because you’ll know the truth.

I am ripping suburbia apart for two reasons. First, I took an urban economics class this past semester from which I took away the belief that cities are awesome and suburbs will be the demise of man. Second, when my family moved from Europe to the Detroit suburbs ten years ago, I thought we were going to heaven. But I was wrong — as much as I hate to say it, I enjoy people more than isolation, I’d choose walking over endless driving and I prefer entertainment to gas stations.

We’re lucky to attend a university located in a city instead of a suburb. And, hopefully, twenty years from now, we will reminisce about our college years and resist the temptation to move into a home with a three-car garage.

Tommaso Pavone can be reached at

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