Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Barbarians at the Gate
The Yokelization of the Suburbs

By David G. Young

WASHINGTON, DC, May 30, 2000 --  

Growing up in the 1970s, the suburbs were a great place to be. 20 years after the first boom in post-World War II developments, suburban communities had matured into clean, safe, relatively crime-free refuges from the rising violence of the inner cities. The riots and urban unrest of the late 1960s and early 1970s -- especially following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 -- validated the decision of nice white city-bred people to flee their old neighborhoods for the suburbs. As a young child, I was so insulated from such events that I would later be shocked to realize that they happened in my lifetime.

But as nice as the suburbs of my youth were, things today seem different. I've noticed for years that the ?burbs just weren't what they used to be -- not just in my old neighborhood, but in newer developments and in other parts of the country. The old suburban landscape of strip mall pizzerias, bowling alleys, malls, Burger Kings, and auto dealerships had changed. Now, interspersed with these establishments, we find Bob Evans country restaurants, pickup truck dealerships, Wal-Marts, and a host of other businesses catering to a more rural clientele.

I'd wondered for years about the root cause of my observations. Are Americans really getting less sophisticated? Or are my adult years of urban living creating a snobbish turncoat who looks down on the place of his upbringing?

Both theories may be partially true, but the strongest cause of these observations may come from a third factor -- America's suburbs are being taken over by country folk. According to the new book, America's Forgotten Majority, virtually all the newcomers to America's suburban areas since 1960 have been from rural areas. Over this period the suburbs grew 19 percent, with urban areas losing just 2 percent of their population, but rural areas losing a whopping 17 percent of their residents.1 that goes a long way toward explaining the Sport Utility Vehicle suburban malaise -- those country yokels are destroying the culture of the ?burbs!

But does this really matter? Urban idealists and cultural elitists have long derided the wasteland of mediocrity known as the suburbs -- the homogenized lifestyles, the cookie-cutter homes and chain restaurants, and the seemingly endless sprawl that gobbles up rural landscapes. Do these new rural migrants make a difference, or is it just more of the same?

The risk, in my mind comes from the very homogeneity of the suburban lifestyle itself. The vast majority of America's population lives in suburban areas. As millions of country folk pour into the mix, they will spill their backward ways into the suburban soup of homogeneity to create a poisonous broth. For millenia, it has been urban culture that has civilized man and advanced science and knowledge. During the 20th century, America's move to the suburbs began to put this at risk with a new way of living. Now the country arrivals are exacerbating the problem by leaving their best qualities behind -- localized traditions, agricultural knowledge, and friendly demeanor -- while retaining their worst vices -- obsession with fundamentalist religion, bad language skills, and annoyingly garish tastes. Not a pretty picture.

This is the future of the ?burbs. The descendants of urban-born colonizers will be displaced or assimilated.

The few cultured urbanites left among us must therefore return to the historic, pre-suburban city centers to maintain our lifestyles. Once there, we can reconstruct the ancient tradition of the city walls and prepare for siege conditions. The time for action is now. The barbarians are at the suburban gate.


  1. The Washington Post, Who's Really Moving to the ?Burbs, May 28, 2000