Contend Earnestly: Living in the Dangerous Suburban Jungle

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Living in the Dangerous Suburban Jungle

This is a journal entry more for myself, so that I don't forget to forsake and fight against the dangers of suburbia.

I live in Maple Valley, Washington. It's almost like admitting that I am a drug addict. I don't want to admit I live here, but I do. I have lived here for the past 6 and half years. My boys know no other place called home, as my oldest was 11 months when we moved in. Maple Valley is a prototypical suburban town. We have grown from 14,000 residents in 2000 to almost 23,130 in 2010, that's a jump of about 65%. Not only that, but we have the highest median incomes ($92,900)in South King County and one of the highest, period, in the entire county. The entirety of Maple Valley is made up of a ton of housing developments, Mexican food, teriyaki, pizza and nail salons. You want culture? Not here. We don't have any. The new blood (that's me) destroyed that long ago, when the area of Maple Valley used to be a coal mining town, and now is a place to live to die. What you will find in Maple Valley is a place to live, but not a place to work, play or eat. We are 30 minutes to Seattle and other large cities (Bellevue, Tacoma) so those are the place people go to have fun and to find work. Maple Valley turns into one big housing development.

So, what is so dangerous about Maple Valley? You ever hear the expression, "Same sh*t, different day"? That's Maple Valley. The dangerous part of Maple Valley is that it is so safe, that you can lose your soul. It can become like living in the movie Groundhog Day. What is so sad is that the city of Maple Valley (on their site) pump up this place like we have a real sense of community out here. Pretty bogus. Just because you have a bunch of events throughout the year, doesn't make people actually know each other. It just makes it easier for families to go to a park with a bunch of other people and not talk to one another. Here are the ways I find this place dangerous.

1. The Schools Are Really Good and Really Safe

What a weird number one, huh? Well think of it. Everyone out here has 2.3 kids, most go to the local public school and no one wants to move because we are top 5 in the state as far as a school system. Based on this, not only do all your decisions become based on your kids, but others move to the area because of how great the schooling is. So, what happens? Your children can become an idol that you give alms to and worship. You hope they get really good grades and play sports really well so you can safely brag about them at the next BBQ and not be one of those parents with the loser kid bringing the stats down for the superior schools and sports.

2. Groundhog Day

Here is 99% of the households day in Maple Valley. Get up, commute, work, commute, water or mow lawn, play outside, watch TV, brush teeth, go to bed...then just push repeat. This is very dangerous. If you've lost a week. When me and my neighbor see each other, we say the exact same thing, "What up?" answer? Livin' the dream. If you don't break this mold in your daily routine, you can and will lose your soul. Today, this is how sad it can get, to break up my routine I took the scenic route to work (took West Lake Sammamish Pkwy to Bellevue). If you aren't intentional about your days, they can blend together and you can get very lost in routine.

3. No Community, No Culture

We have zero of these two. We look to Seattle, Bellevue or Tacoma for our culture. We have no real community either. Because we are a bunch of housing developments, there is no way to even have culture as we are made up of a bunch of strip malls with nail salons in them. Even our only tattoo shop sits next to a florist and people were all up in arms when it went in, because bad people have tattoos and they might ruin Groundhog's Day for everyone. When you have no culture, you are forced to go to those places that do. This weekend, my wife and I celebrate 11 years of marriage. Are we staying in Maple Valley? Well, I don't want Mexican food and my wife just got her nails done, so there is no reason for us to stick around. So, we're going to Georgetown's Farmer's and Flea Market and spending the day around Seattle.

We also have no community. When I say community, I mean no one really knows each other. We wave, say hello, and complain about the dude who parks his boat in the road (that affects no one, but gives us something to complain about), but we really don't know each other and are affecting no change in our little suburban jungle.

These are the dangers of our community. So, what am I personally doing to change this?

I am trying to start by what I can do. I can affect change of making community. This is where I am starting and would like to have that grow to make change to have some culture as well. But for now, we'll start small.

I don't want Groundhog's Day, I want a place to call home where we live in a community, not a mere housing development where you go to die. There are about five families in my development that are actively pursuing community together. We have put together a huge fourth of July bash, poker tournaments, dinners together, coming up will be a big Halloween Costume Party, and a Christmas progressive dinner, etc. We are trying to see if we can live more closely in community. I am not sure how this is going to look as we pursue this together, but I believe it to be a necessary so that we don't fall into the normal suburban trap. I hope to be able to truly share life with these people and understand their stories better, to become close friends, to be able to help each other spiritually and physically when needs arise. I would like this to grow, so that we could affect some great change in Maple Valley so that we can break the streak of Groundhog's Day.

I feel as though this is important, not only for this kingdom's purposes, but for the Kingdom of God as well. I am not one to push my beliefs on these other families, but will be giving them opportunities to join us in studying the Story of God as a whole if they so desire. But, what I want them to know more than anything is that I want to grow together and pursue community, even if we don't believe the same things about Jesus. I love and follow Jesus, but that is not a prerequisite to be a close friend of mine or to study life's deep groans together in the dangerous suburban jungle of Maple Valley, Washington.


Josh R said...

With a name like "Maple Valley" it would be nice if you at least had some good syrup.

Unknown said...


I've been thinking about your post the past few days, and it definitely resonates with me.

I agree that suburbia is soul-sucking in its blandness.
I agree that there is a lack of community, and that I don't really know or talk to my neighbors much.
I agree that our children are our idols, and I'd argue that they are integral to the choices that affect the first two points.

First, why do we live in suburbia instead of a. downtown Seattle/Bellevue or b. Wilbur, WA (in the country)? For me, it's primarily lower housing cost (vs city), better access to shopping (vs country) and better neighborhoods/parks for kids to play (vs both). I grew up in a town half the size of Wilbur. I never saw myself living in a tract development, but it's not so bad.

Second, and speaking only for myself, when I get home from work I have less than two hours remaining before my kids are in bed. 99% of the time I will choose to spend my time with them. Most of the time, that will not include a neighbor. We have a busy family schedule with hiking/camping trips, activities, sports, preschool, vacations, etc. Most of my immediate neighbors are at a similar point in their lives, owning their first house, with children between 1 and 6. Our schedules simply don't coincide much, and we don't spend much time in the common areas in front of or between our houses, opting to spend that time inside or behind our houses instead.

Looking at (the lack of) culture, I don't think we spend enough time not working to build much culture, nor do we have many people that can do that, unlike a city where you can have funded arts programs etc. I think the proximity of a large city will always draw cultural centers to it, except for where the culture is tied to a specific geography.

I appreciate what you're doing to improve the community in our neighborhood, and I'm looking forward to playing poker or watching football or enjoying a Christmas dinner with you; I'd like to get to know you better. But, my kids and wife will always come first.

Looking back at how my life has arrived here, I don't see many choices I would make differently. We all have a specific number of hours left in this existence, and we must spend them wisely to avoid ending in regret.

Seth McBee said...

Thanks for responding...I appreciate your thoughts. What you said about us only having a certain time with our families at the end of the night and wanting to spend time with the family is so true and I don't believe is wrong motivation or action.

What we are trying to do around the corner from you is merely playing in the front yard instead of the back so we can spend time with both family and neighbors.

We also understand that winter is coming, meaning we'll all hibernate and not come back out until the Spring next year.

We are putting together some stuff to incorporate families spending time together, instead of only having events that involve adults.

Looking through the Bible, community involved the entirety of the family and not merely adults getting together to live life together. Jesus even focused in on the children and their faith as a way for us all to learn. I am sure you have seen this through learning from Colin and Myranda...I know I have from my kids!

This is what I love about our neighborhood is that we all are basically in the same stage of life, like you pointed out. Because of that, we can take advantage of our get togethers and not feel bad that we are bringing our kids to an adult function. Of course poker is more adult driven, but we will be doing a huge Halloween party, the Christmas dinner and then just our BBQ's will all be families joining together.

I'll be hitting you up soon to see if you guys want to come over for dinner. Would love to get to know your entire family.

I hope you are well.

Thanks again for some great insight.



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