Friday, July 30, 2010

Adventures in Suburban New Hampshire

I'm visiting my grandma in her house in suburban New Hampshire located in a place called Stoneridge Estates, although there is neither stone nor ridge nearby. There is however a nice bucolic lake with a sandy (gravely?) beach nearby; however, I was notified by my grandma that the lake is man made, which is fitting for this area. It also seems fitting that I started reading James Howard Kunstler's classic (and so far excellent) book on American urban planning, The Geography of Nowhere.

This truly is the geography of nowhere. It's almost cliche to describe suburbs this way, but the area consists of wide, looping, discontinuous roads with no sidewalks, which are in turn connected to highways that lead to strip malls accessed only through a sea of parking. Why a suburban area with not much car traffic needs roads wide enough for three lanes, I don't know. When looking for a place to eat all that we could see from the highway were the tall signs of fast food and chain restaurants, except it's difficult to figure out which exit to take or which parking lot entrance will connect you to the one you want to patronize.

My grandma's street is so new that Google Maps hasn't even named it yet. I guess you truly do live in the geography of nowhere when even Google doesn't acknowledge that you exist. Each house resembles its neighbour and is set back in a grassy yard that no one seems to spend anytime in except to mow it. Some yards are small (like pictured below) while others are almost comically big. The most activity I have seen so far has been the sprinkler system coming on to keep the grass green.

The houses are large, but toy-like at the same time, like something used to plunk down your spot in Monopoly. SUVs seem to be the common car of choice here, I suppose to maneuver over all those stones and ridges. Here's what the street system looks like:

There is no public transit (everyone has cars and it's not dense enough). I've only seen one person biking so far, but unless you want to bike on the highway it would be hard to get anywhere. I went for a jog at 9am and saw one woman walking her dogs and another woman doing laps in her own oversized driveway while her kids pedalled their tricycles up and down, trailing her.

Everything is so spread out it's almost unbelievable. It's the complete opposite of the kind of place I'd like to live in when I'm old. My grandma can walk to the end of the street to get the mail, but that's it. Everything else you need a car for, and she can't drive. Our errands consisted of visiting an auto repair shop, two banks, a restaurant, a pharmacy and a seniors home--basically an archipelago of parking lots.

We got a taste of just how car-dependent this area is when we piled into the car one morning and realized the battery had completely died somehow during the night, which left me with a slightly panicky feeling of well how the hell are we going to get anywhere? Luckily, a neighbour brought over jumper cables and restored our independence.


  1. How is that book? It's on my reading list. I highly recommend 'Pedaling Revolution'. Also, Vancouver should have another separated bike lane (on Horby) by the fall. !

  2. Check out the follow-up after you're done, Home from Nowhere. Also great.

  3. Brandon, the book is definitely worth a read. And Clayton: I'll have to check that one out.