Suburbia knows no borders. And yet, each country has their own take on the suburbs.
The typical suburb in the U.S. is made up of moderately-portioned prefabricated homes — think vinyl siding, asphalt shingles, and roll out grass. Houses blend together in their beige hues and spartan landscaping. Sidewalks, if there are any, are interrupted by curb cuts leading to each resident’s garage, a house unto itself considering its size; a white steel door serves as the modern portcullis to each suburbanite’s castle.
Yes, we all know American suburbia. And thanks to its international omnipresence, so do the majority of our world’s citizens. Sometimes suburbia looks the same regardless of what country you’re in, other times, not so much. There’s Amsterdam’s Betondorp and what remains of Spain’s building boom, and then there’s China. There’s also Mexico, Mexico and its recent government-fueled building bubble, where developers are encouraged to “urbanize in ways where profit is sought out for over the well being of the community":
Last week, thanks to a housing hiccup, we had the privilege of staying at a friend’s house in the suburban enclave of Los Frailes in San Miguel de Allende. While this subdivision isn’t one of those cookie cutter developments with matchy-matchy houses crammed together on lots smaller than a bath mat, Los Frailes is still your boilerplate suburban fare: car-dependency, segregation, isolation, a certain lifeless aura. Apart from Ubering into town a few times for groceries, Britt and I barely left the house. On the days when I was eager to stretch my legs, we walked around the subdivision admiring the architecture and imagining what was behind those looming, impenetrable walls.
Sounds pretty dull, right? It kind of was.
While in Los Frailes, I felt isolated and disconnected from other people. When we went for our walks, we didn’t pass neighbors but cars with faceless drivers. Houses hid behind huge walls with glass-topped gates and barking dogs discouraging robbers, most windows were covered in bars.
On Sunday, twelve days after coming arriving in Los Frailes, we moved back into the city. Hallelujah.