Let’s back off the ‘burb’ usage

Every time I hear some commentator or weather person call suburban communities “burbs,” I want to throw up.

These are real honest-to-goodness communities, not some amorphous blob.

I can’t find “burb” in the dictionary. It probably just comes from “suburb,” which is bad enough, because that says we are sub-urban – subject to the urban, a sub or something less than normal.

Those are fighting words to suburban residents like me.

Don’t get me wrong. Suburban leaders long have given up suggesting they can go it alone in a Metropolitan area. They are thankful they live as a part, not separate from Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are never called the “urbs,” even though they are urban.

Minneapolis and St. Paul, you’ll note, are called the “Twin Cities” and are full of cultural, entertainment, shopping, eating, sports and higher educational opportunities.

Suburban community leaders have accepted an appointed Metropolitan Council with its metro network of services.

As one who has lived in and reported on suburban communities for 50 years, I want to praise suburban communities, amazingly built overnight, figuratively speaking.

In the 1950s, after the war, developers turned cornfields outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul into rows of housing for eager returning military veterans to get married and start their families. True, the homes looked alike, the scorn of sociologists who called them cookie cutters, but they were affordable.

Overnight, leaders of these communities taxed the properties and built schools, sewer systems, roads, bridges, clinics, ball fields, parks and churches. They contended with split shifts in some of the schools, organized sports leagues and raised families.

The miracle is they built these communities in a decade, while Minneapolis and St. Paul residents built those same facilities over a much longer time.

So what’s to praise in the suburban communities?

The government is clean.  Over the years, there have been some minor scandals in city halls, nothing major. Thousands of unpaid professionals have served on commissions.

In most communities, the firefighters are volunteers. There are local police forces, some say too many, who know the residents and where they live.

For a long time, there were local court systems, until someone – not the people—decided they should be regionalized.

Churches sprang up and, again in a short time, religious communities were organized.

We welcomed a network of community and technical colleges. Major companies like Control Data, General Mills, 3M, and major airlines located spacious offices and plants in suburban communities.

A potato field in Bloomington became the home of Metropolitan sports stadium where the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings and North Stars battled it out with nationally known opponents.

Minneapolis couldn’t stand the recognition for a suburb like Bloomington and, through legal means, drew games away to the Metrodome in Minneapolis and the Xcel Center in St. Paul. Had they not been so greedy, the Twin Cities would not have to contend with the Mall of America, which moved into the sports stadium space.

What we’ve done over those years is built real communities, each with their own uniqueness and character, which should not be lumped together and called “burbs”

Let’s call them by their individual names, or at least “suburban communities,” which, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, deserve to be treated as equals.

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers and a member of the ECM Editorial Board. 


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