Should all suburban teeangers want to experience the big city?

A Hollywood actor who grew up in Naperville argues suburban kids should want to explore the big city:

Right there on Wikipedia, Odenkirk said that he grew up “hating” Naperville because “it felt like a dead end, like Nowheresville. I couldn’t wait to move into a city and be around people who were doing exciting things.”

We contacted the co-star of the hit TV series “Breaking Bad” (he plays sleazy attorney Saul Goodman) and Alexander Payne’s critically acclaimed domestic drama “Nebraska,” opening Nov. 22, and asked for an explanation for this unabashed Naperville bashing.

“Well, you have to remember I was 16 years old when I was in Naperville,” said Odenkirk, 51. “I felt like I was offstage when I wanted to be onstage. I felt like I was watching from afar all the people who were movers and shakers, the people who were living exciting existences. That’s what I wanted to do.”…

“I didn’t want to be in the suburbs when I was 16 and 17 and 18,” Odenkirk continued. “I couldn’t wait to get out and go to Chicago or some other big city. New York intimidated me. Frankly, Chicago intimidated me, but I wanted to be there! Come on! Doesn’t every teenager feel that way?”…

“I would worry if my teenagers said they liked (the suburbs), that they didn’t want to experience the big city.”

One of the critiques of American suburbs involves their lack of opportunities for teenagers. This can take several forms. One issue is with urban design. In spaces designed around cars, if you can’t drive, you are in trouble. Similarly, if you live in isolated residential neighborhoods that are not close to important areas, like school or shops or parks or friends, teenagers can’t go very far. A second issue is with the suburban mindset that tends to focus attention on the local level. The complaint here is that teenagers aren’t exposed much to the wider world, to interactions with people much different from themselves.

Cities offer solutions to both issues: there is a variety of mass transit option in many big cities and walking or biking can actually get you to somewhere interesting. They also tend to contain more diverse populations and opportunities compared to suburbs. Yet, the perception is that cities are not as safe for children/teenagers and this might limit their ability to explore big cities.

All that said, compared to other suburbs, Naperville has the sort of factors that can help make suburbs more exciting for teenagers – a lively downtown with restaurants, stores, and the Riverwalk; good schools; plenty of recreational activities and learning opportunities (good libraries); a growing non-white population. So, if it doesn’t appeal to teenagers, what suburb does? (Note: Odenkirk was 16 in 1978 Naperville, a time when the community was growing but didn’t necessarily have all of the amenities it does today.)

Anti-urban hymn? “God, who stretched the spangled heavens”

Yesterday’s service featured #580 in the 1982 Episcopal hymnal, “God, who stretched the spangled heavens.” Beyond being a mid-20th century hymn (and they have some interesting quirks themselves), the second verse was very interesting:

Proudly rise our modern cities,
stately buildings, row on row;
yet their windows, blank, unfeeling,
stare on canyoned streets below,
where the lonely drift unnoticed
in the city’s ebb and flow,
lost to purpose and to meaning,
scarcely caring where they go.

It almost seems like this should be immediately followed by “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles: “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

This hymn tries to balance two images in this verse (and supported elsewhere in the song): on one hand, we have “stately buildings,” impressive demonstrations of modern capacities and on the other hand, these great cities are full of people “lost to purpose and to meaning.” On the whole, this is not a favorable view of city life, even if it is trying to be descriptive and demonstrate the issues modernists face. Are there any hymns that talk about vibrant urban neighborhoods?

I resolve to be on the watch for anti-urban messages in other hymns. I wonder if there is a large gap in hymn content in this area between more mainline denominations who retained a little more presence in the big cities during the post-World War II suburban boom and also tend to hold to political views that suggest engagement with the city while religious conservatives have more individualized songs and desire escape from the dirty, evil cities.