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Suburban Stampede

COVID-19 has changed life for most every American in some way. Some of these changes will be temporary, but it’s foolish to assume the virus will not permanently impact this nation in some significant ways. 

Investor Robert Herjavec, the CEO and founder of the cybersecurity firm Herjavec Group, has predicted many will exit America’s large cities in the coming months and years. I believe he is correct. In addition to the complications and frustrations of living in a crowded city during a pandemic, when you consider the unrest many American cities have witnessed in the past month an exodus seems inevitable. 

Many working Americans who have been tied to an office for years have discovered over the last few months that not only can they do their job from home, they enjoy it. For some Americans, the Internet offers unprecedented freedom to fulfill work responsibilities from almost anywhere in the world, and the demand for suburban real estate has increased exponentially in some areas. 

I cannot help but think of the plight of the British Romantic writers anytime I read about urban flight. In their collective recoil from both political unrest as well as the changes ushered in by the Industrial Revolution they penned some beautiful lines. Years after their deaths their words continue to challenge readers to consider the benefits of spending time away from the city, away from the noise, surrounded by nature. 

Many city-dwellers will tell you they love the noise, the constant movement, the perpetual array of entertainment options. I can understand the appeal, especially to young people who don’t yet have (or don’t want) children. I’ve visited New York City twice, and I thoroughly enjoyed each visit, but every day I was there at some point a line or two from a Romantic poem would waft through my head. For an English major who has spent her life in Louisiana this was inevitable, I suppose.

The question many city-dwellers are asking themselves now is akin to the question Mary Shelley, via Victor Frankenstein and his monster, explores in Frankenstein, the same question that haunted the British Romanticists who desired to retreat to farms and pastoral settings when confronted with the smokestacks of the city: Just because something is possible is not proof of its usefulness or goodness; it’s important to continually ask what is best? The answer to that question varies greatly depending on a person’s needs and desires, but for perhaps the first time many city-dwellers are asking the question. Some are answering it with a new mortgage in the suburbs. 

William Wordsworth once wrote, “Habit rules the unreflecting herd.” Since March many Americans have had their habits upended by necessity. The daily grind is now different, perhaps slower, for many, and with what were once ingrained habits now broken some have discovered they are not averse to the benefits of a life away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

If you, like me, feel that despite the scorching temperatures America is suspended in some perpetual winter where not even the college football season is a certainty, I leave you with these lines from Percy Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.” 

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

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