MidBurbs: A new Definition of Suburbia
By Gabe Bailer – NJ Urban Thinker – December 23rd, 2016
The name “suburbs” needs a revision. The towns surrounding urban cores with trains and buses direct to city centers and a walkable and active downtown are not suburbs. So what are they then? Let me throw out another name…what about MIDBURBS? A middle ground where there is an urban feel and not in a car driven suburban town.
I recently relocated to Cranford, NJ and was immediately labeled as a suburban guy by my New York City-residing friends and family. As someone who was raised in Washington Heights, lived in Union City for four years and then Jersey City for eight years where my son was born, I didn’t like the idea of being a suburban dad. I always said I’d never move to the suburbs for fear of being trapped in a house and dependent on a car to get everywhere. In the suburbs, I would never be able to bike the streets for fear of being running off the road by a minivan or massive SUV, never be able to walk to a park with my son and never be able to have a commute that didn’t involve driving, even if it was just to the local train station.
Cities are great for young people who crave this walkability. But not everyone chooses to stay in the city, especially families. There has been an increase of families staying in a Brooklyn, Hoboken or Jersey City. But as in my case, the competition to get in a good charter school in Jersey City proved to be very difficult and so we looked to move somewhere where a good education wouldn’t be a struggle.
As we began looking to purchase a home, my criteria for a town became clear. It needed to have all of the above plus, most importantly, it needed to be a place where I would be able to walk to a good, local bar. Cranford was that place. From my house on Walnut Avenue I can walk five minutes down the road directly into the heart of downtown. I can enjoy a burger and beer at the Cranford Hotel or the famous sloppy joes from Mr. Js Deli. I can have my morning coffee at Track 5 and sit outside in the sun on their Adirondack chairs watching people head to the train station. I can walk to the local theater and see a new release. I can walk around North and South Avenues during Halloween and see the annual scarecrow stroll, a local exhibit by residents and business owners showing their extremely creative scarecrow creations. I can walk to the local bar scene with a great beer selection hitting the Thirsty Turtle, Cranford Hotel, Kilkennys, River Rail Cantina and Riverside Inn (also known as “The Dive” and voted one of the best bars by nj.com). http://photos.nj.com/njcom_photos/2015/02/njs_best_bars_riverside_inn_in_cranford_miami_mikes_in_east_hanover_and_lun_wah_restaurant_tiki_bar_31.html
Cranford is a MidBurb where my son’s school is down the street, where the Rahway River is literally in backyard (luckily I’m not in the flood zone due to elevation difference between the Rahway and my property, though with mother nature, you never know), where I see blue jays, rabbits, deer, ducks prancing in the water, where I can rent canoes at the Cranford Canoe Club, a 100 year old institution. I can also be a real part of the community and have since joined the Cranford Jaycees, a 50 year old organization dedicated to volunteering and networking to raise funds for the local community. Recently they hosted the annual Cranford Oktoberfest where over $20,000 was raised and donated to local organizations in Cranford. They also sponsored the local Halloween parade and pumpkin toss and will be hosting their first ever Track Friday, instead of Black Friday, a day dedicated to individuals and organizations raising money by running around the track of the Cranford Cougars football field. This organization and the open feel of the community is another reason I consider it a MidBurb.
The suburbs have two different meanings these days. The white picket fences with vinyl-sided houses where you need your gas guzzler to go anywhere. That’s the old definition of the suburbs. But now there is a new trend. An attraction to towns where you can walk to local restaurants and bars (limiting the drunk driving), take public transportation to work, houses featuring unique architectural details and an overall feeling of living in a mini city. These are not suburbs. There is mention of these new suburban trends but there is not a term that really defines it. These are MidBurbs. The recent NY Times Article “The New Suburbia: More Urban http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/realestate/the-new-suburbia-more-urban.html?_r=0 and the Congress of New Urbanism “Urban is Bigger than it Appears” http://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2016/12/14/what-does-urban-mean all touch on these change in suburban landscape, but without a term that refers to these small marketable cities. As it’s been less than a year in Cranford, I’m thankful every day to move to a town offering the options of walkability, night life, recreation and community. Cranford is a prime example of MidBurbs and luckily I can call this my hometown.