In Praise of the Iron Range

The right honourable Kermit over at the conservative Minnesota politics blog True North has penned an earnest screed entitled “In Praise of the Suburb.” Go over and take a read. He’s a little quick to turn an anthropological issue into a political one, but he presents a new point of view.

Suburbs exist for a reason. We don’t want to live in your big city. Period. I was raised in Plymouth, Minnesota. I now live in an inner ring suburb. Off peak rush hour I can get to pretty much anywhere in the Metro area in less than half an hour. Unlike people living in Minneapolis, I have five full grocery stores within five miles of my house. There are more than ten gas stations to choose from, all withing five miles of my house. There is a Frattalone’s hardware store a little over a mile from my house, and I can get to Menards, Lowes or Home Depot in less than fifteen minutes.

Essentially, how dare liberals attack suburbs. It’s reverse elitism.

You might think that I’m going to hit back hard on a piece like this. After all, this little vaguely liberal Iron Range blog has featured anti-suburb writings of mine like this, and angry diatribes like this, but I’m going to be diplomatic. I’ve been to Plymouth. I don’t remember anything bad about it. I bought pack of tube socks and a road map at the Wal-Mart there. Parking was ample. The experience more than met my expectations. However, I do have a few statements for my many friends in the suburbs, both liberal and conservative (and your politics really doesn’t matter):

  • You overpaid for your house.
  • Kermit uses the article “a” several times in reference to proper nouns in his community. Unless you know the Frattalone family but forgot the names of all the brothers, this would suggest yet another chain store.
  • Because there is a cost advantage to living in a city doesn’t mean you aren’t free to live in the suburbs or I’m not free to live in the woods.
  • Seriously, you could buy the same sized house on the Iron Range for half the money. That is, if you can handle the dense urban core of our Range cities (which close down at 5 by the way, except for the bars).
  • The kids make snowmen here, too.

If my friends in the suburbs want to build a pleasant community priced out of the reach of undesirables, that’s their right. Nothing new under the sun, you know. But I like to look at the 500 year picture. In 500 years, anthropologists will be excavating the Lost State of Minnesota. When they dig down and find Plymouth they’re probably going to keep on digging to find some old tractors a couple layers down. There’s nothing in Plymouth, or most suburbs, that suggest any sort of historical significance, except for what occurred prior to the existence of the suburb. When the future people find the Iron Range, they will scream “WTF!” (probably in Chinese).

Why? Why are these manufactured mountains everywhere? Why is the land upside down? Why the pits? Why do the towns have 16 bars and 16 churches for every 1,000 people? Why do the graves read like an Eastern European soccer roster on one side of the cemetery and a deposed Italian government on the other. Why are the schools so nice and the houses so close together? Who was Victor Power and why did Hibbing name a park after him? Why did they pave the streets of Hibbing at night? Why does every town have a Legion? Why does every town have a story? They’ll find vinyl siding for sure, but also stucco and cedar, tar paper and aluminum, steel and plywood.

Curb appeal? Well, if I’m a producer for one of the HGTV shows that ladies watch when they eat their special yogurt I’d probably go with the suburbs, too. But I’m not a fan of curb appeal. Come to think of it, I’m not a fan of curbs. To each their own. Long live the Iron Range.


  1. Well done, Aaron.

    On behalf of city planning students everywhere, can we all just get over ourselves and where we live? I’ve had four years of “city vs. suburbs” drilled into my brain, and even through all that ideology that I consume every day, I still don’t care.

    Aside from that, Kermit seems to have maximum-density housing confused with New Urbanism.

    I live in a lowbrown-turned-semi-fancypants exurb, and I like it. It’s my hometown. I’d like it more if I lived in Duluth. I’d like it even more if I lived in my fiance’s Range hometown.

  2. I see far more criticism of the city from suburbanites than the other way around.

    Suburbanites don’t really “live” in the suburbs, they mostly sleep there. The reason they have a house in the sub-urbs is that they need the “urbs” in order to survive.

    The problem is that suburbs are very economically inefficient and don’t attract much by way of jobs. The ones they do attract are mostly located in areas that are densely developed, dependent on the city they are near and completely auto dependent.

    They complain about sitting in the congestion they themselves are creating while trying to get to work.

    When their shoddily built new houses start to get old and lose their “curb appeal” they demand a new freeway so they can move even further from any jobs. So we let our existing state roads slowly deteriorate while building outrageously expensive new ones to handle all the extra driving those suburbanites have to do to be gainfully employed.

    The result is that a lot of suburbanites are fat, unhealthy and unhappy. And blame the problems they create for themselves on urban liberals.

  3. Lake County –
    Actually, in most midwestern, western and southern cities, the majority of jobs are in the suburbs. Minneapolis is an anomaly, but certainly has plenty of suburban jobs. Medtronic, Boston Scientific, 3M, Best Buy, General Mills and portions of Target Corp. are suburban. I’ll give you the “auto dependent”, but I don’t see the companies I listed being completely dependent on the central city.

    My fiance and I live in an exurb/suburb, we work in suburbs, we partake in leisure and dining in suburbs. We go downtown for church, fine dining, and the arts.

    I find Minnesotans bickering about “city vs. suburb” to be inane. South Minneapolis looks and feels very similar to Richfield, Edina and Robbinsdale. First-ring suburbs are essentially parts of the city – so the terminology of the argument needs to change.

    While it’s easy to typecast suburbanites as drooling Sarah Palin idiots, most of us do recognize that suburbanization causes traffic jams. Thus why Metro Transit has such high ridership.

    Again – can we all finally just get over this topic, once and for all?

  4. I think that I am much happier living in neither. I enjoy the urban playground of the core cities…to visit. As for suburbia I enjoy its commercialization and variety thereof.

    As for both I am more than happy to live in a rural area. I hate traffic, constant commotion and most especially spoiled surbanite kids with straight brimmed hats and DC shoes 😉

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