Suburban Glory

Who needs urban cool when you have ranch houses?

By David Lukenbill
June 2020

For as long as I can remember, living in the suburbs was reserved for the uninformed and decidedly unhip. It was a narrative I bought into for many years.

Though I was born and spent much of my life here, it took me a long time to realize how much I love Sacramento suburban living.

I lived in other parts of the country—Seattle, Santa Cruz and Madison, Wis.—long enough to discover that each lacked what Sacramento already had. So I returned home.

One major reason I love Sacramento is that it’s a suburban town. Another reason is the climate, four seasons but each benign if, like me, you love 100-degree days. Is there anything finer than a hot summer day floating down the American River or lounging by the pool?

I have lived in urban Sacramento—Midtown and Downtown—and enjoyed it. Those were my single days, either as a student or Downtown worker.

My parents lived in the suburbs when I was born in 1942. Several years later they divorced. My mother remarried and we wound up in Reno in one of the city’s first suburbs.

It was a suburb of flattop houses, and in the wonderful times of the early 1950s, the neighborhood kids stayed out until dusk when our moms would call us home. I loved Reno, the high desert weather and its stark four seasons.

I was in high school when I moved back to Sacramento with my father. We lived in the suburbs near Fulton Avenue, where my father had his Volvo dealership.

Once I started working and living on my own, I lived in Midtown and Downtown. I didn’t need a car. I loved the freedom of not having expenses that come with driving.

When I married and had a family, the suburbs were the only place to live. We moved for all the usual reasons: good schools, backyards, safety and double-car garages with driveways for basketball hoops.

There is a spiritual simplicity about suburbs, a sense of Zen in the spacious layout and rambling ambience, a predictability anchored in change and a humane absoluteness, alongside certain orderly expectations, all crucial to familial life. 

D.J. Waldie writes about this in his 1996 book, “Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.” It’s indispensible for suburbanites.

The safety aspect is a central part of our love affair with suburban life. Strangers stand out whether they are walking or driving. The neighborhood eyes—plus cameras today—generally guarantee suspicious activity is recorded.

Neighborliness is easier in the suburbs. Most people walking suburban streets are probably neighbors. In urban settings, that’s not always the case.

I have been among the thousands of Sacramentans fortunate enough to live near the American River Parkway.

The parkway, surrounded by suburban neighborhoods, is analogous to Central Park in New York, surrounded by urban neighborhoods. It represents a value to Sacramento as Central Park does to New York.

Someday, I hope the philanthropic generosity directed to our parkway will reflect a love similar to what New Yorkers bestow on Central Park.

The most important reason I love the suburbs is the ranch house, the California emblem of suburban living. Alan Hess captured this icon in a 2005 Architectural Digest story about a West Los Angeles home. He wrote, “The ranch house had everything a California house should be. It had cross ventilation, the floor was level with the ground, and with its courtyard and the exterior corridor it was about sunshine and informal outdoor living.”

Outdoor living is congruent with suburban living. California is the perfect stage with its swimming pools, barbecue kitchens and gardens.

The ranch house is also excellent for aging in place. As we move into our later decades, we see no reason to live anywhere else.

I love living in our ranch house in the suburbs. The Sacramento suburbs are some of the finest in the country, connected to everything and surrounded by the beautiful ambience of Sacramento itself: rivers, meadows, rolling hills and—though an old Sacramento cliché—driving close to the sea, mountains and snow.

David Lukenbill is founder of the American River Parkway Preservation Society, a nonprofit that advocates for the parkway. He can be reached at  

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