Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why I Named My Blog "Straight Outta Suburbia"

For those of you who don't know, "Straight Outta Suburbia" is an allusion to "Straight Outta Compton", one of the most famous gangster rap tunes ever. Why would I associate myself with a song that has lyrics that most people, including myself, find shocking and disgusting? Doesn't that association help to stigmatize the City of Compton? Aren't I therefore irresponsible? Aren't I helping to hold that community back further by perpetuating that stigmatization?

Let me tell you what I think gangster rap is. Gangster rap is an example of black people taking society's negative stereotypes about black people, repackaging them in a form that has maximum shock value, and selling those stereotypes back to society. NWA and Straight Outta Compton are also a response to the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s that devastated communities across the country by sparking an orgy of addiction and violence. What is evoked is fear, disorder, chaos, violence, insantiy, rebellion, nihilism . . .

The truth is I picked the name because I thought it was funny. It's a clear allusion to everything I just described but then at the end I say "Suburbia" instead of "Compton", and then I write not like a gangster rapper, but like some sort of policy wonk. It's not what you'd expect. I want this blog to run counter to conventional wisdom. I want some of the stigma which now unfairly attaches itself to Compton to be attached to suburbia in general. Not because of street crime, but because of all the other critiques I'm always talking about here.

Why not turn something negative into something positive? Why be afraid to come out and talk about serious and awkward issues?

Also, I say "Outta" instead of "Out Of". Why do I intentionally "mis-spell"? First of all, I think spelling is merely an arbitrary cultural convention which is used to stigmatize people who don't know the "correct" way to spell, or speak, or whatever. Also, I want this blog to be down to earth. Too much planning writing is by and for people with college degrees, not for the general public. For me, "Outta" is a way of saying "this is not formal!" Don't be afraid to leave a comment and tell me what you think!

Finally, my basic point is that I want you to move straight outta suburbia and into a city, because in a city, you can walk to things, there's good transit service, land is used efficiently, etc. Also, I want you to know that I come straight outta suburbia. That's where I grew up, so I know what I'm critiquing!

I don't care if you've studied planning for decades or if you just started thinking about it. I want you in this conversation. So, I hope you understand I mean no offense by my blog title. But if you think it's offensive, let me know and I'll consider changing it.

Honestly, I think the time may be coming for me to stop this blog. I've gotten a lot of ideas out and soon enough I'll be working and it may be inappropriate. I'll let you decide. If I get 5 comments on this post within a week, I'll keep writing. If not, I'll write a goodbye post, retire this blog and focus on my studies.


  1. #1. The suburbs are slowly strangling society, and yet few have the temerity to question them. We need all the critics of it that we can get.

  2. Very kind of you to say. I'm still deciding if I want to be more of an inside or an outside advocate though. I'm not sure that I can do both.

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  4. Stick with the outside advocacy; it's too easy to compromise when you're on the inside and are pressured to 'make nice.'

  5. Hey, where's the Spanish translation of this? Oh well.

    Really like what you're doing here, great ideas about how to fix our city. Haven't commented here before but it's a fun blog to read and it helps me to learn Spanish. Which reminds me, I wonder what "Straight Outta Compton" would sound like in Spanish. "Saliendo de Compton, cabron loco llamado Ice Cube..."