Anonymous Homes


This is where I grew up, from about age 12 or 13 up through a decent chunk of college.

What you’re looking at are condos, two to a building. These homes sit in a quiet gated community in an inner ring Detroit suburb, with “block captains” (shudder) and an inexplicable 23 MPH speed limit. Residents pay a monthly landscaping fee, and holiday decorations – or any decorations, for that matter – are subject to stringent regulations.

I think that more or less says all you need to know.

Before I moved to this neighborhood, I had a high opinion of modern developments. I lived in a  ’60s era subdivision, and was always impressed when my friends moved into one of the new tract mansions up the roads. Their yards were 1.75 times bigger! The ceilings were so tall you could stack 3 Shaquille O’Neals on top of each other and they could still move unimpeded!

It was shiny, new, and impressive. The squat two-story suburban homes on my street looked like yesterday’s news in comparison.

My dad’s reasons for moving were pretty simple. He was at a stage in his life where he wanted to downsize, because of… well, take a guess. What name is missing here?


He liked the condo because it was near his old place, and he wouldn’t have to do yard work. It didn’t hurt that the condo was relatively new, built in the ’90s. The roof at our old house had been a constant source of headaches. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to worry much about maintenance issues for a while.

I know I was excited. Yes, something different!  And the ceilings were pretty dang tall, though maybe only 2 stacked Shaqs could’ve moved unimpeded in the living room. And less in the kitchen. Shaq 2 would’ve been crouching awkwardly by that point.

Slowly, though, the little things got to me, made me question where I was living.

It took me almost a month to recognize my own street, since every street is virtually identical. We’re talking the same paint jobs, bricks, and floor plans – everything. Probably there are a few subtle variations if you look really close. But to the untrained eye, it’s all the same, laid out on a bunch of perfectly straight streets running perpendicular to a gently winding road.

When a friend or family member visited for the first time, I’d have to get out my air traffic control wands and guide them to the correct driveway. Because no matter how many times I told them my address and exact GPS location, they’d inevitably go to the wrong house.


Then there’s the backyards. You basically share a giant backyard with neighbors on your side of the street, along with the neighbors that back up into your yard on the next street over. There aren’t any fences or plants to demarcate your own space.

I’m sure in the minds of the developers, it’s like your own little village green.

In reality, most of the residents avoid their  backyards like the plague, and the reason is simple. There’s no sense of privacy. Remember, this is a gated community. Hardly anyone passes through. It’s just you out back, surrounded by people’s windows.

It’s not exactly relaxing. You feel like an eyesore next to the perfectly manicured lawns, or worse, a Peeping Tom. The only people that really use their yards have a raised patio or planted a wall of trees for privacy (with permission, of course).

Honestly, as a kid, I couldn’t fathom why anyone would build a neighborhood like this. It felt like a definite step down from my old neighborhood. I could see that classic, bucolic vision of the suburbs that been immortalized on American TV and in print practically fading away right before my eyes.

Say what you want about those early post-war suburbs, but at least you could see that they generally had the best of intentions. But here, in this new neighborhood, the centerpiece of the house was the garage door, jutting out to the street.

What were we thinking?


3 thoughts on “Anonymous Homes

  1. “But here, in this new neighborhood, the centerpiece of the house was the garage door, jutting out to the street.”

    A fitting design feature for the Motor City. This is a nice look back, George.

    Happy Thanksgiving,

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