Most of my colleagues are not from this area. Like me, they only moved here for work. Whenever we discuss life in our small town on the border between Missouri and Illinois, we always agree that the area is boring, the climate is nasty, the food is bland and unhealthy, the culture is non-existent, and overall this is not a fun place to live. However, this kind of conversation always ends with my colleagues exclaiming joyfully, "But this is a great place to raise a family!"
For the longest time, I had no inkling what they meant by this. I find it hard to imagine a worse kind of environment in North America to raise children. For one, it's all highways. Kids can't go out to play with their friends, or anything like that. They have to rely on their parents to drive them around. From what I have been able to observe, the only way a child of a non-driving age has to play with other children is when a parent arranges a play-date (and what a vile, unhealthy invention that is), drives the kid there, and sits around waiting for the poor child to be done playing. Teenagers are also stuck at home after the school bus brings them back from school. In the street where I live, there are several teenagers. What a sad sight they make! They can't do anything or go anywhere, unless, once again, a parent agrees to drive them. And then bring them back. The whole roaming the streets with your gang of friends, sitting in coffee-shops, and playing the guitar in the square, which is what teenage life should be about, is absent from their lives.
Everything - the food, the clothes, the people, the landscape - is so uniformly and mind-numbingly bland that any intellectual growth for a child can hardly be expected. To grow intellectually one needs new experiences, sights, smells, sounds, colors, languages, people. Here, there is nothing of the kind. Even I have to make an effort not to stagnate intellectually. I, at least, am a mature adult who has a lot of free time to travel and see other places. If I were to stay permanently stuck here, I doubt much would happen for me in terms of intellectual development.
This small-town Midwestern lifestyle is not only bad for the life of the mind. It's also not extremely conducive to the health of the body. The excessive reliance on cars coupled with the very unhealthy food are almost a guarantee of obesity and low health.
Why, then, do so many people insist that this is such a great place to raise a family? After 15 months in this area, I think I have finally been able to figure it out. The reason why people say this is racism, pure and simple. What this area doesn't have (or almost doesn't have) is non-white people and immigrants. It gets to the point where - for the first time in all of my years on this continent - I find myself in a situation where many of the locals don't understand me when I speak to them. And believe me, my English is very good, with only a trace of an accent. How sad is it that people are so unprepared to deal with even such a minor difference as the one I represent?
Racism blinds the proponents of raising kids in this environment to the fact that racial and cultural diversity is the only thing that can bring relief to such painfully boring, stagnant places.