Osama in the 'burbs

It makes sense. What better place for privacy?

It makes sense. What better place for privacy?

I am not surprised that Osama bin Laden chose the 'burbs for his hideout. Privacy is one of suburbia's great assets.

Last year, I remarked to my family that it wouldn't surprise me if bin Laden was hiding on Bainbridge Island, which is just big enough to get lost on, where large homes often hide at the end of private drives. I used to walk by a huge mansion on the beach that appeared to be uninhabited most of the year. There was never any visible evidence of who lived there.

You can get a lot of privacy, even isolation, on Bainbridge if you never leave the house. On a quiet cul de sac, your noisiest, most social neighbors are probably Stellar Jays, or maybe mating raccoons.

Bin Laden chose to hide in a walled compound in a large house in a suburban community where such things weren't entirely unusual. Suburbs can offer gated communities (city enclaves can, too, like Broadmoor), hidden locations, and anonymous architecture. And they are often used by traveling executives as places to stash their families in safety, with a support network that doesn't rely on one's neighbors. Even in Seattle, many people are pleased by the fact that they don't even know their neighbors, or need to.

Years ago, the nature writer Robert Michael Pyle and I were talking about the best environment for writers. He said the big city was too distracting, so he moved to a small town, Gray's River, and at first was shocked to find that the sociability of a small community was even more intense. You might not be tempted to go out clubbing as in Belltown, but you were expected to attend the potluck down at the Grange on Saturday.

The suburbs, we agreed, struck that perfect balance of civilized detachment — and anonymity, which for some writers (or artists, inventors, criminals) is ideal.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.