During much of our current Europe trip, which has consisted of visits to London, Paris, Bruge (Belgium) and Amsterdam, Valarie and I have found ourselves staying outside of the city center. In London, for example, we stayed with friends Neil and Bridget in their more suburban home of Walthamstow. Here in Amsterdam, we are in the city but about six or seven tram stops south of the center. (Bruge we were right in the middle of things, and in Paris we were in the less interesting Right Bank but still able to walk everywhere.) At first staying further out in England and Holland seemed like a small burden (in London however it was more than compensated for by friendship), because instead of being able to roll out of bed and into the heart of the urban area we'd come to see, with all its museums and restaurants and such, we would always be traveling on some kind of mass transit for awhile. But ultimately we've come to enjoy being a little further out.
In Walthamstow and outer Amsterdam along the Victorieplein, we have come to embrace and enjoy the scene. It's enriching to see where people live and go about their daily lives, far afield from tourist attractions. And unlike in the US, more suburban areas here are still oriented toward pedestrians and trains for movement and corner shops to patronize on foot. There aren't strip malls or chain-dominated businesses, and while cars are indeed present, they never dominate the environment.
On the train from Belgium to Holland a few days ago, some we were chatting with said the US government once commissioned some European firm to analyze their transit system and what it needed. The recommendation was to raise taxes on petroleum and use the proceeds to pay for improvements to the mass transit system. We all know this isn't going to happen, but even as my car is costing an unprecedently high amount of money to fill its tank these days, I would happily pay considerably more if I knew there would be more MAX lines in Portland, more prevalent and speedy Amtrak trains to take me between cities, and suburbs that could be accessed without a car. But there are other advantages to being American, and from the vantage point in Holland, imagining this culture transported back home is admittedly a case of chasing windmills.