Archive for the ‘Suburbs’ Tag

History of Suburbanization

Ever since the 1950’s, America has been suburbanizing. As GI’s returned from service after WWII, they were given subsidized loans to buy new houses. Developers took advantage and bought cheap land outside main living areas and developed them into single family homes. It was “The American Dream” to have your family own a single family house with a front and back yard with a driveway and garage for your family car. Take a look at any advertisement for a car from those times and you will see they were sold as family items. It was all about family- moving to the suburbs kept your kids safe from all the crime, pollution, traffic, etc that American cities had been known for. Afterall, cities were the first places immigrants would come to (New York because of Ellis Island for example). Immigrants most often would have very little of anything if not nothing at all, fueling the benefits of theft and reputation. Cities grew to be known as unsafe because of the rampant crime and violence associated with it.

1948- A typical photo promoting the suburbs as family places. Derived from: www.urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com

1948- A typical photo promoting the suburbs as family places. Derived from: http://www.urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com

The saving grace from this was the car, which allowed for suburbanization. You could now live outside the city where it was safer, and commute to your work place in your car. Llewellyn Park, NJ, what many scholars call the first suburb, was designed by “a New York business man who practiced the religious doctrine of the Perfectionists, who believed that spiritual or moral perfection could be attained, and planned the development for fellow believers.”  Naturally, more developments sprung up along roads and highways (as well as train and trolley lines) into the city, as people needed to commute to their place of work. The suburbs were desirable, expensive, and dominantly white middle to upper class families. The problem now was that the stay at home parent (in the 50’s, the American Dream said the mother was to do this) needed to still run errands, so a second car was needed so the mother didn’t have to carry the groceries over a long distance over busy roadways; more space was needed to house the car at home, more space was needed to park it at the shops, and more roads were needed to deal with the capacity of all the cars driving different places. It was great for the economy- Americans needed more and it put millions if not billions to work on roads, new houses, real estate agents, bankers, insurance agents, car manufacturers, engineers, etc., etc.

Only now are more people starting to realize this is not a sustainable economy.

As a result of suburbia, architecture and social life as suffered. Many places are biased in terms of age. Children cannot go to downtown areas, visit their friends, or even play at the park without a parent driving them as it is unsafe to walk on the roads, or too far in distance, and there is no public transport because it is not economically sensible or sustainable. Architecture suffered because businesses that survived during that era moved their buildings back to allow for excessive parking in front. Architecture didn’t matter from the street if the building is separated by 100’s of feet of (often empty) parking pavement. Think Big Box Retail.

Severely underutilized space, a product of the 1950's culture of suburbanization

Severely underutilized space, a product of the 1950's culture of suburbanization

As new generations have replaced the old, the 1950’s dream has started to fade. It was successfully passed down to at least one generation (children of the 50’s and 60’s), but as the newest generation of young adults arises, hopefully the collective image of American cities can change.

Max Stember-Young, Rutgers University Student Intern, Vertices, LLC

Quoted material drawn from: http://www.sha.state.md.us/keepingcurrent/maintainRoadsBridges/bridges/oppe/suburbs/B-1.pdf

Picture from: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/43/108082998_12da719cd5_o.jpg

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