When America Became Suburban
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
Title Page, Copyright
In the decades after World War II, America’s identity was radically altered. Spurred by the return of economic prosperity, the extension of the nation’s global dominance, and —most importantly for the story I will tell —the simultaneous decline of the industrial cities and the rise of the suburbs, Americans reimagined their country and what it meant to be an American. The United States...
1. The Short American Century
From the end of World War II in 1945 to the recession of the early 1970s, the United States was the most affl uent and the most infl uential of nations. During those years, the United States realized the destiny that Henry R. Luce, one of the country’s most outspoken publishers, had famously foreshadowed in 1941. Luce had urged Americans “to ac commodate themselves spiritually...
2. Urbanization’s Consequences
Just before the midpoint of the twentieth century, the processes of urbanization that had governed the country’s growth for almost 100 years were fundamentally altered. Whereas most cities and towns had benefi ted from steady increases in population and geographical expansion prior to these years, this was no longer the case by the early postwar period. Growth turned from distributive to parasitic. Despite a booming national economy and...
3. Parasitic Urbanization
The sudden loss of population from the industrial cities coupled with mass suburbanization and Sunbelt -city growth constituted a sharp break in the country’s developmental trajectory. They were the consequences of a profound rupture in the underlying dynamics of urbanization. After 1945, the distributive urbanization that had prevailed from the mid -1800s to the...
4. Culture and Institutions
The desire to make sense of the world often triggers a search for a previously hidden logic. When the industrial cities grew large and congested, could households have done other than move to the periphery, factories other than to relocate to less crowded sites, and retail activities other than to follow? And, since prosperity seems to be the key to suburbanization, what else would one have expected from the economic expansion of...
5. Domestic Prosperity
No one factor brought about the parasitic urbanization of the postwar period. Cultural attitudes were biased against big cities, while the institutional tendencies of government and business favored nearly unfettered growth and ceaseless expansion into adjacent farmlands and open spaces. Without the great burst of prosperity that followed World War II and the corresponding expansion of the middle class, however, the forces of...
6. Ways of Life
The consumption that drove the postwar economy was, in style and content, distinctly suburban. Its novelties included greater individual mobility, increased leisure, higher rates of product obsolescence, and a tighter bond between status and consumption. As the famous housing developer William J. Levitt noted about postwar suburbanization, the suburban homebuyer is “not...
7. America’s Global Project
Not only was the suburban way of life essential to America’s postwar prosperity, it also contributed to the crafting of America’s global dominance. Suburbia’s consumer -based lifestyle epitomized the freedom and prosperity that fi gured prominently in the ideological construction of the United States as an international power. The urban way of life held much less appeal. Cities were vulnerable to atomic -bomb attack, conjured up images...
8. Identity and Urbanity
No historical period ever begins or ends abruptly. World War II marked the beginning of the short American Century and the onset of two events —industrial -city decline and mass suburbanization —that left the country’s landscape, its dominant way of life, and what it meant to be an American irreparably changed. Neither event suddenly appeared as truce was declared. The recession of 1973–1975 marked the end. Yet the consequences...
The origins of this book extend back to one of the fi rst courses I took in graduate school at Cornell University. Wonderfully stimulating and informative, the course was co-taught by Bill Goldsmith and Allan Feldt and focused on theories of urban and regional development. For many years, my research addressed other themes, but the knowledge that these two engaging...
Appendix A. Decennial Population Loss for the Fifty Largest U.S. Cities, 1820–2000
Appendix B. Demographic and Economic Comparisons across Periods of Urbanization
Appendix C. Measures of Urbanization for Historical Periods
Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2006
Edition: First edition
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