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Once the American Dream

Inner-Ring Suburbs of the Metropolitan United States

Bernadette Hanlon

Publication Year: 2009

At one time, a move to the suburbs was the American Dream for many families. However, despite the success of Levittown, NY,impoverished “inner-ring” suburbs—those closest to the urban core of metropolitan cities—like Lansdowne, MD, are in decline. As aging housing stock, foreclosures, severe fiscal problems, slow population growth, increasing poverty, and struggling local economies affect inner-ring suburbs, what can be done to save them?

Once the American Dream analyzes this downward trend, examining 5,000 suburbs across 100 different metropolitan areas and census regions in 1980 and 2000. Hanlon defines the suburbs’ geographic boundaries and provides a ranking system for assessing and acting upon inner-ring suburban decline. She also illuminates her detailed statistical analysis with vivid case studies. She demonstrates how other suburbs, particularly those in the outer reaches of cities, flourished during the 1980s and 1990s. Once the American Dream closes with a discussion of policy implications and recommendations for policymakers and planners who deal with suburbs of various stripes.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

List of Tables

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii

Books are collaborative projects, and this one owes much to colleagues, friends, family, and mentors. First and foremost, I acknowledge my mentor, John Rennie Short. He is an inspiration and a true scholar. I am forever thankful for his support and insight, which he generously provided with grace and modesty ...

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1. Once the American Dream

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pp. 1-11

In his book The Epic of America, historian James Truslow Adams first coins the term “the American Dream.” He states, “[The American Dream is] that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to...

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2. Decline Is a New Suburban Reality

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pp. 12-27

Suburbia is the “true center of American life” (Fishman 1987: 248). For more than three decades, it has been a dominant place of residence for metropolitan Americans (Beauregard 2006). Since their origination, suburbs have evolved to become complex, varied...

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3. Defining Inner-Ring Suburbs

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pp. 28-38

Suburbs in the United States are generally understood to be those places located between the central city limits and the rural area (Oliver 2001; Teaford 2008). Suburbia is that stretch of land beyond the city but still within a designated metropolitan area.1 Many...

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4. Forces Shaping Inner-Ring Suburbs

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pp. 39-54

In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of studies identified a complex array of suburbs, dispelling the myth of so-called suburban homogeneity. The recognition of working-class suburbs (Berger 1968) and the rise of black suburbanization (Schnore, Andr

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5. Sidestepping Inner-Ring Suburbs

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pp. 55-68

Highland Park is an inner-ring suburb of Detroit. It was developed in the early 1900s, when the Ford Motor Company opened the first assembly line for the mass production of the Model T automobile. The Model T promoted national suburban expansion...

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6. Declining Inner-Ring Suburbs

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pp. 69-90

Trayce Davis lives in a suburb within Cook County, Illinois. She also lives in poverty. “We live in the suburbs, [but] it means nothing. It’s just a word,” Davis says. “We are here struggling just like everybody else, and wow, man, it devastated me for a minute...

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7. Suburbs in Crisis

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pp. 91-110

This chapter compares the magnitude of decline among innerring suburbs with that of outer suburbs and examines some features of the most declining suburbs. To make this comparison, I developed a method for measuring decline in these areas. More...

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8. Different Types of Inner-Ring Suburbs

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pp. 110-131

Some inner-ring suburbs are in crisis, and, in general, decline is more prevalent among inner-ring suburbs than outer ones. However, as the previous chapter demonstrates, some inner-ring suburbs performed well between 1980 and 2000. Inner-ring suburbs are a mix of places. Some are wealthy; others are working class. Some are ...

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9. Fixing Inner-Ring Suburbs

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pp. 132-150

The existence and effectiveness of suburban reinvestment strategies are an understudied area in the academic literature (Lucy and Phillips 2000b). Few studies have been done to determine what approaches have been taken, and even fewer attempts have been made to decipher the potential impacts of reinvestment or redevelopment...

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10. Conclusion

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pp. 151-158

Problems are apparent in inner-ring suburbs. Many are now more than fifty years old and showing signs of decline. Population growth in these suburbs has stagnated. The residents have grown poorer, and the housing stock has aged significantly. The postwar suburbs...


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pp. 159-186


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pp. 187-198


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pp. 199-205

E-ISBN-13: 9781592139385
Print-ISBN-13: 9781592139378

Publication Year: 2009