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  • Manufacturing Suburbs: Building Work and Home on the Metropolitan Fringe
  • Larry McCann
Manufacturing Suburbs: Building Work and Home on the Metropolitan Fringe. Edited by Robert Lewis. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004. Pp. 304, illus., b&w, US$24.95

In the study of cities, a recent research finding is the fact that manufacturing suburbs – where factories and houses gather together beyond the built-up limits of an urban place – are not a post–Second World War phenomenon. This fact has overturned long-held assumptions about suburbanization. As Robert Lewis and his colleagues affirm, manufacturing suburbs, whether lying inside or outside the political boundaries of North American cities, have functioned as places of production, livelihood, and residence for well over three hundred years. Take Lachine, QC, as an example. In his previous and well-received research on the historical geography of manufacturing in the Greater Montreal region, Lewis demonstrated that seventeenth-century Lachine was a fur-processing, staple depot. This was long before the nearby and celebrated Lachine Canal district emerged in the early-nineteenth century as a focal point of suburban manufacturing. Comparable examples mark the rural-urban fringe of all the metropolitan places discussed in this book: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Chicago, Montreal, Detroit, Toronto, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Forget about the twentieth century! With this key point established, what else is there to say about the historical geography of manufacturing suburbs?

A great deal, in fact. The objectives of this collection of theoretically inclined and empirically defended essays by well-respected scholars of suburban-industrial growth are successfully met, and they go well beyond the analysis of manufacturing for its own sake: First, the authors establish clear links between fluctuations in the business cycle, building construction, and suburban industrialization; second, they say much about the sorting of the metropolitan area's social geography, especially [End Page 160] the home work linkage and the gathering momentum of social class and ethnic segregation in the suburbs; third, they expand upon standard studies of industrial organization (large, expanding, and vertically integrated corporations versus small, declining, and labour-intensive firms) by considering a fuller array of manufacturing production systems and strategies for growth and development; fourth, they successfully demonstrate that there is diversity in the structure or make-up of metropolitan manufacturing; and finally, they clarify the historical timeline that marks the suburbanization of manufacturing – several centuries, not several decades.

Success is aided by the fact that most (six of ten) essays were published previously (and hence subjected to a thorough review) in a 2001 issue of the well-respected Journal of Historical Geography. Important too is the comparative focus of the volume. As a result, and of particular utility for Canadian historians, the manufacturing suburbs of Toronto and Montreal are placed in wider context. This is not to say that Canadian cities have mirrored the American experience – quite the contrary – or that we understand all that there is to comprehend about the suburbanization of manufacturing industries. But what we do know is that a diverse geography characterizes the metropolitan fringe of all large North American cities, and that the spatial and historical parameters of this geography vary from city to city depending upon such factors as regional industrial specialization, inter-industry and inter-firm linkages, the politics of place, and yes, even the physical conditions of the manufacturing landscape itself. According to Gunter Gad, unlike Montreal, dating the suburbanization of manufacturing in Toronto is difficult, but it probably took place later there than in Montreal, mostly since the 1880s. For both places in the late-nineteenth century, suburban-industrial growth was typically associated with the creation of new municipalities, suggesting that an infrastructure of public utilities was an essential precondition for factories to flee a central city location.

Each of the Canadian authors – Gunter Gad writing on Toronto, Robert Lewis on Montreal and North America generally, and Richard Harris on the employment linkage – agree that much still needs to be done to flesh out both the historical and spatial dimensions of manufacturing suburbs. How did firms receive production materials and ship finished products to markets? How did people journey to work? What role did manufacturing play in the shaping of...


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