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When America Became Suburban

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    When America Became Suburban
    Book Description:

    Robert A. Beauregard examines the intersection of urban decline, suburbanization, domestic prosperity, and U.S. global aspirations as it unfolded from 1945 to the mid-1970s. Placing the decline of America's cities and the rise of the suburbs into a cultural, political, and global context, Beauregard illuminates how these phenomena contributed to a changing notion of America's identity at home and abroad.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9881-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. 1 The Short American Century
    (pp. 1-18)

    From the end of World War II in 1945 to the recession of the early 1970s, the United States was the most affluent and the most influential 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 accommodate themselves spiritually and practically to the fact” that “their nation became in the 20th century the most powerful and vital nation in the world.” The mantle of world leadership, he challenged, could no longer be avoided; isolationism would have to...

  5. 2 Urbanization’s Consequences
    (pp. 19-39)

    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 benefited 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 an ever-expanding national population, in order for some cities and the emerging suburbs to grow, other cities had to decline.

    This new type of urbanization involved a wrenching loss of residents from the...

  6. 3 Parasitic Urbanization
    (pp. 40-69)

    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 early 1940s gave way to parasitic urbanization. This was a turning point. No longer would national growth be shared; cities of the West and South along with suburbs throughout the country would prosper by draining people and investments from the older, industrial cities.¹

    Of course, turning points are...

  7. 4 Culture and Institutions
    (pp. 70-100)

    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 the 1950s and 1960s? As one historian has written, “Suburban growth would have occurred . . . with or without [government housing subsidies] or entrepreneurs like the Levitts....

  8. 5 Domestic Prosperity
    (pp. 101-121)

    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 deconcentration and the seemingly inexorable decentralization stemming from demographic growth would not have reached such an unprecedented scale. An “affluent society” encased within the world’s first trillion-dollar national economy made possible a great wave of consumption that...

  9. 6 Ways of Life
    (pp. 122-143)

    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 just buying a house, he’s buying a way of life.”¹ Much as it had in the mid-to late-nineteenth century, the United States was undergoing a profound transformation, not from a rural to an urban society, as then, but from an urban to a suburban one. The country’s dominant...

  10. 7 America’s Global Project
    (pp. 144-171)

    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 figured 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 of socialistic public housing, and harbored cells of communist subversion. The spreading slums and growing numbers of poor African American families combined with the seediness of industrial and commercial districts to lower cities’ propaganda value even...

  11. 8 Identity and Urbanity
    (pp. 172-196)

    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 of parasitic urbanization, postwar economic growth, and Cold War ideology linger.

    Throughout those twenty-five years, the nation basked in its global dominance and enjoyed an unprecedented domestic prosperity. In the early...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 197-198)
  13. Appendix A. Decennial Population Loss for the Fifty Largest U.S. Cities, 1820–2000
    (pp. 201-202)
  14. Appendix B. Demographic and Economic Comparisons across Periods of Urbanization
    (pp. 203-203)
  15. Appendix C. Measures of Urbanization for Historical Periods
    (pp. 204-206)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 207-262)
  17. Index
    (pp. 263-272)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)