Development of the Suburbs Essay

By 1985, The United States of America had become considered a suburban nation. Today, half of all Americans live in suburban communities that have grown outward, surrounding the nations cities. The suburbs have continued and will continue to grow outward with the growth of the population and the evolution of America’s culture. When looking at how suburbs developed, there are many arguable factors that played and still play roles in the ongoing move of human society away from crowded cities.

Like any species thats population would grow at a rapid rate, humans began to outgrow the communities they had built and had a demand for more space to reproduce and live. The furthering in technology, especially transportation, played a huge role in allowing the suburbs to develop as large and fast as they did. However it was the matter of class that dictated who was allowed and who could afford to move out of the cities. As suburbs continued to develop, this higher class was responsible for the influence of federal laws that continued the suburbs growth.

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They were also responsible for creating the idea of how the American family should be and selling it, spurring an entirely new ‘middle’ class of Americans. The evolution of American suburbs began out of necessity, but the way in which they developed is attributed to the pull of a variety of social and technological influences throughout the past few hundred years. From a biological standpoint, human societies developed in massive communities near large bodies of water, where resources were close at hand.

Looking at North America in particular, The United States’ major cities began to grow along the east coast of the country where it was first established, and quickly expanded along the west coast and around the Great Lakes at the center of the country. By the beginning of the 19th century however, the population of the cities had begun to outgrow the living space that was available. Anti-urban attitudes began to arise as the cities became more and more industrial, polluted, overcrowded and dangerous.

Caucasian descendants of the countries settlers also grew to dislike the amount of diverse immigration and African American migration that was coming into the cities. As technology developed, it allowed for people to be able to sustain their lifestyles in the unpopulated surrounding circumference of the cities. The romantic movement of the 19th century sparked the idea of a quiet, rural lifestyle in Americans that could afford to pursue it. As the automobile industry expanded in the early 20th century, a new class of Americans were able to flee the cities and buy into the desired dream of a more wholesome life.

People were able to purchase houses from catalogues and build them themselves at their own leisure. Due to the Great Depression and the United States’ involvement in World War II, the growth of the suburbs had slowed down. When the war ended though, the return of all of the American military caused a huge growth in the population. It initiated a large movement of families into mass produced suburban homes that were continued to be built further and further on the outskirts of cities. The wholesome idea of the American dream became the desired lifestyle of Americans, seeing as the government was funding the suburban sprawl.

At this time consumerism had begun to take over the culture, and create a new type of suburban fantasy, where anything you could need was being sold a short drive away from your home. As the years went on, more and more people of all races and religions made the move out to the suburbs as American culture became less segregated. Suburban sprawl and consumerism continue into todays suburban culture, and with increasing poverty and issues like the mortgage crisis, Americans are starting to see the problems with how our suburbs developed and are continuing to develop.

Technology was really the main component that allowed for people to be able to explore the possibility of living outside of the cities. With the invention of the steam engine and railroads, the literal task of traveling out of the cities became possible. As commuter trains became available, railroad or, ‘pearl’ suburbs began to grow along the course of the train tracks. Horse cars and cable cars were then developed for people to travel locally around their suburban communities.

Eventually the automobile was invented which allowed for personal commute, and eventually led to the structure of roads and highways that influenced the outline of our suburbs today. Car companies would actually buy land, pave roads and then sell the land so that houses would have to be build alongside the streets. This also allowed for industrial companies, offices and retail vendors to branch out from the cities. The development of the Industrial Age was also a big part of why the suburbs were able to thrive.

The mass production of packaged meat and food allowed for households to have quick and easy access to the amounts they needed. However, all of this new technology was more of a privilege and only few people of a high class were able to afford the costs of building a home outside of the city. As the 20th century rolled around, the idea of suburban life had sunk in to American culture. However, only a certain type of American was enjoying it and they were making an effort to keep it that way.

Real estate workers were heavily involved with the regulations that initiated legal segregation in the suburbs. It began in property deeds and developed into a system to manipulate the market. During the 1910’s and 20’s, the government started to regulate the suburbs surrounding its city, which allowed for legal action in building regulations and zoning ordinances. Eventually the federal government began to regulate certain things like a mass production of single-family homes in the 1940’s and 50’s.

World War II had ended, and the men of the American military returned home. The population began to rapidly expand and The United States seemed to develop a new class of blue-collar families. A traditional gender role for both men and women had become the expected norm. The demand for suburban housing was so great that by the year 1966, the American government had built over 26 million homes in the suburbs. “New deal liberals believed that a strengthened housing industry would ensure robust economic growth and advert a return to economic depression. (Nicolaides/Wiese, 257) This new, giant group of families quickly became known as Americas’ middle class, which continued to grow into what we know now as the majority of Americans. Religious and ethnic differences started to become less and less important to families as the religious and ethnic diversity in the suburbs grew greatly. The importance of a family’s material possessions began to out-weigh the importance of the bread winners job title as consumerism allowed for mass production of products of all kinds, from food to furniture.

The American dream was being sold to people who were eager to spend their money on it. The advertising industry had invaded American homes though their televisions, magazines and their surroundings and began to manipulate American society. Things like shopping malls and credit cards had started to become prominent, influencing people to spend money. Middle class Americans were defining themselves with the standards that marketers had set for them, and still are.

Even if the American suburbs development, was manipulated by a higher class, ad agencies, the government or who ever, the bottom line is that the populations of American cities were expanding past their capacities. Humans will continue to travel and sprawl outwards as the population rises. The suburbs have and will continue to grow with the development of human society and its size. “Thus, the social spaces in which we live-homes and yards, cities and suburbs, regions and bounded nations-the geographical relationships among them, and the meanings and memories they evoke are very much a product of history. ” (Nicolaides/Wiese, 5)


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