A social experiment in demographic diversity
November 1, 2017 9:17 AM   Subscribe

demographic diversity

The article does not note, however, that Greenbelt was initially segregated, and remained so into the 1960s. The art deco garden apartments at Langston Terrace in DC's Kingman Park neighborhood are in some ways Greenbelt's local twin, developed by the federal government at the same time for African-Americans.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:50 AM on November 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

I will leave this here: Roosevelt New Jersey
posted by evilDoug at 11:05 AM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, whenever the public good runs afoul of private profit it's time to trot out the shibboleth of socialism...
posted by jim in austin at 11:07 AM on November 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

That said, contemporary Greenbelt is pretty damn wonderful - if you're nearby, you owe it to yourself to see a movie at the Old Greenbelt Theater and get some dinner at the New Deal Cafe. Don't leave before having a look at Lenore Thomas Straus' series of friezes "The Preamble to the Constitution", which features the only sculptural representations I have ever seen of a typewriter and a filing cabinet.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:07 AM on November 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

The local paper in Greenbelt was originally called The Cooperator which is a pretty awesome name.

From the first link: Sadly, the natural boundary of forestland in Greenbelt would eventually be devoured by private developers and highways.

I don't know if it's apocryphal, but I heard in a lecture by a University of Maryland architecture professor who said that the route of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway was designed by Joesph McCarthy to destroy Greenbelt's green space and limit its growth as part of his crusade against communism.
posted by peeedro at 11:14 AM on November 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I grew up in Greenhills, Ohio and still live close by.

What is most striking about the village is how different, and interesting, the layout is for a suburb. Unlike the surrounding communities, the main thoroughfare isn't filled with fast-food chains, or tire stores or strip centers with pre-paid phone stores and nail salons (like where I now live). Driving through Greenhills there is just green space - large communal parks and a European-style public commons. The streets are laid out around circular super blocks and feature surprises like pocket parks in the middle of cul-de-sacs and townhomes reversed so the living rooms face communial back yards. Greenhills was also designed to be completely walkable - sidewalks and paths cut through everywhere. There are even townhouses on a walkway, not a street. It's totally different and much greener than the surrounding communities.

Also Greenhills is the only Greenbelt town to still actually have its greenbelt-it is literally surrounded on all sides by a several-thousand acre County Park.

Of course its not Eden. It has a small tax base. The school district isn't what it once was. The original townhouses and apartments are in various states of disrepair and the shopping center (the first strip center in Ohio) is now largely abandoned. Still the idea of the community is unlike anything developed in the US since.
posted by codex99 at 12:17 PM on November 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

Next stop Willoughby!
posted by fairmettle at 12:33 PM on November 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is cool, thanks for the post.

Put me in mind of Atchison Village here in the SF Bay Area: war era housing paid for by the federal goverment to house Kaiser Shipyard workers. Postwar, the whole complex was sold by the government to the homeowners and it exists as a sort of large coop, where homeowners can sell their houses but not the land under it, keeping it affordable. There is a community center onsite. It was also segregated but is now more integrated, with some caveats. African American's make up the ethnic majority in surrounding Richmond, CA. Atchison Village is primarily Latino, then white. There are other ethnicities represented as well but African Americans are not well represented. Here's more.
posted by latkes at 12:42 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I spent my first 7 years or so living in Greendale, Wisconsin. It is an especially potent image of Americana Suburbia, well scaled homes and roads, the main street has wonderful independent shops (and of course struggles with vacancy). I did not live in one of the houses themselves, but it is really amazing to see how the cookie cutter homes have been developed over the years, some just through coats of paint, others with small additions. As a former architect it was great to see the individual human spirit rise above the mass-production of the neighborhood over time; yes they are all the same, but then you know all the differences are the products of their inhabitants (the more diverse houses of almost any other neighborhood do not make the same reflection). And the small additions, one sees how there are a few repeated strategies the people used to expand their similarly shaped houses.
It can be horrifying sometimes in some ways to drive along highways and see a flood of the same house spreading across a recently fallow farmer's field, but the current state of Greendale gives future hope to that condition.
(though the planned Green(dale) communities had more comprehensive and thoughtful planning than the petri dishes of cul de sacs that still sprout up, so maybe those new communities will never be as strong)
posted by abcanthur at 1:48 PM on November 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I grew up in the Wisconsin one which, like codex99's, had the cut through pathways all over. As a kid, we could usually get somewhere in the village by bike as fast as anyone driving a car.
In Greendale, a benefactor helped invest in the town center, attracting tour buses filled with eager visitors.
The town center died - as predicted - when the village council allowed a strip mall next to the huge shopping mall on the northwest border. Eventually the above-mentioned benefactor, flush with cash from the sale of his publishing business to Readers Digest, stepped in and just bought it. It's a kind of a boutique, fakish place now, but that's probably better than the alternatives. I'm not sure what the locals think of it, but he's probably one of the few people who could have pulled off such a transformation. (He sponsored our Greendale rec softball team in the early 80's and would usually join us for a beer after games. He's moved on to bigger things since.)
posted by klarck at 2:06 PM on November 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another note. Because the greenbelt towns were public works projects there is extensive photographic documentation of them on LOC.gov.

Here is my favorite Greenhills picture (by John Vachron, October, 1939).

BTW if anyone knows who that baby is the Greenhills Historical Society would love to know.
posted by codex99 at 2:35 PM on November 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wanted to link to The City (and there it is, on archive.org) for its Greenbelt scenes but then found this unedited sequence on Youtube. Love the bit in the kitchen, around 3:20 -- I grew up near Greenbelt, MD, and my first apartment was a studio in Old Greenbelt, and that was my kitchen, too. Great Streamlined Moderne elements in that apartment, from the glass block in the stairwell to the little metal handles on the cabinets. At the time I had no car and the curvey sidewalks made for the best bike paths, as klarck mentions.
posted by Rash at 9:41 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Greenmont Village, a suburb of Dayton, OH built for defense workers during WWII has many of these features, and all of the houses have flat roofs like the Greenhills photo.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 9:42 AM on November 2, 2017

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