December 7, 2000
4:55 PM   Subscribe

In the late 1940s, a builder named William Levitt started a revolution in a Long Island potato field. Levitt built 2,000 simple, identical houses for returning GIs in the midst of a nationwide housing crisis. Levittown, as the development became known, was the first emblem of a new American lifestyle -- suburbanism. "I think the reality of the situation is that the suburbs are going to become the slums of tomorrow ... Some of them will be the ruins of tomorrow." link via thewebtoday.
posted by lagado (8 comments total)
I loved the movie Wonderland — an amazingly funny documentary about Levittown wherein the bizarre foibles of its residents are revealed by their very tongues. Recommended for all scholars of suburbia and watchers of funny shows.
posted by sylloge at 7:01 PM on December 7, 2000

Also reminds me of Back to the Future II.
posted by gyc at 7:54 PM on December 7, 2000

Living in Columbia, MD one of the first "planed citys" of the late 1960s and watching its steady decay ... its allready become a wasteland and will continue to decline as the boomers who kept the vision alive die off and thier "enlightended" offspring move anywhere but back home, as the housing values drop with age there is no room to tear down and start over like in a real city which can remake its self the suburbs are stuck in a utopian hell an awkward product of its time forever stamped on the landscape.
posted by stbalbach at 9:03 PM on December 7, 2000

I have a really hard time believing any of this nonsense about property values decreasing in the long term. Population keeps increasing, yet there is only a finite amount of land. We will run out of land eventually. Long before that happens, however, land will become so scarce that its value will never decrease. I have this nightmarish vision of how in 50 years time, every housing market in the USA will be just as expensive as Silicon Valley currently is. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid I'm right.
posted by Potsy at 11:24 PM on December 7, 2000

St. Balbach -- I grew up in Columbia, and I think it's currently transforming itself into a giant retirement home. There are businesses based in Columbia -- even some fairly large ones, like chemical company W.R. Grace and the fine networking folks at Corvis -- but the I think the principal draw was good schools, affordable homes, and a less seperatist outlook than many suburbs in the DC metro area. There's been a trend in the upper-middle-class towards private schools; homes tend to be more affordable in edge cities than in older suburbs (and in some cases, suburban homes are comprable in price to homes in urban centers), while newer suburbs have larger houses more in keeping with contemporary tastes; and I'm not sure how much people care any more about living in racially and economically diverse communities (those who do quite possibly live in cities to begin with). And you're dead on about people not wanting to move back.

Columbia is a case study in (sub)urban planning, and I don't think that the results played out the way the late Jim Rouse really intended.
posted by snarkout at 7:54 AM on December 8, 2000

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, quite the suburban mecca, in one of the first housing tracts there. I even remember orange groves close to home. Now, of course, it's all pavement.

A while back I did a photo documentary on the building of "the last freeway" in L.A. and its effects on the communities adjacent to it. It's called In Our Path. If you're interested in suburbs and the notion of "growth" you might enjoy it.

There were major legal battles from home owners, the NAACP, and the Sierra Club to stop the freeway's construction. The battle took over 7 years to resolve. When I came upon the scene I saw these post WWII houses abandoned. It was a familiar, yet very eerie sight.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 8:16 AM on December 8, 2000

I wrote up my reaction to this article on my weblog.

In my opinion, the key to the problems of inefficient growth and suburban development is government involvement. Governments from the federal to the local level encourage and often require suburban-style, automobile-oriented, "sprawl" development. (Note that my definition of sprawl is the style of development, not necessarily the location of it.)

From federal highway money--which encourages auto dependence and low-density development--and homeowner benefits (from FHA loans and the GI bill to mortgage interest deductions)--that make owning a detached home on a private lot often more economically attractive to individuals than any other option--to local zoning laws that require certain setbacks, restrict development of particular parcels of land to a single, restrictive use (only single-family housing on this land, only so many square-feet of commercial development with XXXX number of parking spaces on this land) and further encourage auto-dependence, government policy (often "influenced" by deep-pocketed developers looking to make a quick profit) usually influences the development "market" more than consumer demand.

New Urbanism is an important new way to try to work within the current framework and create neighborhoods of higher quality, but even it isn't the total answer. There's lots of broken policy that needs correcting to really let the market its own solution.
posted by daveadams at 10:14 AM on December 8, 2000

Here in DC one chunk of growth occurs near Metro stations (the subway). In fact, they've just approved a new station in the middle of the Red Line, along New York Avenue in the Northeast section of the city. They approved this, in part, to encourage development in an area that has, in the last few decades, deteriorated. In fact, they hope to make this area a "technology hub."
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 5:08 AM on December 9, 2000

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