Sociology

How Suburbs Changed the United States



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Welcome to the United States of Suburbia!

Once viewed as a sign of affluence, the American suburb is now mass-produced. Tract housing is everywhere for nearly every income level. Single- and multi-family housing developments seem to crop up almost overnight, where farm fields once were.

In the 21st century, suburbs have all but replaced traditional small town and city neighborhood life. Even in our cities, as urban areas are rejuvenated and regentrified, the suburban model is employed. Urban housing projects are not exempt from this trend, as inner-city developments are constructed along similar foundations.

New construction includes attached garages with automated doors. Fenced yards with privacy hedges are the norm. Windows are covered with closed drapes, miniblinds, or fancy shutters. Privacy is paramount.

Bedroom communities have become exactly that. Close and lock the doors, and pretend we're sleeping. May we introduce to you . . . the nuclear family . . . isolated from extended families and everyone else. That's progress for you!

But what happened to community?

Residents return to their homes, pull into the garages, and zip the doors shut behind them. No one knows if their neighbors are home. No one even knows what their neighbors look like anymore. Do they have children? We don't know. Do they have pets? We have no idea.

If the neighbors have children or pets, they most likely frolic in their own private, fenced-in backyard. You may hear them, but you'll never catch a glimpse of their faces.

Can anyone remember those summer evenings, when children would play kickball or stickball in the street? Parents would sip lemonade or Bud and catch up on family news. On Saturday mornings, kids would take a dollar to the community theater or the five-and-dime for a treat.

Now, strip malls have replaced the downtown shops. Megastores have replaced the corner grocer. Industrial parks have replaced the storefront office. And, despite soaring gas prices, we fire up our cars just to pick up our morning coffee.

Yep, it's the United States of Suburbia, an American institution.

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More about this author: Linda Ann Nickerson

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