The decades which followed in the wake of World War II, saw vast changes happening throughout America. A major population explosion, decaying houses and schools, industrial decline, racial segregation and trauma, overcrowded neighbourhoods, an increase in violence, crime and escalating revenues. These were all contributors to what many deemed an extremely disturbed and troubled urban landscape. But for a very short period of time, it seemed that government intervention would result in urban salvation. 16 million GI’s were returning from the Pacific, Europe and their military bases in the Unites States.
Many of these people were hoping to marry, settle down and raise families. But many had no homes or shelter, the war had brought about a major shortage in building materials. The housing industry was in a crisis. At the tail end of 1945, the United States was in severe need of houses, five million to be precise. Ex GI’s and their families were living with their families or anywhere they could find shelter. Many lived n tool sheds, barns, trolleys cars, appalling abandoned pre-war cottages, trolley cars, old horse stables, attics, rented basements and cold barren unheated bungalows.
During naval Lieutenant William Levitt’s service with the Seabees in Hawaii, he realized that there was an urgent need for post-war housing as well as cheap farmland. This provided a great opportunity for Levitt and his family to make good profits from their Island Tress property. Their former potato field was divided into small lots and he, his father and brothers built basic inexpensive mass-produced homes for ex GI’s and their families. These GI’s were entitled to low interest, insured GI loans. This made the Levitt homes affordable and an enticement indeed. Consequently, America saw a massive migration to outer city areas.
Families were seeking affordable housing and this society was soon deemed the “Patio Culture,” of which has been the subject of a host of criticism from social scientists, psychologists and intellectuals. Unfortunately the huge urban renewal, expressway constructions, vast array of public housing construction projects and so forth, bought about a plethora of new problems. These were and often still are, automobile dependency. They bought about the decline of social quality, increased gasoline usage which leads to a major rise in pollution and increases to personal expenditures.
Once railway networks arrived, suburbs became a much more pleasant place to reside. Initially suburbs were located on the very outskirts of many large cities. Young families pushed the population to a record high and while this was happening the popularity of automobiles was becoming another issue altogether. Add to that, racial discrimination and the very prominent segregation of class and government push for white flight ( mass migration). But the rise in suburbia interest was definitely instigated by the cheaper houses and automobiles. Car manufacturing companies were supplying more vehicles than they ever thought possible. To a myriad of people these were deemed the ideal option for commuting.
At that particulate stage in time cars were relatively affordable. This allowed all class groups to get to a from work without the need for public transport dependency. Therefore suburbs were initially designed around automobiles. Unfortunately those who live in suburbs and do not own an automobile suffer. Public transport is poor and this leads to isolation, frustration, stress, and the need to rely on others to chauffeur car-less people around. So many dreamed of the idyllic lifestyle, white picket fences, grass lawns, fresh air, lovely houses, peace and harmony. But segregation became the key word in regards to suburbia.
The poor, the middle class and the well to do became segregated in many ways. This did very little to stop racial prejudice, in fact racial segregation was worse than it had been for a long time. The attitude was basically you are not as good as us. Gangs broke out, crime escalated, bullying was and still is very prominent, and critics said suburbia should never have been allowed. Suburbia often sees a decline in the quality of schools, teacher experience, public leisure areas, poor roads, lack of medical centres and so forth. Those living in poor crime ridden areas have little chance of pulling themselves from the gloom. Children’s academic abilities are suppressed and the future looks very bleak in regards to employment and career opportunities.
With automobile dependency at the top of the list of downsides to suburban living, environmental concerns are many. But what can anyone do other than drive a car? Children need to get to school, people need to get to work, one needs to visit grocery stores, doctors, dentists and so forth. Driving a vehicle is not an option, it is a need. Meanwhile fossil fuels pollute the air while one wonders when the supply will end. Suburbia, once a very vivid pleasant American dream, is often looked upon as an archfiend by many critics. But by becoming a true part of a suburban community you can voice your concerns and do your part to help change things. Suburban living has its benefits as well as its downsides, one needs to try to enhance the positives and suppress the negatives. Government officials need to step in and reassess public transportation, the quality of schools etc, while forcing developers to take cultural and economic realities into consideration. America is the land of greatness, diversity and so much more, it’s only right that this diversity extends to suburbia as well. The rise of suburbia in America was history in the making, be it good or otherwise.