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date: 28 February 2024

Suburbanization in the United States after 1945free

Suburbanization in the United States after 1945free

  • Becky NicolaidesBecky NicolaidesHuntington-USC Institute on California & the West and Center for the Study of Women, UCLA
  •  and Andrew WieseAndrew WieseDepartment of History, San Diego State University


Mass migration to suburban areas was a defining feature of American life after 1945. Before World War II, just 13% of Americans lived in suburbs. By 2010, however, suburbia was home to more than half of the U.S. population. The nation’s economy, politics, and society suburbanized in important ways. Suburbia shaped habits of car dependency and commuting, patterns of spending and saving, and experiences with issues as diverse as race and taxes, energy and nature, privacy and community. The owner occupied, single-family home, surrounded by a yard, and set in a neighborhood outside the urban core came to define everyday experience for most American households, and in the world of popular culture and the imagination, suburbia was the setting for the American dream. The nation’s suburbs were an equally critical economic landscape, home to vital high-tech industries, retailing, “logistics,” and office employment. In addition, American politics rested on a suburban majority, and over several decades, suburbia incubated political movements across the partisan spectrum, from grass-roots conservativism, to centrist meritocratic individualism, environmentalism, feminism, and social justice. In short, suburbia was a key setting for postwar American life.

Even as suburbia grew in magnitude and influence, it also grew more diverse, coming to reflect a much broader cross-section of America itself. This encompassing shift marked two key chronological stages in suburban history since 1945: the expansive, racialized, mass suburbanization of the postwar years (1945–1970) and an era of intensive social diversification and metropolitan complexity (since 1970). In the first period, suburbia witnessed the expansion of segregated white privilege, bolstered by government policies, exclusionary practices, and reinforced by grassroots political movements. By the second period, suburbia came to house a broader cross section of Americans, who brought with them a wide range of outlooks, lifeways, values, and politics. Suburbia became home to large numbers of immigrants, ethnic groups, African Americans, the poor, the elderly and diverse family types. In the face of stubborn exclusionism by affluent suburbs, inequality persisted across metropolitan areas and manifested anew in proliferating poorer, distressed suburbs. Reform efforts sought to alleviate metro-wide inequality and promote sustainable development, using coordinated regional approaches. In recent years, the twin discourses of suburban crisis and suburban rejuvenation captured the continued complexity of America’s suburbs.


  • 20th Century: Post-1945
  • Urban History

1945–1970: Era of Mass-Suburbanization

Postwar Real Estate Development

Postwar suburbia was built upon a prewar metropolitan landscape characterized by “segregated diversity,” a heterogeneous mix of landscapes, functions, and populations that emerged in the late 19th century. Prewar commuter suburbs with lush landscaping and large houses abutted farms and orchards, modest streetcar suburbs, and Main Street shopping districts. Elsewhere, smokestacks broke the rural skyline alongside worker housing. As geographers Richard Harris and Robert Lewis conclude, “Prewar suburbs were as socially diverse as the cities that they surrounded.”1 Ironically, this heterogeneous landscape, and especially the open spaces lying between and beyond it, was the setting for a massive wave of postwar suburbanization that was characterized by similarity and standardization.2

This history originated in the chaotic transition to peacetime society after 1945. World War II migrations, military deployment, and demobilization compounded a housing shortage that dated back to the Depression. In 1945, experts estimated a shortage of 5 million homes nationwide. Veterans returned to “no vacancy” signs and high rents. As late as 1947, one-third were still living doubled up with relatives, friends, and strangers. American family life was on hold.3

The solution to this crisis emerged from a partnership between government and private enterprise that exemplified the mixed Keynesian political economy of the postwar era. The Federal government provided a critical stimulus to suburbanization through policies that revolutionized home building and lending, subsidized home ownership, and built critical suburban infrastructure, such as the new interstate highway system.4 Private enterprise, for its part, applied new mass production techniques and technologies tested during the war to ramp up home building. Key to this partnership was a New Deal–era agency, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). At the heart of FHA policy was a mortgage insurance program that took the risk out of home lending and made the long-term (25–30 years), low-interest home mortgage the national standard. The FHA also granted low-interest construction loans to builders and established basic construction guidelines that set new nationwide building standards. Along with a companion program in the Veterans’ Administration (VA) created by the 1944 GI Bill, the FHA stimulated a flood of new construction that brought the price of home ownership within the reach of millions of families. “Quite simply,” concludes historian Kenneth Jackson, “it often became cheaper to buy than to rent.”5 Jackson also notes that these programs had a pro-suburban bias. FHA and VA requirements for standard setbacks, building materials, lot sizes, and other features ruled out loans to large sections of urban America while giving preference to new homes on the suburban fringe. By the 1950s, as many as one-third of home buyers in the United States received support from the FHA and VA programs, and home ownership rates rose from four in ten U.S. households in 1940 to more than six in ten by the 1960s. The vast majority of these new homes were in the suburbs. 6

Equally important to the postwar boom was a revolution in construction. In response to pent-up demand and new federal supports, a cohort of builder-developers modernized home building to achieve mass production. The new builders were young, bold, and creative; many were the children of immigrants. Using techniques pioneered by prewar builders, such as Fritz Burns of Los Angeles, and refined through work on large war construction projects, contractors streamlined home building, employing standardized parts and floor-plans, subassembly of doors and windows, and subdivision of labor to minimize the need for skilled or unionized workers.7 The scale of building took off (see Figure 1). Whereas “large builders” in prewar America might have built 25 homes per year, by the late 1940s, large firms were building several hundred homes per year. Annual housing starts leaped upward from 142,000 in 1944 to an average of 1.5 million per year in the 1950s.8

Figure 1. Pioneer mass-builder Fritz Burns developed Westchester in the late 1930s, devising many of the mass-production techniques adopted by postwar suburban builders through the United States.

Spence Air Photos, Werner Von Boltenstern Postcard Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Loyola Marymount University Library.

Emblematic of the new builders was William J. Levitt, who joined his immigrant father in the construction business in the 1930s. After experimenting with mass production during WWII, in the late 1940s the Levitts built what would become the most famous housing development of the age, the 17,000-home Levittown on Long Island, New York. By the mid-1950s, Levitt was the nation’s largest builder, with an annual production of more than 2,000 houses.9 While large-scale builders such as Levitt attracted the lion’s share of media attention, more typical were smaller-volume and custom builders who constructed fewer than 250 homes per year, but they too turned out homes uniform in appearance and amenities, reflecting the broad standardization of the industry and the landscapes it was producing.10

The typical postwar home of the late 1940s was the “minimum house,” a reference to the FHA’s minimum building standards. They were small, often cramped for families in the midst of a baby boom, but they were considered entirely modern with their up-to-date appliances, mechanical systems and utilities (with costs for everything neatly rolled into a 25-year mortgage). The average home in 1950 was 983 square feet (down from 1,140 in 1940). It had 5 to 6 rooms—typically two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room and kitchen on a single floor.11 The size and simple construction of these homes encouraged owners to remodel as their families changed. At Levittown, Long Island, the “Cape Cod” house model included a half-story “expansion attic” upstairs. By the mid-1950s and 1960s, as consumers demanded more space, builders increased home sizes, introducing open floor plans and new designs such as split-levels and expansive, horizontal ranch homes for buyers at different price points. By the mid-1950s, mass suburbs that had started out with a mix of incomes were sorting out into neighborhoods and communities that were increasingly homogenous in terms of class.12

The media hailed developers like Levitt as “community builders” because they not only subdivided land and built houses but created whole communities from scratch. Despite these accolades, historian Dolores Hayden points out that the drive for profit pushed community planning to the back burner in much of postwar suburbia. Developers often set aside space for civic facilities, but local taxpayers were responsible for the cost of parks, playgrounds, libraries, and other public amenities. Levittown, Long Island, for example, was built without public sewers or even adequate septic tanks, forcing homeowner/taxpayers to make expensive upgrades after the Levitts moved on. Smaller builders were often even more frugal. Thus, for many new suburbanites, the companion to low housing prices was a high tax bill. The ongoing struggle of many suburbanites to build a sense of community in the unfinished civic landscape of mass suburbia was a legacy of this era.

New residential suburbs represented just one element of the postwar suburban trend. By the early 1950s, commercial developers, corporate headquarters, big retailers and other businesses, were also migrating to the suburban fringe, setting the stage for a wholesale reorganization of metropolitan economies by the end of the century. Aided by federal tax policies such as accelerated depreciation that subsidized new buildings over the maintenance of existing ones, retailers like Macy’s and Allied Stores opened new suburban branches to capture consumer dollars that traditionally flowed to their downtown stores. Architect-developers like Victor Gruen—who designed many early suburban shopping centers, including the nation’s first indoor shopping mall, the Southdale Center in suburban Minneapolis, 1956—evangelized the new shopping center as a modern civic center, a privately-built “public” space that would replace the traditional downtown.13 Corporate headquarters, and other offices also began a slow shift to suburban locations. Attracted by the prestige value of elite suburbia, Fortune 500 companies such as General Foods, Reader’s Digest and Connecticut General Life Insurance built landscaped campus “estates” in suburbs such as Westchester County, New York, and Bloomfield, Connecticut, during the 1950s, signaling a trend that peaked in the 1980s.14 In the Washington, D.C., area, government agencies also shifted to suburbia, led by the Central Intelligence Agency, which broke ground on its new campus headquarters in Langley, Virginia, in 1957.15

The City-Suburb Divide: Urban–Suburban Inequality in the Postwar Era

At the metropolitan scale, the suburban shift in population and investment shaped divergent futures for U.S. cities and suburbs—a drain of people and resources from cities to their suburbs that the columnist William Laas labeled simply, “suburbitis.”16 Older industrial centers, especially, faced serious challenges. The relocation of factories to suburbs and other lower cost locations sapped resources that had sustained city neighborhoods since the 19th century. Urban job losses stoked unemployment and poverty. Declining tax revenues forced cut-backs on infrastructure, schools and other services, which reinforced the cycle of suburbanization. By the 1960s, commentators pointed to a full-fledged “urban crisis.” Meanwhile, the suburbs boomed.17

The metropolitan political structure of the United States played a hand in this divergence. As independent political entities, urban and suburban municipalities competed for business, people, and tax dollars. Cities and suburbs both used municipal powers such as land use and tax policy to maximize economic advantages within the town limits, but in the postwar period, suburbs held a clear advantage. In California’s East Bay region, for instance, the historian Robert Self shows that suburban civic leaders shaped zoning policies, infrastructure spending, and tax rates to capture flows of people and capital. They attracted new factories and other investment and bolstered services for local residents, while excluding unwanted groups such as blue-collar workers, African Americans, and other people of color. By contrast, the city of Oakland faced waves of capital flight, job losses, and growing tax and service burdens for a population that included rising numbers of African Americans and Latinos, who were prevented from moving by racial barriers in the suburban housing market.18 The fortunes of cities and suburbs remained linked throughout the postwar decades, but the balance of prestige and power within metropolitan regions had clearly shifted.

Race, Ethnicity, and Exclusion

Mass suburbanization had equally dramatic consequences for race in postwar America. Suburbia beckoned with opportunity for millions of whites, but it remained rigidly segregated and broadly exclusive throughout the postwar decades. Mass suburbs supported ethnic and racial assimilation, where Italians, Poles, Greeks, Jews, and other European-Americans found a common social ground that solidified their identity as “whites.”19 The beneficiaries of racially structured federal policies, millions of “not yet white ethnics” (as historian, Thomas Sugrue described them) attained symbols of white, middle-class status, such as college educations, pensions, small businesses, and homes of their own.20 Mass suburbia tied these benefits together in a coherent spatial package, providing a setting for common experiences, aspirations, and interests. And because these communities were prefaced on the principle of racial exclusion, the new suburbs reinforced solidarities of race while downplaying the significance of ethnic, religious, and occupational differences. Further reinforcing this merger of race and suburbia were the ever-present images in the national media of happy, white families celebrating the postwar suburban dream.

At the same time, African American, Asian American, and Latino families battled for access to the suburbs, challenging not only the presumed whiteness of suburbia but the ideology of white supremacy implicit in postwar suburban ideology. In response, white suburbanites in concert with other crucial players—including government—created a web of discrimination that secured links between race, social advantage, and metropolitan space. Mechanisms of segregation included collusion by real estate brokers, homebuilders and lenders, discriminatory federal housing guidelines, local neighborhood associations, municipal land use controls, and the threat of violence. FHA underwriting guidelines, for example, explicitly required racial segregation until the early 1950s. In most cases, that spelled exclusion from a program that did so much to lift millions of whites into the middle class. By 1960, African Americans and other people of color had received just 2% of FHA-insured mortgages.21 Added to the barriers of institutional racism, recent historical studies suggest that acts of violence and intimidation against nonwhite neighbors—including arson, bombings, death threats, and mob assaults—numbered in the hundreds during the decades after World War II. In the Chicago suburb of Cicero, for instance, rumors that a black family had rented a local apartment in 1951 provoked a mob to ransack the building. This bleak side of postwar urban history led historian Arnold Hirsch to refer to the 1940s and 1950s as “an era of hidden violence.”22 African Americans were targeted in most of these attacks, but discrimination also affected Asian Americans and Latinos, albeit in less predictable and capricious ways. In one well-publicized instance, a Chinese American couple, Grace and Sing Sheng, responded to the objections of white neighbors, who opposed their purchase of a house in suburban San Francisco in 1952, by suggesting a vote. Opponents prevailed 174–28 in the informal canvas, and the disillusioned Shengs decided to move elsewhere.23

Despite such obstacles, growing numbers of minority families found footholds in postwar suburbia. Between 1940 and 1960, the number of African American suburbanites increased by 1 million, amounting to 2.5 million by 1960—approximately 5% of the total suburban population. Regional variations typified this movement. In the South, where African Americans had lived on the metropolitan fringes for decades, developers built more than 200,000 new homes and apartments by 1960. In many cities, explicit planning for “Negro expansion areas” preserved access to places where blacks could move without upsetting segregation or provoking violence. Developments such as Collier Heights in west Atlanta, Washington Shores near Orlando, and Hamilton Park in north Dallas created suburban-style footholds for a growing black middle class.24 Outside the South the proliferation of new suburban municipalities, each with control over local land use, limited construction for minority families. As a result, African Americans and other nonwhites struggled to find housing in existing city and suburban neighborhoods. Older black communities in suburbs such as Evanston, Illinois, Pasadena, California, and Mount Vernon, New York, welcomed new residents. In every region, most of these new suburbanites settled near existing minority communities, with the result that racial segregation expanded in metropolitan America even as court decisions and mass mobilization for civil rights upset the legal structures of Jim Crow. Movement into white neighborhoods was fiercely contested. And communities of color—in suburbs and cities alike—faced ongoing pressures such as school segregation, poor services, redlining, lax zoning enforcement, and reckless “slum clearance” that forced residents to organize politically as racial communities, sharpening the connection between race and place of residence. For whites and nonwhites alike, race emerged as part of the physical structure of the metropolis, reinforced by the separate and unequal spaces that they occupied.25

Social Life of Postwar Suburbanites

The social history of postwar suburbia remains a fairly understudied area by historians. It is defined as much by sociologists and journalists observing suburbanites at the time, as by historians who have produced case studies of individual suburbs. Such studies offer useful starting points, especially the detailed accounts of social life that focused on the iconic mass-produced suburbs of the Levittowns and Park Forest, Illinois. Although they were hardly typical postwar subdivisions, they attracted a lion’s share of scrutiny.26

Demographics established an important basic context. Right after World War II, new suburbs attracted a remarkably homogenous population, comprised of relatively young, white married couples with kids. Heterosexual families with distinct roles for men and women were the accepted norm. In 1953, just 9% of suburban women worked outside the home, compared to 27% nationally.27 In the era’s best known development, Levittown, New York, residents were all white, ranged from 25 to 35 years old, were married less than seven years, and had an average of three children. The husband was employed and the wife was a homemaker.28 There was notable religious and ethnic diversity, however, with a mix of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, while approximately 15% were foreign born.29 Suburbs like Levittown attracted both white- and blue-collar workers, who together, through their capacity to buy homes and the consumer goods of suburban life, defined the expanding American middle class.30 Approximately 41% of men and 38% of women had some college education; many of the men were veterans.31 Over time, however, suburbanites of different incomes sorted into different communities, creating greater socioeconomic homogeneity within suburbs, but growing class stratification and inequality across suburbia as a whole. As historian Lizabeth Cohen points out, the rising trend toward “hierarchy and exclusion” meant that residents by the 1960s “participated in more homogeneous, stratified communities [and] the contact they did have with neighbors connected them to less diverse publics.”32

The mass-produced suburb became the subject of intense public scrutiny, representing a proliferating built form that appeared to present a new, untested social canvass. Observers wondered, was this setting producing new patterns of life and behavior? Under this microscope, certain salient themes emerged about suburban social life. For one, postwar suburbanites were active participants in their neighborhoods. A number of accounts documented this pattern, but perhaps the most influential portrait was by Fortune editor William H. Whyte in his 1956 bestseller Organization Man. The final third of that book provided a detailed portrait of Park Forest, Illinois, which he dubbed the “dormitory” of the organization man, and characterized as a “hotbed of Participation” with a capital “P.”33 Whyte was one among many journalists from mass circulation magazines like Harpers, Fortune, and Look who delved into social experience on the new suburban frontier.

Whyte found neighbors who were closely connected, and immersed in a culture of borrowing and lending, participation in local clubs and civic groups, and social intimacy. Neighbors were not merely acquainted. They bonded on multiple levels—in the minutiae of the everyday demands of child raising and running homes, in mutual concerns about local civic issues, and even in intellectual and spiritual life.34 Suburbia seemed to encourage a habit of joining. Similarly, studies of the Levittowns reveal that early residents relied upon one another, especially the many isolated, carless housewives. Neighbors gave each other rides, formed babysitter co-ops, gathered regularly for television viewing parties, and created a nurturing social environment.35 Even yard work became a socializing experience, as neighbors shared tips with one another.36 Without fences to separate neighbors, children freely circulated from one backyard to the next, and acted as a kind of social “glue” for their parents.37 As a child in Levittown, New York, Martha Mordin later recalled, “Living here was like being in an extended family. There were lots of mothers. If you couldn’t talk to your own mother, you could talk to someone else’s mother.”38 One Levittowner concluded simply, “Had we stayed in the city, I never would have joined anything.”39 Even sociologist Herbert Gans, whose participant-observer study of Levittown, PA, was meant to challenge an emerging suburban critique of hyperactive socializing and conformity, conceded that suburbanites engaged in high levels of community engagement.40

The centrality of women was another feature of postwar suburban social history. In these dormitory suburbs, husbands typically commuted to work during the day leaving their wives at home to dominate daily life in the community. The postwar return to domesticity was driven by powerful media imagery and platitudes by national leaders that valorized the housewife, infusing her role as household consumer and manager with patriotic overtones in the context of the Cold War.41 Popular magazines schooled suburban women in the ways of scientific housekeeping, pushing products and the latest techniques for cleaning, entertaining, and child rearing. Yet despite this image of quiescent domesticity, women were active community participants in suburbia—as the “telephoners, organizers, and arrangers of community life.”42 They built social networks, joined clubs, and engaged in politics. Although suburban men tended to dominate positions of local leadership, women did much of the everyday work to keep social and civic life vibrant.43

“Culture Wars” over the Postwar Suburbs

The spread of mass suburbs touched off a virtual “culture war” in America between suburbia’s boosters and its critics. This debate pulled in a range of participants, from advertisers, real estate developers and politicians to journalists, academics, and filmmakers. In the course of debating the relative merits of mass suburbia, each side put forth vivid—if often distorted—images of suburban life, swinging wildly between the extremes of utopia and dystopia. The suburban portrayals and images they generated had deep and lasting impact on the ways that many Americans came to view the suburbs, even up to our own day.

On one side were the boosters—business interests and politicians with a stake in selling suburban homes and the consumer goods to fill them. To them, the suburbs represented the fulfillment of the postwar “American dream”—a warm, happy place filled with healthy families and friendly neighbors, living cozy lives in homes brimming with the latest products and appliances. Magazines, television commercials, and real-estate developers peddled this image tirelessly, depicting contented white families thriving in suburbia. A logical collusion infused their efforts. Real-estate interests plugged the homes themselves, while shelter magazines ran articles on suburban living alongside vivid advertisements for refrigerators, range-tops, television sets, cleaning products, and other household goods. These ads invariably depicted happy homemakers set against a backdrop of gleaming, modern suburban interiors. The picture came full circle on television sitcoms like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best, which offered benign, family-centered stories of generational quarrels and reconciliation, all sponsored by advertisers eager to tap into the lucrative suburban market. The result was a reinforcing web of suburban salesmanship.44 Political leaders, too, celebrated suburban living, linking suburban consumption to the health of the republic itself. And they elevated the suburban home to a gleaming symbol of American superiority during the Cold War. In the so-called “Kitchen Debates” of 1959, which took place at an exposition of U.S. products in Moscow, Vice President Richard Nixon sparred with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev over the merits of capitalism versus communism, while standing in a six-room $14,000 ranch house assembled by a Long Island sub-divider and furnished by Macys. Nixon used this slice of everyday suburban life as the ultimate Cold War propaganda weapon.45

On the other side were the critics, who believed suburbia was inflicting profound damage on the American character. Academics, novelists, filmmakers, and designer-planners, among others, blamed mass suburbia for some of the most disturbing social trends of the era. Homogeneous suburban landscapes, they believed, spawned homogenous people, who followed the dictates of blind conformity. Bland, monotonous, isolating landscapes oppressed women and pushed bored kids toward juvenile delinquency. Female-centric suburban life distorted gender relations and left men emaciated. And the list went on. Not only did suburbia trivialize life, as Lewis Mumford wrote, but it fostered “the temptation to retreat from unpleasant realities, to shirk public duties, and to find the whole meaning of life in the most elemental social group, the family, or even in the still more isolated and self-centered individual. What was properly a beginning was treated as an end.”46 The final result was a devastating turn away from civic obligation. Even suburban family life was lambasted, portrayed as the polar opposite of the carefree innocence depicted on popular television sitcoms. Novelists and filmmakers in particular depicted all manner of suburban domestic dysfunction: alcoholism, adultery, inept parenting, wounding anxieties, deeply troubled marriages, and fraught sexuality, all concealed beneath a smiling public face. These themes animated such classic postwar films as Mildred Pierce (1945), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), and The Graduate (1967), and the fiction of Richard Yates, John Cheever, and John Updike.47

Several social scientists in the 1960s set out to challenge what they called “the myth of suburbia” created by this polemical discourse. Sociologists like Bennett Berger, Herbert Gans, and William Dobriner found that moving to suburbia did not actually change people, as both the critics and boosters suggested. Instead, suburbanites continued to make life choices based upon such factors as class, ethnicity, religion, and personal preference.48 Their scholarship challenged the notion that environments shape human behavior (or environmental determinism).49 Yet for the most part, their voices were drowned out by the shriller, more lurid suburban depictions filling the bookstores, airwaves, and movie houses.

Political Life

Scholars have examined the political culture of postwar suburbia since the mass suburban boom began, tracing critical trends that have shaped U.S. politics at large, including ideals of localism, meritocratic individualism, home owner entitlement, and aversion to general taxation. In the 1950s, political scientist, Robert Wood explored the fragmented municipal landscape of suburbia and the localism that characterized its political culture much as it had since the 19th century. This ideal of localism manifested in campaigns around municipal incorporation and zoning controls, annexation, taxation, school policy and local services from potholes to public swimming pools. Other political identities blossomed at the local level. Many suburbanites derived their core political identity—as white middle-class, taxpaying homeowners—within the context of their suburban neighborhoods, often politically independent municipalities. Suburbanites made a direct connection between their role as taxpayers and their right to a particular quality of life, delivered through services like good schools and safe streets. They developed a sense of entitlement to these advantages, which they perceived as the just rewards of their individual efforts to achieve home ownership. Historians, in turn, have exposed the limitations in this thinking by underscoring the broad web of governmental policies that subsidized and privileged white suburban homeowners.50 Nevertheless, the notion of homeowner entitlement based on meritocratic individualism remained as a core element of postwar suburban political culture, one that transcended party lines and mobilized suburbanites against an array of perceived threats, ranging from communists to free-spending liberals, the urban poor, excluded minorities, and inefficient government.51 Their local efforts in the postwar years came to influence national politics and the political parties. The rich scholarship on suburban politics produced by historians in recent years challenges an earlier image of suburban civic banality painted by some postwar critics, and highlights the national importance of suburban politics.

Recent scholarship has documented the crucial role suburbia played in the rise of postwar conservatism, while newer studies linked suburbs to centrist and liberal politics. Two important works on suburban conservatism centered on California. Historian Lisa McGirr’s study of Orange County demonstrated how this prosperous region—characterized by high-tech defense industry, an all-white well-educated populace, and Christian evangelicalism—was a potent breeding ground for modern-day conservatism. In the late 1950s and 1960s, these “suburban warriors” coalesced into a remarkable grassroots movement that attacked communism locally and globally, opposed big government, and supported the protection of property rights and Christian morality. Michelle Nickerson’s study of Los Angeles documented a similar movement of suburban women who rallied against communism and racial integration, particularly in public education. The infrastructure they created—study groups, newsletters, bookstores, and clubs—represented a crucial formative aspect of a maturing Republican Party. Both studies argued that localized suburban politics in this era deeply shaped conservatism at the national scale.52 Another cluster of studies highlighted racial politics in postwar suburbia, and the dogged efforts of suburbanites to resist federal civil rights mandates to integrate neighborhoods and public schools. Evoking the language of “white rights,” colorblind meritocratic individualism, and homeowner entitlement, suburbanites across the nation—and across the partisan spectrum—resisted school desegregation, court-ordered busing, open housing laws, and public housing, in battles that began locally but ultimately influenced federal policy and the national parties. As Matthew Lassiter and others have shown, this bipartisan suburban movement elevated the issues of metropolitan politics onto the national stage by asserting the interests of suburban taxpayers, etching deeply entrenched patterns of inequality across metropolitan areas. The Republican Party was first to connect with this voting bloc at the national level, using it to win electoral majorities in seven of the ten Presidential elections from 1968 to 2004, but Democrats likewise supported suburban political mandates during the postwar years.53

Recent scholarship has also explored the presence of liberal and progressive politics in postwar suburbs, through grassroots movements for affordable housing, pacifism, and desegregation in housing and schools. Sylvie Murray’s study of families in the suburban fringe of eastern Queens, New York, for instance, shows that women played critical roles in liberal political causes. Residents like a young Betty Friedan mobilized to enhance their quality of life, which included a vision of integrated schools and multicultural neighbors, and they sought the active hand of government to achieve these ends. Lily Geismer’s study of Boston reveals the strength, and also the limits, of liberal activism in suburbia. White liberals in suburbs like Brookline and Newton actively supported a racially open housing market, but they rarely challenged the high economic hurdles that ensured that most people of color could not afford these neighborhoods.54

Local politics in the first two Levittowns exemplified these and other themes. In the 1950s, conflicts over the Levittown, NY, schools broke out between advocates of progressive versus traditional education, refracting larger differences between liberals and conservatives.55 More dramatic was the race riot that erupted in 1957 when the first black family moved into Levittown, PA. Their arrival was facilitated by a small, dedicated group of local activists, mainly leftists and Quakers, who were committed to civil rights. When William and Daisy Myers stepped forward to become black pioneers in Levittown, their arrival sparked massive grassroots resistance. For several weeks, hundreds of white residents gathered in the evenings, hurling rocks and yelling epithets (see Figure 2). They burned a cross and sprayed “KKK” on the property of Myers supporters. Yet other white residents stepped up to support the Myers family. As the conflict turned Levittown into a “civil rights battleground,” the event illustrated the presence of both pro- and anti-integrationists in the suburb. Eventually, emotions simmered down. Yet as Tom Sugrue shows, the end result signaled the limits of racial liberalism in places like Levittown where blacks remained a miniscule percentage of the population for decades, as well as in other metro areas where sharp class and race inequality persisted.56

Figure 2. A crowd of approximately 400 people line the street a block from the Myers’ home after state police had moved them. The crowd is protesting the first black family moving into Levittown, 1957.

Source: Photography by Jack Tinney, George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Suburbanites played key roles in other political movements as well. Levittowners engaged in environmental activism by the late 1960s, part of a broader push among suburbanites nationally.57 As ironic as this may have appeared to those who saw Levittown as the epitome of denuded nature, many Levittowners in fact had a discernable connection to their natural environment, fostered both by the developers and their own labors in yards and gardens. When Levittown began feeling the effects of local factory pollutants and encroaching overdevelopment, residents united in action. This new politics coalesced around Earth Day in 1970, then fanned out into a range of grassroots activities. Residents gathered for garbage clean-up days, opposed a proposed nuclear power plant, held environmental teach-ins, circulated petitions, and picketed the nearby U.S. Steel plant over industrial pollutants.58 Suburban politics in the postwar years, thus, encompassed a range of political players who embraced such wide-ranging impulses as environmentalism, racial liberalism, and feminism.

1970–Present: Growth and Diversification

Land Development and Real Estate

Changing economic conditions in the United States after 1970 reshaped suburbia, as they did much of American life. The decline of manufacturing across the industrial heartland, the rise of service employment, high-tech growth, deregulation, and globalization altered the context for metropolitan life, resulting in regional shifts, growing economic volatility, polarization of wealth and income, and unstable futures for cities and suburbs alike.

New trends in the housing market set the tone for events that affected American suburbs through the following decades. New patterns of real estate investment in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, foreshadowed the coming merger of real-estate development and global financial markets that triggered recurrent housing volatility, including the global financial crisis of 2008. After 1960 new real estate investment trusts (REIT’s), investment banks, major pension and insurance funds, and Fortune 500 corporations poured capital into metropolitan real-estate development.59 Financial deregulation at the state and federal levels opened up additional sources of investment for real-estate lending, and government sponsored financial entities, such as FNMA (colloquially known as “Fannie Mae”) facilitated the flow of money to real estate through the sale of mortgage-backed securities to investors worldwide. By 2015, mortgage-backed securities were valued at almost $9 trillion, representing almost two-thirds of funds invested in the U.S. mortgage market.60

Flush with new capital, real-estate firms dramatically increased the scale and scope of development after 1960. In places like California, development schemes reached gargantuan proportions that made even postwar developments like Levittown look small by comparison. Miles of pristine coastline and 10,000-acre cattle ranches succumbed to the bulldozer, giving birth to future suburban cities such as Irvine, Thousand Oaks, Temecula, and Mission Viejo, and laying the template for the pervasive sprawl that characterized modern suburban life (see Figure 3). The period saw the rise of the first truly national development firms, corporate real-estate enterprises such as Ryan and Pulte Homes, Kaufman and Broad, and Levitt, which had operations in multiple U.S.—and even international—markets. By the early 21st century, firms such as these and their successors were building tens of thousands of units per year, replicating standardized architecture and community planning across the United States. By the peak of the housing bubble in 2005, the top five largest builders each closed on more than 30,000 houses for the year.61 Their robust activity symbolized the dramatic expansion of suburban areas and rise in the suburban population in the U.S. with a majority of Americans living in suburbia by 2010 (see Table 1).

Table 1. The Growth of Metropolitan and Suburban Areas in the United States, 1940–2010

Population in Thousands


U.S. Population

Metropolitan Area Population (includes city and suburbs)

% of U.S. Population

Suburban Area Population

% of U.S. Population



















a. Metropolitan areas for 1970 and 2010 defined according to Census definitions for 1970 and 2010 (urbanized counties adjacent a central city(ies) of 50,000 or more). See U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Population and Housing: 2000, vol. I, Summary of Population and Housing Characteristics, pt. 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2002), Appendix A-1; Office of Management and Budget, 2010 Standards for Delineating Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas; Notice, Federal Register, vol. 25.123 (June 28, 2010), 37249–37252.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census, Summary File 1, American FactFinder; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Population: 1970, vol. I, Characteristics of the Population, pt. 1, U.S. Summary, section 1 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1973), 258.

Figure 3. Irvine, California, exemplified the massive scale of suburban developments after 1960, as well as their multiple functions—including suburban housing, offices, retail, and industry. Irvine housed more than 60,000 people by 1980, and 212,000 by 2010.

Photograph by Andrew Wiese, 2005.

The scale and scope of real-estate investment and development ushered in new levels of volatility in U.S. real-estate markets after 1970 that had been subdued in the long postwar boom. The early 1970s witnessed the first in a series of modern boom-and-bust cycles that rocked the housing market through the 21st century. Builders reached the all-time record in U.S. housing starts of 2.36 million in 1972 and the largest three-year total in U.S. history between 1971 and 1973. The bust, when it came, in 1974, sparked widespread bankruptcies and job losses, helping to drag the U.S. economy into recession. With frightening regularity, housing market crises returned in the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and late 2000s, creating a nauseating series of economic rollercoaster rides for homeowners and renters alike. Across these same decades, the United States witnessed a generalized rise in housing prices. Driven by growing suburban land-use restrictions, a shortage of buildable land in many metro areas, and increased supplies of mortgage capital, the long upward price spiral was a boon to property owners who hung on for the long term, but it produced a burden of rising property taxes and a growing crisis in affordability. Aspiring homeowners faced outsized home prices, pushing them to work more hours, drive greater distances, and take on greater loads of debt to purchase a suburban home. By 2013, nearly 40 million American households were paying more than 30% of their income for housing, and as many as 10% of homeowners were paying upwards of 50%.62 In booming suburban markets, such as Orange County, California, Long Island and Westchester County, New York, and Fairfax County, Virginia, children were priced out of the suburban areas where they grew up. Public and private efforts to expand home ownership in the 1990s and 2000s met this reality with increasingly risky credit arrangements—interest-only and stated income loans, and ballooning adjustable-rate mortgages that were almost unheard of in postwar suburbia. These arrangements were at the center of the housing meltdown and global economic crisis in 2008–2010. For households left out of the market—blue-collar families, singles, young couples, many people of color—the spiral in housing prices was an obstacle to building wealth and a continuing source of economic disparity in America’s post-Civil Rights era.


After 1970, the economic ascendancy of suburbia that had been building since 1945 reached maturity. In a landmark, 1976 study, Geographer Peter Muller explored the rise of the “Outer City,” his term for the hubs of retail activity, office parks, super-regional shopping malls, and gleaming business headquarters that clustered along the nation’s metropolitan highway exchanges. Muller concluded that “suburbia,” was now the “essence of the contemporary American city,” no longer “sub” to the “urb.”63 By the early 1970s, suburban employment outnumbered city jobs for first time, and suburban “edge cities,” such as the Washington D.C. Beltway; Schaumburg, Illinois; Boston’s Route 128 corridor; Seattle’s high-tech suburbs such as Redmond and Bellevue; and California’s Silicon Valley played a central role in the nation’s economy. By the 1990s, fewer than one in five metropolitan area jobs were located within three miles of the old central business district, whereas almost half were located ten or more miles from that center.64 While many central cities rebounded in the 2000s with new high-tech and innovation clusters of their own, they now represented just one part of the complex and poly-nucleated metropolitan economies that Muller explored in the 1970s. Analysts increasingly recognized these metropolitan economies as the drivers of the nation’s economy, competing independently in the global marketplace against other metro areas worldwide. By 2010, this metropolitan ascendance was evident: the 100 largest metro areas in the United States were responsible for three-quarters of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).65

After 1970, these trends played out across a pervasive physical pattern of suburban sprawl. Between 1982 and 2012, metropolitan regions ballooned in area, with real-estate development consuming 43 million acres of rural land, an area larger than Washington State. By 2002, according to one estimate, the United States was losing two acres of farmland per minute to suburban development.66 Low-density, auto-dependent development characterized fast-growing regions such as Atlanta and Los Angeles, where residents endured multi-hour commutes from new “drive ‘til you qualify” subdivisions in the rural fringe. Even in comparatively slow-growing metro areas such as Pittsburgh and Detroit, rates of suburban sprawl outpaced population growth.67 By the early 21st century, Americans were driving more miles, spending more time in the car, and using more energy than ever before. Per-capita automobile miles driven tripled between 1960 and 2003, resulting in gridlock, taxi-parenting, and hectic patterns of family life on the road that became common features of modern suburbia.68 The fiscal costs of sprawl were equally significant. As U.S. suburban areas spent billions on new infrastructure, existing urban systems deteriorated, resulting in continued disparities between growing suburbs and declining urban and inner suburban places. Even on the fringe, however, low-density sprawl frequently failed to pay for itself. As Myron Orfield shows, fast growing “exurban” areas were among the most fiscally stressed metropolitan communities, with major imbalances in tax revenue versus needs for service.69 To make ends meet, thousands of suburban governments employed “fiscal zoning,” restricting apartments, raising lot sizes, and setting aside large areas for big box retailers to boost tax revenues. As many Americans looked forward to more sustainable ways of living, the sprawling landscapes of modern suburbia represented a major policy challenge.70

In contrast to the era of postwar “sitcom suburbs,” recent decades witnessed the construction of more varied types of suburban housing. In response to rising home prices, land shortages, and the growing crisis in affordability, corporate real-estate firms built millions of new suburban condominiums, attached homes, and apartments after 1970. Many of these were built as part of common interest developments (CIDs), and planned neighborhoods governed by homeowners’ associations, which were ruled according to strict covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). Home to fewer than 1% of the population in 1970, by 2015 as many as one in five Americans lived in a community governed by a private association, and homeowners’ associations dominated the market for new construction. In 2014, for example, 72% of new single-family homes were built as part of a homeowners’ association.71 For builders, CIDs squeezed more units (and dollars) out of finite acreage. Suburban municipalities, for their part, welcomed CIDs—despite higher densities and more affordable housing types—because private amenities such as pools, parks, and playgrounds reduced public expenditures. Finally, in a context of rising home prices, townhome and condo developments were among the few affordable housing options for many families. For first-time homebuyers, retirees, empty nesters, and families without children, condominiums and townhomes provided flexibility lacking in postwar “sitcom suburbs.” At the same time, the rise of CIDs signaled a shift away from the suburban dream of a single-family home in communion with nature. While average house sizes grew (2,450 square feet in 2014), lot sizes shrank.72

The proliferation of gated CIDs after 1990 raised additional debates about privacy, exclusivity, and social division across metro America. Research by anthropologist Setha Low suggested that rather than making residents safer, gated communities tended to intensify fears of crime and social distrust.73 Such concerns were brought into deadly focus in 2012 by the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in the gated enclave where he lived near Orlando, Florida.

Social Diversification

One of the most striking features of American suburbs since 1970 has been rapid social diversification, marking a return to suburbia’s historic diversity.74 After 1970, a wide cross-section of Americans settled the suburbs, including singles, divorced adults, gays, lesbians, the elderly, the poor, and perhaps most significantly an array of ethnic and racial groups. The proportion of working women also rose substantially, shattering earlier images of suburban housewives trapped at home. As more Americans settled in the suburbs, suburbia looked increasingly like America itself.

A confluence of forces underlay these changes. Trends affecting suburban women and families included the aging of baby boomers, the rise in feminism, economic slumps, and soaring inflation of the 1970s that pushed many women into the labor force. The suburban influx of racial and ethnic groups was spurred by new waves of immigration from Asia and Latin America in the wake of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, and the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Fair Housing Act of 1968, which improved minority job prospects and curbed housing discrimination. These factors created new demographic realities, while policy changes opened suburban areas—growing at a fast clip—to groups that were once fervently excluded.

One change was the suburban family, earlier typified by a working husband, homemaker wife, and the requisite two or three children. By 1970, scholars noted an increase in divorced, separated, and single adults living in the suburbs, as well as an uptick in working women. One study of the suburbs of Nassau County, New York, found that these trends accelerated from 1960 to 1980. By 1980, two of every five adults lived in a non-nuclear family arrangement (single, separated, divorced, or widowed). Families were having fewer children, and more than half of married women with children aged six to seven years worked outside the home. The author attributed the changes to an aging population, liberalized divorce laws, and the 1970s economic downturn which “propelled more married women into the labor market.”75 These trends continued over the next decades. By 2000, the suburbs contained more nonfamily households (29%)—mostly young singles and elderly people living alone—than married couples with children (27%). There were also substantial proportions of married couples with no kids under 18 (29%), and rising numbers of single parents, divorced, unmarried partners, and adult relatives living in suburban homes.76 By 2010, 75% of suburban homes did not contain a married-couple family with kids, exploding the older image of the “Leave it to Beaver” domicile.77 And while statistical data on the social geography of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) are elusive, a range of evidence suggests that gays and lesbians also migrated to suburbia.78 One catalyst was a shift in federal housing housing/borrowing eligibility guidelines by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which altered its definition of family away from heterosexual “marital or biological attachments” toward a more pluralist concept that would include “any stable family relationship,” including LGBTQ households.79 The powerful image of heterosexual “married with children” families in suburbia was giving way to the more complex family structures that mirrored national social change.

Ethnic and racial diversification was also significant. While African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans comprised just less than 10% of the suburban population in 1970, by 2010 they represented 28%. Minorities have propelled the bulk of recent suburban population gains in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, as demographer William Frey has noted.80 Even more striking are data on specific population groups. For example, from 1970 to 2010 the number of black suburbanites climbed from 3.5 to nearly 15 million, comprising 39% of all African Americans. Even faster growth occurred among Latinos and Asians, who endured less severe housing discrimination than blacks. By 2010, 46% of Latinos and 48% of Asians nationally resided in the suburbs. And in the largest 100 metro areas, the proportions were even higher—62% of Asian Americans and 59% of Latinos. Immigrants comprised a significant portion of new suburbanites as well. By 2013, suburbia housed 50% of foreign-born residents in the United States, and numbers were even greater in the biggest metropolitan areas, where most immigrants lived.81

Even the iconic postwar suburbs reflected these changes, though in different ways. In Park Forest, the site where William Whyte documented social conformity in his 1956 best-seller Organization Man, liberal activists initiated a program of “managed integration” in the 1960s and 1970s to recruit African-American neighbors gradually. As a strategy designed to stave off white flight, the approach seemed to work at first: from 1970 to 1990, the proportion of blacks rose from just 2.3% to 24.4% of the local populace. From 2000 to 2010, however, a process of racial resegregation accelerated; large numbers of whites left the suburb and the proportion of African Americans rose from 39.4 to 59.8%.82 Lakewood, a postwar mass-produced suburb in southern Los Angeles, drew national attention in the 1950s when it became the largest development in the country with 17,500 homes, surpassing even Levittown. Lakewood eventually became a site of robust multiethnic diversity: by 2010, the population was 40.9% white, 30.1% Latino, 16% Asian, and 8.3% black, making it one of L.A.’s most racially balanced cities.83 The irony was thick. The very suburbs once reviled for their monotonous landscapes—which supposedly churned out monotonous, conforming people—became the staging ground for racial and ethnic diversity. In some ways, this was no surprise because these communities, which were originally built to be affordable, maintained that quality once nonwhite buyers gained the economic wherewithal to become suburban homeowners and the barriers to racial segregation fell. In Levittown, New York, by contrast, whites maintained an overwhelming majority, comprising more than 80% of the population as late as 2010.84 All three places illustrate trends in suburbia since 1970—growing diversity alongside persistent racial segregation.

Figure 4.1. Park Forest, Illinois, 2010 (total population: 21,975).

Source: U.S. Census, Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010, accessed on American Fact Finder.

Figure 4.2. Lakewood, California, 2010 (total population: 80,048).

Source: U.S. Census, Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010, accessed on American Fact Finder.

Figure 4.3. Levittown, New York, 2010 (total population: 51,881).

Source: U.S. Census, Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010, accessed on American Fact Finder.

Another notable trend was the rise of class inequality across suburbia, with growth in both poor and rich suburbs. While poor people had long resided in the periphery, after 1970 a different set of pressures accelerated the trend. A crucial factor was economic restructuring, which created an “hourglass economy” characterized by high- and low-paying jobs, a shrinking middle class, and falling income levels for most Americans. The effects of these structural changes reverberated across suburban space. Many inner-ring suburbs contended with aging housing and infrastructure and high service needs from a growingly poor, immigrant populace. Deindustrialization in the 1970s and 1980s, in turn, devastated older industrial suburbs, which suffered a difficult combination of job loss, white flight, and environmental degradation in the wake of industry’s departure.85 Suburban poverty accelerated after 2000, as Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube have shown, driven by two economic recessions and the continued effects of restructuring and globalization.86

In addition to these economic forces, public policy also played a role. Reversing years of policies that protected the rights of suburbs to exclude the poor, the federal government gradually promoted the dispersal of low-income families into suburban areas through policies such as the 1974 Section 8 voucher program, which granted a housing allowance to people with qualified incomes who could then choose their own housing on the open market—thus untethering them from public housing projects concentrated in poor urban areas. Fair-share housing initiatives and modest inclusionary zoning and affordable housing programs also helped open the suburbs to poorer people.87 As a result, the number of poor people in the suburbs climbed. In the 1980s and 1990s, poor populations increased in both cities and suburbs; however, in the 1990s and 2000s, the rate of increase in suburbs was twice that of cities. During the 2000s, moreover, for the first time more poor people lived in suburbs than in cities—signaling that metropolitan America had “crossed an economic Rubicon.” By 2010, 55% of the metropolitan poor lived in the suburbs, while one in three poor Americans overall lived in the suburbs, “making them home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country.”88

At the same time, affluent suburbs proliferated, especially around high-tech and financial hubs like the Silicon Valley, California, Boston’s Route 128, and Fairfield County, Connecticut. Wealthy executives, tech workers, and professionals clustered in these upscale areas, their outsized salaries driving real estate prices to stratospheric levels. Despite the much-heralded return to the city by millennials and the “creative class” (i.e., workers in “knowledge intensive industries” such as computer science, medicine, the arts, and education) as late as 2014, the super-rich concentrated in tony suburbs of the bi-coastal economy in places like Greenwich, Connecticut, Coral Gables, Florida, and Newport Beach, California.89 The middle class, meanwhile, faced mixed prospects in suburbia.90

In the 21st century, American suburbs have come to house a cross section of America itself, including the poor, the rich, and a broad array of racial and ethnic groups and family types. Inequality was reproduced across suburbia, while ethno-racial diversity set the stage for emerging forms of suburban lifeways and politics.

Social Life

Suburban variations led to disparate social experiences, yielding a mosaic of suburban social histories after 1970. While it is impossible to offer a synthesis of this history due to wide variations among suburbanites themselves as well as the nascent nature of the scholarship, certain salient themes have emerged on social life and suburban ideals in the post-1970 era.

One group of scholars has emphasized a trend of social disconnection, especially among whites. After the intensive sociability of the 1950s and 1960s, suburbanites after 1970 appeared to swing to the other extreme—social alienation and detachment. This was apparent in ethnographer M.P. Baumgartner’s book The Moral Order of a Suburb. Conducting field work in a suburb of New York City in the late 1970s, Baumgartner was interested in exploring how people handled conflict in their town. What she found was a culture of tolerance and avoidance. The suburb lacked “social integration,” and instead was defined by a sense of indifference between neighbors. Avoidance as a strategy was thus logical: “It is easy to end a relationship that hardly exists.”91 She attributed this lack of neighborhood connectedness to the privatism of families; the high mobility of homeowners, making it hard for them to form lasting bonds; and the compartmentalizing of social life (at work, at church and synagogue, and at school). Other scholars extended this theme in exploring fear and privatism in suburbia, characterized in the extreme by the rise of privatized, gated neighborhoods.92 By 2000, observers from political scientist Robert Putman in his landmark book Bowling Alone to proponents of the New Urbanism agreed that suburbs fostered social and civic disconnection.93 It was no coincidence that this change occurred at the moment many suburbs were diversifying. One study of Pasadena, California, over this time period found that racial integration in the 1970s had variable effects on community engagement among suburbanites, pushing some whites into their own insular social communities, reorienting the nature and purpose of local clubs and organization as they saw their numbers decline, and creating some pockets of multiracial social vibrancy.94 This comports roughly with the findings of some political and social scientists, who observed decreased levels of “social capital” in communities experiencing ethno-racial diversification.95

At the same time some suburbanites were retreating, others created new cultures and lifeways in the suburbs. Scholarship on ethnic suburbia, in particular, documented this from several angles. Anthropologist Sarah Mahler investigated the lives of working-poor Salvadoran immigrants living in substandard housing in Long Island, New York. The enormous economic pressures they faced, from the challenge to survive on low wages while also supporting families in El Salvador, altered the social dynamic in the Salvadoran community, away from co-ethnic reciprocity toward more individualistic survival. “Burdened with debt and remittance responsibilities,” Mahler writes, immigrant suburbanites “frequently must wring this surplus out of their own deprivation, forgoing everything but an ascetic existence.”96 A more robust ethnic culture developed in the middle-class suburbs of the west San Gabriel Valley, California, where Asian and Latino residents fostered community life and values around ideals of racial inclusivity. Wendy Cheng describes this as a “moral geography of differentiated space . . . a world view that challenged and opposed whiteness as property.”97 Remaining in these communities as white residents fled, Asian American and Mexican American residents valued the comfort and familiarity of interracial spaces. Groups like the Boy Scouts reflected this multiethnic sensibility, which in turn stimulated high levels of participation both by boys and their parents.98

Figure 5. Suburban childhood, 1989. Mark Padoongpatt, age 6, the son of Thai immigrants, stands in front of his suburban home in Arleta, a neighborhood in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley inhabited by Mexican Americans, Salvadorans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Thais, African Americans, and Anglos.

Photograph by Victor Chalermki used by permission of Mark Padoongpatt.

Figure 6. Suburban strip in Tukwila, Washington, 2014. These shops catered to the community’s African immigrant residents.

Photograph by Lucas Wiese.

Figure 7. Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple, located in a suburban residential area of Hacienda Heights, California, 2014.

Photograph by Becky Nicolaides.

Robust displays of ethnic culture and identity were strongest in what geographer Wei Li described as “ethnoburbs,” defined as “suburban ethnic clusters of residential and business districts . . . [that] are multiracial/multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual, and often multinational communities.”99 In ethnoburbs, ethnic culture is constantly refreshed by the transnational flow of immigrants, capital, and businesses. In contrast to older sociological models that considered the suburbs a site of Americanization, ethnoburbs reinforced and sustained ethnicity within suburbia (see Figures 57).

Ethnoburbs appeared across the country, in places like the San Gabriel Valley and Silicon Valley, California, Langley Park, Maryland, Palisades Park, New Jersey, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, and Chamblee, Georgia. In ethnic suburbs, some residents forged new suburban ideals around such values as robust public life, defying long-standing suburban traditions of privatism. For example, Thai residents of the east San Fernando Valley, California, held lively weekend food festivals at the Wat Thai Buddhist Temple, a quasi-public community space. Asian-Indian residents of Woodbridge, New Jersey, celebrated days-long Navrati festivals under enormous tents, with music, dancing, and vendors selling traditional Indian food and dress. Along Whittier Boulevard—which traversed the suburbs of Montebello, Pico Rivera, and Whittier, outside of Los Angeles, Mexican-American youth developed a cruising culture tied to the use of suburban public space.100 These practices helped cultivate community, and as Mark Padoongpatt writes of the Wat Thai festivals, “fostered a public sociability that went against dominant and even legal definitions of suburbia.”101

Politics across Diverse Suburbia

Suburban politics after 1970 came to reflect these differences as well, revealing political leanings as varied as suburbanites themselves. One powerful strand worked to sustain suburban privilege. The solid tradition of tax-averse homeowner politics remained strong, and in the post-civil rights era, white suburbanites, especially, increasingly deployed a discourse of colorblind meritocratic individualism to defend their rights, claiming that suburbs were open equally to all and race and class played no role in who lived where. In general, this politics worked to protect suburbanites’ fiscal resources, to defend their quality of life, and to maintain class and racial segregation. Suburban citizens framed these efforts in terms of their hard-earned rights as taxpaying homeowners, which they felt were under siege by free-spending liberals, minorities, the urban poor, inefficient government, and even drug pushers. This political agenda manifested in several ways. One was a full-fledged tax revolt movement. In 1978, California taxpayers resoundingly passed Proposition 13, a measure that placed severe limits on property tax rates. This campaign led the way for similar tax revolts in other states and helped propel former California governor, Ronald Reagan, a fervent supporter of Prop 13, to the White House in 1980. Reagan embraced many of the core principles of this campaign—cutting taxes and government power—suggesting the national resonance of suburban political ideals.102 Second, many suburbanites opposed initiatives seeking to close the gap between cities and suburbs in terms of wealth, opportunity, and race. Across the country, suburbanites mobilized against busing for school integration, open housing, affordable housing, and Section 8 tenants.103 In a similar way, nonpartisan suburban NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) campaigns proliferated against public and nonprofit projects such as group homes, AIDS clinics, daycare centers, garbage dumps, and nuclear power plants.104 Their actions suggested that suburbanites sought to reap the benefits of metropolitan belonging while minimizing its burdens. A third manifestation was suburbia’s role in the war on drugs. As recent work by Matt Lassiter shows, it created a policy approach that perceived a binary of “white suburban addict-victims and minority ghetto predator-criminals.” This construct reinforced in American political culture a tendency to demonize urban minorities while rendering white suburbanites as innocent victims, an oversimplification that belied more complex realities.105 The cumulative effect of these efforts, many of them successful, was to reinforce inequality across metropolitan space. Moreover, these efforts attracted the attention of politicians at the national level, who increasingly cultivated these voters’ support through federal policies and judicial appointments that supported suburban prerogatives. During the Richard Nixon presidency, for instance, the Federal government limited its support for fair housing, metropolitan school integration, and the dispersal of affordable housing.106

In the wake of civil rights laws that broke down explicit racial barriers in the housing market, suburban exclusion increasingly pivoted on class, fueling class segregation since 1980.107 Local governments played a crucial role in this. Some suburbanites withdrew into privately owned and governed residential enclaves, known as Common Interest Developments (CIDs) or what Evan McKenzie labelled “privatopias” for their capacity to concentrate local resources under tight local control.108 In CIDs, civic and social belonging was restricted to select groups defined by ownership as opposed to citizenship. Suburbanites also used local zoning and building regulations as colorblind tools to exclude low-income residents through tactics like “exclusionary”—or “snob”—zoning, environmental protection codes, land trusts, historic preservation, and no-growth activism, which effectively shut out affordable housing. “Snob” zoning, for example, required large lots and floor areas and limited construction to single-family homes while prohibiting apartments and other multifamily dwellings. While housing and civil rights activists recognized this trend as early as the 1960s, it intensified over the following decades. These local initiatives were pushed not only by whites, but also some affluent Asian Americans who recognized value in suburban exclusivity.109 During the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases upheld these broad municipal powers, defining “general welfare” in terms of the existing residents of a community, making it impossible for new, poorer residents to enter in and have a civic voice. As race disappeared from the rhetoric of suburban exclusion, it was replaced by a class-oriented discourse of property values, landscape aesthetics, tax rates, congestion, and environmental protection, often captured by the catchall phrase “quality of life.” One result was a crisis in affordable housing, with deep ramifications for African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities who generally earned less money than whites. By harnessing the power of local government, suburbanites maintained exclusionary practices using new tools and approaches.110

This suburban outlook continued to influence the political parties and their agendas at the national level. The Republicans remained aligned with this suburban worldview, and by the 1990s the Democrats too—traditionally a city-based party—recognized the importance of the “suburban vote” and altered its ideology and platforms to win over this critical bloc. For the Democrats, this adjustment was enormous, forcing the party to recalibrate its traditional commitment to the urban poor, minorities, and labor (and their demand for public programs), with a new commitment to middle-class suburban voters (and their aversion to taxes and social welfare spending, and their reluctance to imperil their own property values). Some saw this adjustment—known variously as the “third way” or the “New Democrats”—as the effective death of liberalism; others saw it as a realistic shift toward the political center. In either case, the influence of suburban political culture on the party’s shifting values was enormous.111 In her study of Boston’s Route 128 suburbs, Lily Geismer described a hierarchical set of values among suburban liberals that justified their support of progressive causes like racially open housing while simultaneously opposing affordable housing. As progressive citizens who lived in suburbia, they viewed themselves as somehow apart, as “separate from, and not responsible for, many of the consequences of suburban growth and the forms of inequality and segregation that suburban development fortified.”112 This captured a central dilemma of suburban Democrats.

Parallel to this suburban politics of defensive self-interest, a contrasting strand of progressive, social justice politics grew in the suburbs, particularly those experiencing ethno-racial change. As social diversification increased, so did new political agendas and forms of political organization, revealing “progressive potential in places once dismissed as reactionary.”113 Progressive organizations included the Suburban Action Institute, established in 1969 to wage legal battles against exclusionary zoning, and Long Island’s Workplace Project and the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project of Chicago, which campaigned to secure better education, workplace rights, and immigration reform. One study deployed Henri Lefebvre’s concept of “right to the city” to analyze progressive suburban activism. It focused on Maywood, California, southeast of Los Angeles, a suburb of working-class Latino immigrants (including the undocumented) who claimed rights by virtue of inhabitance in particular places. They mobilized around the issue of immigrant rights, challenging the local police practice of using DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) checkpoints to identify and criminalize undocumented immigrants, who were charged high fees for towing, impounding and fines, which amounted to “a municipal tax on immigrants.”114 A grassroots movement successfully challenged this policy, and went on to win seats on the city council which ultimately declared Maywood a “sanctuary city.”115 Maywood and neighboring Latino suburbs also waged environmental justice campaigns.116 Other progressive initiatives were launched in places like Alviso and Richmond, Ca., Silver Spring, Md., Shaker Heights, Oh., and suburbs around Cincinnati and Chicago.117

Reforming Suburbia

The cumulative effects of suburban expansion since 1970 ranged from the toll on the environment, to the fiscal drain on both cities and outer suburbs, to the stubborn persistence of class and race segregation, to the everyday burdens of long commutes and social isolation and stimulated a wave of reform. Initiatives were wide ranging, some winning more public favor than others. All of these efforts sought to mitigate the effects of suburban sprawl through more equitable, diverse, and sustainable forms of metropolitan development.

Some of these initiatives stemmed from the growing recognition that metropolitan areas had become the drivers of the national—and global—economy. As such, they held more importance than ever as the fulcrum of the nation’s economic health. Scholars like Bruce Katz, Mark Muro, and Jennifer Bradley argue that the stakes are high when it comes to metropolitan well-being because they compete against other global metropolises in a race for capital and investment. Only those with “future growth plans that minimize traffic gridlock, pollution, ugly sprawl, and environmental devastation” can hope to succeed. Because the national economy hinges on vibrant, high-functioning metros, they contend, the federal government must reorient its economic development policies toward enhancing their power and resources (e.g., by funneling infrastructure money directly to metro areas instead of the states).118

Other regional reformers extend this logic, arguing that metro-wide equity is crucial to metropolitan health and competitiveness in the global marketplace. Recognizing the negative effects of suburban political balkanization, which gives individual suburban municipalities the powers to act in their own narrow self-interest and veto wider social obligations, these reformers sought ways to overcome this suburban intransigence. They crafted programs that operated on a regional scale and emphasized the mutual benefits to all metropolitan players, suburban and urban alike, with regional equity and prosperity as the intertwined end goals. Urban analysts such as David Rusk, Myron Orfield, Peter Dreier, Manuel Pastor, and Chris Benner argued that metropolitan regions work best when class disparities are lessened, poverty is reduced, and communities across the board share both the benefits (like jobs) and obligations (like affordable housing) of metropolitan citizenship. As one study noted, “[C]ities and suburbs have become interdependent parts of shared regional economies. A number of recent studies have indicated that problem-ridden cities and declining suburbs go hand in hand. In other words, suburban islands of prosperity cannot exist in a sea of poverty.”119 Poverty and inequality, they contend, drag down an entire metro region. For the good of all metropolitan players (e.g., rich, poor, businessmen, and workers) equity is a prerequisite if a metropolis stands any chance in the global economic race.120

One plan to level the metropolitan playing field was proposed by legislator and legal scholar Myron Orfield, based on initiatives he spearheaded in Minneapolis–St. Paul during his term in the Minnesota State Legislature (1991–2003). Orfield’s approach was predicated on his detailed demographic analysis of American suburbs, which showed a wide range from prosperous to severely fiscally stressed. All suburbs, he argued, served to benefit from greater regional equity. To achieve this, he called for regional tax-base sharing that would lessen wasteful competition among suburbs and gradually equalize their resources, provide regionally coordinated planning of housing and infrastructure, and facilitate the formation of strong, accountable regional governing bodies. Orfield couched this as a “win–win” for cities and all suburbs based on their shared interests in metropolitan success.121

A related reform movement is known as “Smart Growth.” This approach calls for the close coordination of metropolitan land-use planning to support efficient and environmentally friendly development. Seeking to stop the relentless push of outward sprawl, it supports higher-density, mixed-use developments closer to existing communities and job centers, metro growth boundaries, the preservation of open space for parks, farmland, and native habitat, and in-fill projects. The rationale is to move away from wasteful and environmentally draining sprawl toward denser, more environmentally sustainable development.122 Oregon was a pioneer in the Smart Growth movement, passing the nation’s first statewide land use act in 1973, which established growth boundaries for metro areas such as Portland. Other regions followed with similar legislation, including Minneapolis–St. Paul in 1994, Maryland (which passed a Smart Growth Act in 1997) as well as Florida, Arizona, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In 1998 alone, 240 state and local ballot initiatives related to land use and growth, with voters approving more than 70% of these initiatives; by 2000, more than 550 growth-related initiatives appeared on ballots, 72% of which passed.123

Figure 8. The Del Mar Station project in Pasadena, Ca., exemplifies New Urbanism principles. It is a transit-oriented development that combines apartments (including 15 percent affordable units), retail, restaurants, and a plaza, all adjacent to a Metro station. In 2003, it won a Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award.

An influential off-shoot of Smart Growth is New Urbanism, a movement of designers, architects, developers, and planners which coalesced in the late 1980s.124 In 1993, they founded the Congress for New Urbanism to promote the principles of compact, mixed-used, walkable developments—tenets that completely inverted the design of post-WWII suburbs. As their charter states, “We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.”125

Smart Growth and New Urbanism are not without their critics. Some decry their tendency to promote gentrification, drive housing prices upward, and insufficiently provide for low-income residents. Because Smart Growth often limits the amount of developable land, it tends to help established homeowners by driving up their property values, while locking everyone else out. Describing Smart Growth in Los Angeles, Mike Davis characterized it as homeowner exclusivism, “whether the immediate issue is apartment construction, commercial encroachment, school busing, crime, taxes, or simply community designation,” with only the flimsiest link to environmentalism.126 The same squeeze on land can promote gentrification. Smart Growth pioneer Portland, Oregon, for example, landed at the top of recent lists on metro areas with accelerating gentrification. Ringed by strict growth boundaries, the city became denser and housing prices and rents spiked, fueling gentrification. The trend hit the African American community especially hard. The city’s core lost 10,000 blacks from 2000 to 2010; historically black neighborhoods like King, Woodlawn, and Boise-Eliot transitioned to majority white. The result is what one account dubbed “the racial failure of New Urbanism.”127

Suburban Crisis, Suburban Regeneration

In recent years, the suburbs came under a new round of criticism, this time perhaps the harshest yet. While bands like Green Day and Arcade Fire wailed on the suburbs for killing youthful freedom and joy, echoing generations of suburban critics, writers like Fortune Magazine’s Leigh Gallagher took it a step further by declaring “The End of the Suburbs” in her 2013 best-selling book. The alarm was justifiably stoked by the Great Recession of 2007–2009, which devastated millions of American families who lost their homes to foreclosure, or saw their suburban home values plummet. Many questioned the wisdom of home ownership, which in turn cast doubt on the viability of suburbia altogether. These concerns, along with worries over sprawl’s negative impacts on climate change and millennials’ desires for more urban styles of living, fueled a back-to-the-city movement. Writers like Gallagher contended this was the end of the line for the suburbs. Americans were finally turning their backs on the form, reversing a long history of sprawling development. “Speaking simply,” she wrote, “more and more Americans don’t want to live there anymore.”128

Yet different trends suggested otherwise. Immigrants, young families, seniors emotionally attached to their homes, and others continued gravitating toward suburban homeplaces, for a host of reasons—whether good schools, nostalgia, ethnic familiarity, jobs, or few good alternatives. Recent data suggests a return of suburban growth, after a post-recession slowdown.129 In turn, contemporary suburbia is showing signs of change, adaptation, and stasis—all at once. As Manuel Pastor noted at a recent roundtable discussion on Suburban Crisis, Suburban Regeneration “the suburbs have a future, but the future ain’t what it used to be.” Some suburbs have transformed into ethnoburbs that support the values and needs of new immigrants, some have spawned social justice movements, others are adapting to aging populations through innovative retrofitting, while still others persist seemingly untouched, clinging to deeply entrenched traditions.130 The discourse of suburbia’s demise may have attracted much public attention, but it masks the fascinating ways that the nation’s suburbs continue to claim a central, dynamic place in American life.

Discussion of the Literature

The historical scholarship of post-1945 suburbia has flourished in recent decades, pushing the boundaries of urban history scholarship. As suburbia’s role in postwar American life has grown stronger and broader, historians have responded by exploring multiple angles of this influence.

A foundational text is Kenneth T. Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (1985), which provided the first comprehensive overview of American suburban history. Adopting a definition of suburbia that emphasized their white, affluent, and middle-class character, Jackson surveyed the major stages of suburban development, starting with the elite 19th-century romantic suburbs, then tracing the gradual democratization of the form from streetcar and automobile suburbs to postwar mass-produced suburbs. While Jackson identified the broad forces that underlay this evolution, his emphasis on federal policy was a seminal contribution, outlining how Washington, D.C., not only subsidized massive postwar suburbanization but created racial/class exclusion in the process. The results were devastating for cities and the minorities and poor left behind. Along with Robert Fishman in Bourgeois Utopias (1986), Jackson established a normative portrait of suburbs as residential spaces of affluent white privilege. In a 30-year retrospective on Crabgrass Frontier, Dianne Harris noted that because the book established a clear set of characteristics for the suburbs (i.e., racial and economic homogeneity, gender roles, and architectural similarity), historians since had “a template with which to compare and contrast, and yes, to push back against.”131 Working around the same time as Jackson and Fishman, historians Carol O’Connor, John Archer, Mary Corbin Sies, and Michael Ebner traced the roots of elite and socially exclusive suburbs and their subsequent trajectories into the 20th century.132

Iconic postwar suburbs like Levittown were the focus of a cluster of studies that followed, including Barbara Kelley’s analysis of quotidian architectural practices in Levittown, Long Island; Dianne Harris’ edited collection on Levittown, Pennsylvania; and Elizabeth Ewen and Rosalyn Baxandall’s historical survey of Long Island’s suburbs. Like others before them, these works often took a local focus, digging deeply into the culture, architecture, politics, and institutions of specific suburban sites.133

Other scholars pushed the boundaries of analysis, both geographically and demographically. One important current has been dubbed “the metropolitan turn.” Scholars in this school analyzed suburbs not in isolation but as fully embedded in the metropolitan political economy. These works pulled the lens back to explore not only “the ideological, political, and economic issues that bound city and suburb together in the postwar world” but also the “tensions that divided suburbs as they competed for business, development, and investment in the politically and socioeconomically fragmented metropolis.”134 Jon Teaford’s pioneering work analyzed the politics and governance of metropolitan fragmentation. Since 1990, Thomas Sugrue, Robert Self, Matthew Lassiter, and Kevin Kruse have produced influential works that investigated the ways suburbs proactively created and protected advantage—in the realms of business growth, politics (from conservative to centrist), wealth, and infrastructure—establishing enduring patterns of metropolitan inequality.135 The “metropolitan turn” is also exemplified in recent scholarship by Lily Geismer, Andrew Highsmith, Ansley Erickson, Andrew Needham, Allan Dietrich-Ward, and Lila Berman, among others, who explored suburbs within a metropolitan scale of analysis, around issues such as liberalism, schooling, environmentalism, and religion.136

Scholars have also explored the role of metropolitan spaces producing social distinctions such as race, gender, and sexuality. From the early postwar years, activist scholars such as Robert Weaver, Charles Abrams, and Clement Vose pioneered a large body of literature documenting discrimination in housing and the disadvantages of racial segregation in U.S. metro areas. In the 1980s and 1990s, scholars extended these insights, exploring the social and spatial production of inequality in metropolitan contexts. Feminist scholars such as Dolores Hayden illuminated the ways that separate and unequal assumptions about gender were built into the spaces of postwar suburbia.137 Arnold Hirsch, George Lipsitz, and Thomas Sugrue revealed how biased federal housing policies, unequal access to homeownership, and suburbanization helped to forge an enlarged sense of white racial identity in postwar America that was attached to distinct social advantages—what Lipsitz called “a possessive investment in whiteness.”138 Scholars such as David Freund, Eric Avila, and Robert Self show that ideas about race and white supremacy became inscribed in spaces ranging from suburban property markets to municipalities to popular culture and to the metropolis as a whole.139

Another current of analysis pushed demographic boundaries, challenging the assumption that suburbs were white, middle class by definition. They argued for a more expansive profile that incorporated class, race, and ethnic diversity. Revisionist scholars such as Bruce Haynes, Andrew Wiese, Emily Straus, Matthew Garcia, Jerry Gonzalez, and Becky Nicolaides explored histories of African Americans, Mexican Americans, and white working-class suburbs. They identified distinct lifeways, cultures, and politics that in some cases stood apart from mainstream white suburbs, though in others replicated their class-driven concerns in the postwar period.140

This focus on diverse suburbia carried forward in studies of the post-1970 era. This work offers some of the most robust challenges to the trope of suburbia as the domain of white middle-class privilege. This approach reflects not only a revisionist analytical perspective but also the changing realities of life in suburbs where immigrants, ethnic groups, racial minorities, and the poor have had time to settle in. Geographers and demographers began by mapping out changing demographic patterns in metropolitan areas, establishing a critical baseline for qualitative scholarship.141 Subsequent scholars explored the internal dynamics and histories of these communities. An early focus was on ethnic suburbs. Pioneering studies by Timothy Fong, Leland Saito, and John Horton explored the explosive racial politics that erupted in Monterey Park, California, when it transitioned from all-white to multiethnic, while scholars like Wei Li and Min Zhou theorized new models of race and space around processes of ethnic suburban settlement. Asian-American suburbanization, in fact, emerged as a particularly robust field of inquiry perhaps because Asians gained an early foothold in postwar suburbs and became the “most suburban” of all ethnic groups. These studies explored the nature and implication of settlement patterns, spatial practices, transnational connections, political and cultural practices, and internal community dynamics.142 More recently, historians have explored social justice politics in suburbia, some such as Lily Geismer emphasizing the limits of racial liberalism, others identifying vigorous progressive activism around issues like immigrant rights. This latest wave of scholarship, perhaps more than any, offers bold alternatives to the orthodox narrative, recognizing in suburbia multiple politics, culture, lifeways, and values which reflect the outlook of their diverse inhabitants.143

Primary Sources

Historical sources on postwar suburbia exist in multiple locales, depending on the scale of analysis. For localized research on individual suburbs, sources often exist in local libraries, historical societies, or state historical societies. Materials may include local newspapers, clip files, real-estate promotional material, oral histories, and records of local institutions. Because local newspapers are rarely digitized, most are available on microfilm or in original paper form. Municipal city halls may contain city council and planning department records, local ordinances, design review board minutes, mayoral papers, and the records of other local governing bodies, though some local public documents have been deposited in local or state archives. Some university libraries also hold material relating to suburban neighborhoods, while some specialized archives—such as the Huntington Library in Los Angeles, the Chicago Historical Society, and Detroit’s Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs—contain a wealth of local history materials, maps, booklets, real-estate ephemera, and private and public organization records. For the Levittowns, no intact corporate archive exists according to Dianne Harris.144 For Park Forest, Illinois, and Lakewood, California, good holdings exist at the local public libraries.

At the county and metropolitan level, records may be available in county government offices—including property records such as building, deed, and mortgage records, which are indispensable to histories of real-estate development. Regional governing and planning bodies and university libraries may also hold regional reports on metropolitan transit, infrastructure, housing, planning, and the like. On the history of metro-wide politics, around issues such as busing, redevelopment, public housing, and environmentalism, university archives often hold the papers of key individuals, agencies, or advocacy groups. It is worth exploring the special collections in local universities of the metro area under study.

The National Archives holds a number of important collections that reflect federal policies on metropolitan areas such as the Housing and Home Finance Agency/Department of Housing and Urban Development, which includes the Home Owners Loan Corporation (e.g., individual city survey files and maps; a growing body of this material has been digitized on a few websites), the Federal Housing Administration and the Public Housing Administration.

The built landscape itself is an excellent source for exploring the history of post 1945-suburbia, since much of this landscape is still intact. Homes, commercial districts, parks, streetscapes, job clusters, and physical barriers between segregated suburbs, as well as New Urbanist complexes and physical growth boundaries in Smart Growth cities, are all important markers of the suburban past. In 2002, the National Park Service also issued its own standards for historic preservation of America’s suburbs, called “Historic Residential Suburbs: Guidelines for Evaluation and Documentation for the National Register of Historic Places.” Although somewhat outdated, it reflects the preservation field’s understanding of America’s suburban past.

Links to Digital Materials and Archives

Links on metropolitan inequality, racial, class, and ethnic geographies:
  • HOLC Maps—This collection is produced by Professor LaDale Winling of Virginia Tech. It shows the color-coded residential security maps produced by the HOLC in the late 1930s, which became the basis of “redlining.”
  • Center for Metropolitan Opportunity, University of Minnesota, School of Law—This website explores the diverse fiscal conditions and disparities across metropolitan America.
  • Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program—This program provides timely trend analysis, cutting-edge research and policy ideas for improving the health and prosperity of cities and metropolitan areas. The site includes events, media reports, research and commentary, projects, news and blogs.
  • Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the American City—Professor Colin Gordon’s excellent website mapping white flight, race and property, municipal zoning, and urban renewal. Offers rich context for the Ferguson crisis.
  • American Panorama: The Atlas of the Historical Geography of the U.S.—This online map collection is created by the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, edited by Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers. It contains maps on foreign-born populations over time, and will include maps on redlining during the Depression and urban renewal.
Links on the contemporary challenges and future of suburbia:
  • The Atlantic CityLab—Up-to-date reporting and analysis on cities, suburbs, and metros.
  • Calthorpe Associates—Innovators in urban planning and design.
  • Congress for the New Urbanism—Main website for the national organization advocating for denser, more sustainable designs.
  • Sprawl Costs—New Urbanism’s overview of the multifaceted costs of sprawl.
  • Statistics on Sprawl, by the American Farmland Trust.
  • Sustainable Cities Collective—This independently moderated community is a clearinghouse of information on sustainable urbanism. “Looking at issues such as transportation, building practices, community planning & development, education, water, health and infrastructure, we hope to create a community where people can get involved and learn about the advances in how cities are becoming smarter and greener in the 21st century.”
  • Streetsblog—A website devoted to sustainable urbanism, it provides daily news feeds on “Sustainable transportation and livable communities.”
  •—This site bills itself as “The independent resource for people passionate about planning and related fields.” It is a public-interest website that deals with multiple aspects of metro planning.
  • The Urban Reinventors—An open-source on-line urban journal offering global perspectives on pressing issues facing metro areas.

Further Reading

  • Archer, John, Paul Sandul, and Katherine Solomonson, eds. Making Suburbia: New Histories of Everyday America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
  • Cheng, Wendy. The Changs Next Door to the Díazes: Remapping Race in Suburban California. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
  • Duaney, Andres, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. New York: North Point Press, 2000.
  • Harris, Dianne, ed. Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010.
  • Hayden, Dolores. Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820–2000. New York: Vintage, 2003.
  • Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
  • Kruse, Kevin M., and Thomas J. Sugrue, eds. The New Suburban History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
  • Lassiter, Matthew. Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.
  • McGirr, Lisa. Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  • Nicolaides, Becky. My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920–1965. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
  • Nicolaides, Becky and Andrew Wiese, eds. The Suburb Reader. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2016.
  • Orfield, Myron. American Metropolitics: The New Suburban Reality. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2002.
  • Self, Robert. American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.
  • Singer, Audrey, Susan W. Hardwick, and Caroline B. Brettell, eds. Twenty-First Century Gateways: Immigrant Incorporation in Suburban America. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2008.
  • Teaford, Jon. The American Suburb: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2008.
  • Wiese, Andrew. Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.


  • 1. Richard Harris and Robert Lewis, “The Geography of North American Cities and Suburbs,” Journal of Urban History 27.3 (March 2001), 263.

  • 2. See Ann Durkin Keating, “Suburbanization Before 1945,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. Ed. Jon Butler. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

  • 3. Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

  • 4. Dolores Hayden, Building Suburbia: Greenfields and Urban Growth, 1820–2000 (New York: Pantheon Books, 2003); Thomas Hanchett, “U.S. Tax Policy and the Shopping Center Boom of the 1950s and 1960s,” American Historical Review 101.4 (October 1996), 1082–1110; Owen Gutfreund, Twentieth Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

  • 5. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 205.

  • 6. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 203–208.

  • 7. Hayden, Building Suburbia, 133.

  • 8. Nonfarm Housing Starts, 1889–1958, Bulletin No. 1260, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960, 15–16. “Revised Estimates of New Nonfarm Housing Units Started, 1945–1958, U.S. Department of Commerce, Construction Reports: Housing Starts, C20–60, Issued June, 1964, p. 9. Documents accessed at

  • 9. Hayden, Building Suburbia, 133–135.

  • 10. James J. Jacobs, Detached America: Building Houses in Postwar Suburbia (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015), 20–21; Marion Clawson, Suburban Land Conversion in the U.S.: An Economic and Governmental Process (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971), 89–90.

  • 11. Jacobs, Detached America, 109–110.

  • 12. Jacobs, Detached America, chapters 4–5.

  • 13. Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Vintage, 2004), 260–278; David Smiley, Pedestrian Modern: Shopping and American Architecture, 1925–1956 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2013); Richard Longstreth, City Center to Regional Mall: Architecture, the Automobile, and Retailing in Los Angeles, 1920–1950 (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 1997).

  • 14. Louise Mozingo, Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 2011).

  • 15. Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of US Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

  • 16. William Laas, “The Suburbs are Strangling the City,” New York Times Magazine, June 18, 1950, 22, 52–53.

  • 17. Thomas Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

  • 18. Robert Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).

  • 19. Deborah Dash Moore, To the Golden Cities: Pursuing the American Jewish Dream in Miami and L.A. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994); Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998); David Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

  • 20. Thomas J. Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 9.

  • 21. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier; Andrew Wiese, Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the 20th Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

  • 22. Arnold Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); Raymond Mohl, “Making the Second Ghetto in Metropolitan Miami, 1940–1960,” Journal of Urban History 21 (March, 1995), 395–427; Charles Abrams, Forbidden Neighbors: A Study of Prejudice in Housing (New York: Harpers, 1955).

  • 23. Charlotte Brooks, Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

  • 24. Wiese, Places of Their Own; William H. Wilson, Hamilton Park: A Planned Black Community in Dallas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).

  • 25. Wiese, Places of Their Own.

  • 26. Key works on the Levittowns include Herbert Gans, The Levittowners: Ways of Life and Politics in the New Suburban Community (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982 ed.); William Dobriner, Class in Suburbia (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963); Dianne Harris, ed., Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010); Barbara Kelley, Expanding the American Dream: Building and Rebuilding Levittown (New York: SUNY Press, 1993); Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How The Suburbs Happened (New York: Basic Books, 2000). On Park Forest, Illinois, see William H. Whyte Jr., The Organization Man (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956).

  • 27. Otis Dudley Duncan and Albert J Reiss Jr., “Suburbs and Urban Fringe,” in The Suburban Community, ed. William M. Dobriner (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1958), 48–61; Hugh A. Wilson, “The Family in Suburbia: From Tradition to Pluralism,” in Suburbia Re-examined, ed. Barbara M. Kelly (New York: Greenwood, 1989), 85–86; Gwendolyn Wright, Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988), 256; Clayton Howard, “Building a ‘Family Friendly’ Metropolis: Sexuality, the State, and Postwar Housing Policy,” Journal of Urban History 39.5 (September 2013), 933–955.

  • 28. Ernest Mowrer, “The Family in Suburbia,” in The Suburban Community, ed. William M. Dobriner (New York: G. P. Putnam Sons, 1958), 158.

  • 29. Harris, ed., Second Suburb, 4–5; Gans, The Levittowners.

  • 30. Harris, ed., Second Suburb, 5–6; Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, chapter 13; Becky Nicolaides, My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working-Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920–1965 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), chapters 5–6.

  • 31. Baxandall and Ewen, How the Suburbs Happened, 144.

  • 32. Cohen, A Consumers Republic, chapter 5, quote at 255.

  • 33. Whyte, Organization Man, 287.

  • 34. Whyte, Organization Man, 280–298. Although Whyte went on to critique this way of life, he nonetheless depicted in detail a culture of vibrant neighborhood life.

  • 35. Baxandall and Ewen, How the Suburbs Happened, 146–156.

  • 36. Christopher Sellers, “Suburban Nature, Class, and Environmentalism in Levittown,” in Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania, ed. Dianne Harris (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010), 294–295.

  • 37. Chad M. Kimmel, “Revealing the History of Levittown, Once Voice at a Time,” in Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania, ed. Dianne Harris (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010), 30–31, 36.

  • 38. Baxandall and Ewen, How the Suburbs Happened, 154.

  • 39. Baxandall and Ewen, How the Suburbs Happened, 156.

  • 40. Gans, Levittowners, 154–155. Other works documenting strong social and civic engagement in suburbia in the 1950–1960s include John R. Seeley, R. Alexander Sim and Elizabeth W. Loosley, Crestwood Heights (New York: Basic Books, 1956); Sylvia Fleis Fava, “Contrasts in Neighboring,” in The Suburban Community, ed. William M. Dobriner (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1958); S.F. Fava, “Suburbanism as a Way of Life,” American Sociological Review 21 (February 1956), 34–38; Robert C. Wood, Suburbia: Its People and Their Politics (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1959); Claude S. Fischer and Robert Max Jackson, “Suburbanism and Localism,” in Networks and Places, eds., Fischer et. al. (New York: Free Press, 1977); Sylvie Murray, The Progressive Housewife: Community Activism in Suburban Queens, 1945–1965 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), chapter 4.

  • 41. Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988); Nancy Rubin, The New Suburban Woman: Beyond Myth and Motherhood (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1982), 58–59.

  • 42. Baxandall and Ewen, How the Suburbs Happened, 152.

  • 43. Baxandall and Ewen, How the Suburbs Happened, 156; Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945–1960 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994); Rubin, New Suburban Woman, 64–65. On women’s pivotal role in suburban politics, see Murray, Progressive Housewife: Michelle Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).

  • 44. On the television industry’s market-driven approach to depicting postwar suburban family life, see Nina C. Liebman, Living Room Lectures: The Fifties Family in Film and Television (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995).

  • 45. Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 243–246; Cohen, Consumers’ Republic. Scholars have recently explored how suburban elements such as home ownership and detached housing were an integral part of housing initiatives overseas during the Cold War. For the global reach of American suburban ideals in this period, see: Nancy Kwak, Homeownership for All: American Power and the Politics of Housing Aid Post-1945 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Lauren Hirschberg, “Nuclear Families: (Re)producting 1950s Suburban America in the Marshall Islands,” OAH Magazine of History 26.4 (2012): 39–43.

  • 46. Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origin, Its Transformation, and its Prospects (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), 494.

  • 47. Becky Nicolaides and Andrew Wiese, eds., The Suburb Reader, 2d ed. (New York: Routledge, 2016), chapter 10; Catherine Jurca, White Diaspora: The Suburb and the Twentieth-Century American Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Robert Beuka, SuburbiaNation: Reading Suburban Landscape in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film (New York: Palgrave, 2004); Martin Dines and Timotheus Vermeulen, eds., New Suburban Stories (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).

  • 48. Gans, The Levittowners; Bennett M. Berger, “The Myth of Suburbia,” Journal of Social Issues 17 (1961); William Dobriner, Class in Suburbia (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963); Bennett M. Berger, Working-Class Suburb: A Study of Autoworkers in Suburbia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969).

  • 49. For elaboration of this argument, see J. John Palen, The Suburbs (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 82–84.

  • 50. Matthew Lassiter, Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier; David M.P. Freund , Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Kevin Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), and see the authors in Kevin M. Kruse and Thomas J. Sugrue, eds., The New Suburban History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

  • 51. Lassiter, Silent Majority; Kruse, White Flight; Nicolaides, My Blue Heaven.

  • 52. Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warrior (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Michelle Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).

  • 53. Of this extensive literature, key works include: Arnold Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University press, 1983); Jonathan Rieder, Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of New York against Liberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987); Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis; Lassiter, Silent Majority; Nicolaides, My Blue Heaven; Robert Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003); Kruse, White Flight; Freund, Colored Property; Thomas Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2009); Kenneth D. Durr, Behind the Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940–1980 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: Norton, 2010); Andrew Highsmith, Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Ansley Erickson, Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

  • 54. Murray, Progressive Housewife, chapter 3; Daniel Martinez HoSang, Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Lily Geismer, Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014).

  • 55. Baxandall and Ewen, How the Suburbs Happened, 155.

  • 56. Thomas J. Sugrue, “Jim Crow’s Last Stand: The Struggle to Integrate Levittown,” in Dianne Harris, ed., Second Suburb, 175–199, quote at 175; Daisy D. Myers, “Reflections on Levittown,” in Harris, ed., Second Suburb, 41–59.

  • 57. Adam Rome, The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Andrew Wiese, “‘The Giddy Rise of the Environmentalists’: Corporate Real Estate Development and Environmental Politics in San Diego, California, 1968–73,” Environmental History 19 (January 2014), 28–54; Christopher C. Sellers, Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

  • 58. Christopher Sellers, “Suburban Nature, Class, and Environmentalism in Levittown,” in Dianne Harris, ed., Second Suburb, 281–313.

  • 59. Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (London: Verso Books, 1990), 120–159; Elizabeth Blackmar, “Of REITS and Rights: Absentee Ownership at the Periphery” in City, Country, Empire: Landscapes in Environmental History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005); Kevin Fox Gotham, “The Secondary Circuit of Capital Reconsidered: Globalization and the U.S. Real Estate Sector,” American Journal of Sociology, 112.1 (July 2006); Wiese, “‘The Giddy Rise of the Environmentalists.’”.

  • 60. Vladimir Atanasov and John J. Merrick Jr., “Liquidity and Value in the Deep vs. Shallow Ends of Mortgage-Backed Securities Pool,” July 11, 2012, Working Paper, Securities and Exchange Commission, 2012; Gotham, “The Secondary Circuit of Capital Reconsidered,”, 231–275; Freddie Mac Update, February, 2016.

  • 61. 2006 Builder 100,” Builder Magazine; “2015 Housing Giants Ranking,” Professional Builder.

  • 62. Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, The State of the Nation’s Housing, 2015.

  • 63. Peter Muller, The Outer City: The Geographical Consequences of the Urbanization of the Suburbs (Washington: American Association of Geographers, 1976).

  • 64. Edward Glaeser and Mathew Kahn, “Decentralized Employment and the Transformation of the American City.” Brookings-Wharton Papers on Urban Affairs 2 (2001).

  • 65. Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier (New York: Anchor Books, 1992); Jennifer Bradley, Bruce Katz, and Mark Muro, “Miracle Mets: How U.S. Metros Propel America’s Economy and Might Drive Its Recovery,” Democracy Journal (Spring, 2009).

  • 66. American Farmland Trust, Farmland Information Center; Elizabeth Becker, “2 Farm Acres Lost per Minute, Study Says,” New York Times, Oct. 4, 2002.

  • 67. Sierra Club, “Population Growth and Suburban Sprawl: A Complex Relationship.”

  • 68. Hayden, Building Suburbia, Sierra Club, Sprawl Costs Us All: How Your Taxes Fuel Suburban Sprawl, Report Spring 2000.

  • 69. Myron Orfield, American Metropolitics: The New Suburban Reality (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2002).

  • 70. Peter Calthorpe, Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2010)

  • 71. Ernie Smith, “Study, Homeowners Associations Hit New Populations Peak,” Associations Now, May 15, 2015; Teresa Mears, “How to Successfully Live Under a Home Owners’ Association,” U.S. News and World Report, April 27, 2015; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Housing, Characteristics of New Housing, 2014.

  • 72. Joel Aschbrenner, “Report Shows Trend toward Bigger Homes, Smaller Lots,” Des Moines Register, June 20, 2015. See also, U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Housing, Characteristics of New Housing, 2014.

  • 73. Setha Low, Behind the Gates: Life, Security and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America (New York: Routledge, 2003).

  • 74. See Ann Durkin Keating, “Suburbanization Before 1945,”Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History. From a historical perspective, the suburban periphery was long marked by diversity—ethnic, class, and even racial—yet the postwar period represented something of an interruption to that trend with young, white nuclear families predominating in new suburban tracts. For a fine discussion of the longue durée of suburban diversity, see Matthew Lassiter and Christopher Niedt, “Suburban Diversity in Postwar America,” Journal of Urban History 39.1 (January 2013), 3–14.

  • 75. Wilson, “The Family in Suburbia,” 85–93, quote at 90–91.

  • 76. William H. Frey and Alan Berube, “City Families and Suburban Singles: An Emerging Household Story from Census 2000,” Center on Urban & Metropolitan Policy, Brookings Institution, February 2002. Their study analyzed census data from the 102 most populous metropolitan areas between 1990 and 2000.

  • 77. Nancy A. Denton and Joseph R. Gibbons, “Twenty-First Century Suburban Demography,” in Social Justice in Diverse Suburbs: History, Politics, and Prospects, ed. Christopher Niedt (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013), 22.

  • 78. Gary J. Gates, “Geographic Trends Among Same-Sex Couples in the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey,” Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, November 2007; Karen Tongson, Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries (New York: NYU Press, 2011); Katrin B. Anacker, “Queering the Suburbs: Analyzing Property Values in Male and Female Same-Sex Suburbs in the United States,” in Queering Planning: Challenging Heteronormative Assumptions and Reframing Planning Practice, ed. Petra L. Doan (Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate, 2011), 107–125.

  • 79. Ian Baldwin, “Family, Housing, and the Political Geography of Gay Liberation in Los Angeles County, 1960–1986” (PhD diss., University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2016). While this definition initially applied to low-income families seeking housing aid, it set the tone for a broader federal housing policy that “opened the door to queer recognition.” In conversation, Baldwin suggested that this also likely created a shifted climate for gay suburban access as well. (Conversation with Becky Nicolaides, Los Angeles, Nov. 2015).

  • 80. William H. Frey, “Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs: Racial and Ethnic Change in Metro America in the 2000s,” State of Metropolitan America series, no. 30, Brookings Institution, May 4, 2011.

  • 81. U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census, Summary File 1; Frey, “Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs,” 1; Audrey Singer and Jill H. Wilson, “Immigrants in 2010 Metropolitan America: A Decade of Change,” State of Metropolitan America series, no. 41, Brookings Institution, October 13, 2011, 8–11.

  • 82. U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 1970–2010. Also see June Williamson, “Retrofitting Levittown,” Places 17. 2 (2005).

  • 83. Linda Lou, Hyojung Lee, Anthony Guardado, and Dowell Myers, “Racially Balanced Cities in Southern California, 1990 to 2010,” USC Price Center, Population Dynamics Research Group (February 2012), 6.

  • 84. Data from 2010 U.S. Census, General Population and Housing Characteristics. Statistics are for “non-Hispanic whites,” “non-Hispanic blacks,” “non-Hispanic Asians,” and “Hispanics.” The Levittowns themselves illustrated these variations. While two of the three Levittowns remained mostly white, the third Levittown—Willingboro, NJ—was 72.7% African American in 2010.

  • 85. Orfield, American Metropolitics.

  • 86. Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, Confronting Suburban Poverty in America (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2013), 9.

  • 87. Edward G. Goetz, “Housing Dispersal Programs,” Journal of Planning Literature 18.1 (August 2003), 3–16. Expanded “housing choice vouchers” and “mobility programs” in the 1990s bolstered Section 8, through services like mobility counseling for tenants and active recruitment of landlords.

    Among the most notable housing dispersal efforts was Illinois’ Gautreaux Program. Formed in the wake of two lawsuits, it involved 6,000 African American Section 8 tenants who moved into white suburbs around the Chicago area. The story is recounted in Leonard Rubinowitz and James E. Rosenbaum, Crossing the Class and Color Lines: From Public Housing to White Suburbia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

  • 88. Kneebone and Berube, Confronting Suburban Poverty, 17–18. Their data was drawn from the 100 most populous metropolitan areas in the United States.

  • 89. Richard Florida, “The Creative Class and Economic Development,” Economic Development Quarterly, 28.3 (2014), 197; Richard Florida, “America’s 1,000 Richest Neighborhoods,” Atlantic CityLab, March 13, 2014.

  • 90. Nicolaides and Wiese, eds., The Suburb Reader, chapter 15.

  • 91. M.P. Baumgartner, The Moral Order of a Suburb (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 11, 13.

  • 92. Several examples of this large literature include: Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, chapter 15; Low, Behind the Gates; Evan McKenzie, Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994); Davis, City of Quartz; James Howard Kunstler, Geography of Nowhere (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993); Christopher Caldwell, “Levittown to Littleton,” National Review (May 31, 1999); Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck, Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (New York: North Point Press, 2000), especially chapter 7.

  • 93. Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), chapter 12; Duany, et al., Suburban Nation, chapter 7.

  • 94. Becky Nicolaides, “The Social Fallout of Racial Politics: Civic Engagement in Suburban Pasadena, 1950–2000,” in Making Suburbia: New Histories of Everyday America, eds., John Archer, Paul Sandul, and Katherine Solomonson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 10–16.

  • 95. J. Eric Oliver, The Paradoxes of Integration: Race, Neighborhood, and Civic Life in Multiethnic America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). Other studies have explored this dilemma, by examining different scales and proposing scenarios for overcoming these tendencies: Robert D. Putnam and Lewis M. Feldstein, Better Together: Restoring the American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003); Zachary Neal and Jennifer Watling Neal, “The (In)compatibility of Diversity and Sense of Community,” American Journal of Community Psychology 53 (2014), 1–12; Richard Florida, “The Missing Link Between Diversity and Community,” Atlantic City Lab, November 4, 2015.

  • 96. Sarah J. Mahler, American Dreaming: Immigrant Life on the Margins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 98.

  • 97. Wendy Cheng, The Changs Next Door to the Díazes: Remapping Race in Suburban California (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 60.

  • 98. Cheng, Changs Next Door, 104. The Boy Scout troops that Cheng analyzed included a mix of later-generation Chinese American and Japanese Americans, more recent ethnic Chinese immigrants, Mexican Americans, and kids with mixed backgrounds (including Anglo).

  • 99. Wei Li, Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009), 29.

  • 100. Nicolaides and Wiese, The Suburb Reader, 2d ed., chapter 14; Tanachai Mark Padoongpatt, “‘A Landmark for Sun Valley’: Wat Thai of Los Angeles and Thai American Suburban Culture in 1980s San Fernando Valley,” Journal of American Ethnic History 34.2 (Winter 2015), 83–114; S. Mitra Kalita, Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 15–31; Jerry Gonzalez, “‘A Place in the Sun’: Mexican Americans, Race, and the Suburbanization of Los Angeles, 1940–1980” (PhD diss., University of Southern California, 2009), 195–204. Asian malls represent a quasi-public venue for ethnic community building. See Willow Lung-Amam, “Malls of Meaning: Building Asian America in Silicon Valley Suburbia,” Journal of American Ethnic History 34.2 (Winter 2015), 18–53.

  • 101. Padoongpatt, “A Landmark for Sun Valley,” 104.

  • 102. Peter Schrag, Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future (New York: New Press, 1998).

  • 103. Lassiter, Silent Majority; Kruse, White Flight; Erickson, Making the Unequal Metropolis; L Owen Kirkpatrick and Casey Gallagher, “The Suburban Geography of Moral Panic: Low-Income Housing and the Revanchist Fringe,” in Social Justice in Diverse Suburbs, ed. Christopher Niedt (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013), 31–53. Opposition was often strongest in suburbs on the geographic front lines of these issues.

  • 104. Kyle Riismandel, “Under Siege: The Discursive Production of Embattled Suburbs and Empowered Suburbanites in America, 1976–1992” (PhD diss., George Washington University, 2010), 29.

  • 105. Matthew Lassiter, “Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs,” Journal of American History 102.1 (June 2015), 126–140; Matthew Lassiter, “Pushers, Victims, and the Lost Innocence of White Suburbia: California’s War on Narcotics during the 1950s,” Journal of Urban History 41.5 (2015): 787–807.

  • 106. Lassiter, Silent Majority; C. Michael Henry, Race, Poverty, and Domestic Policy (Yale University Press, 2008); Charles Lamb, Housing Segregation in Suburban America since 1960: Presidential and Judicial Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

  • 107. Richard Fry and Paul Taylor, “The Rise of Residential Segregation by Income,” Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends, August 1, 2012.

  • 108. McKenzie, Privatopia. By 2014, according to an estimate by the Community Associations Institute, 66.7 million Americans lived in CIDs—most of them in the suburbs.

  • 109. Becky M. Nicolaides and James Zarsadiaz, “Design Assimilation in Suburbia: Asian Americans, Built Landscapes, and Suburban Advantage in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley since 1970,” Journal of Urban History (online first, November 2015).

  • 110. James S. Duncan and Nancy G. Duncan, Landscapes of Privilege: The Politics of the Aesthetic in an American Suburb (New York: Routledge, 2004); Nicolaides and Weise, eds., Suburb Reader, 2d ed., 526; Wim Wiewel and Joseph Persky, eds, Suburban Sprawl: Private Decisions and Public Policy (New York: Routledge, 2015).

  • 111. William Schneider, “The Suburban Century Begins: The Real Meaning of the 1992 Election,” Atlantic Monthly (July 1992), 33–44; Nicolaides and Wiese, eds., Suburb Reader, 2d ed., 406.

  • 112. Geismer, Don’t Blame Us, 20.

  • 113. Niedt, Social Justice in Diverse Suburbs, 4.

  • 114. In 2002, 1,800 cars were impounded in Maywood, only 7 of these for drunk driving.

  • 115. Genevieve Carpio, Clara Irazábal, and Laura Pulido, “Right to the Suburb? Rethinking Lefebvre and Immigrant Activism,” Journal of Urban Affairs 33.2 (2011): 185–208.

  • 116. Laura Pulido, “Rethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90 (2000), 12–40; Karen Brodkin, Power Politics: Environmental Activism in South Los Angeles (New York: Rutgers University Press, 2009).

  • 117. Niedt, Social Justice in Diverse Suburbs, passim; also see Audrey Singer, Susan W. Hardwick, and Caroline B. Brettell, eds., Twenty-First Century Gateways: Immigrant Incorporation in Suburban America (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2008).

  • 118. Bruce Katz, Mark Munro and Jennifer Bradley, “Miracle Mets: Our Fifty States Matter A Lot Less Than Our 100 Largest Metro Areas,” Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, 12 (Spring 2009), 22–35. Also see William Barnes and Larry C. Ledebur, The New Regional Economies: The U.S. Common Market and the Global Economy (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998); Neal R. Peirce, Citistates: How Urban America Can Prosper in a Competitive World (Washington, D.C.: Seven Locks Press, 1993).

  • 119. Manuel Pastor Jr, Peter Dreier, J. Eugene Grigsby III, and Marta Lopez-Garza, Regions that Work: How Cities and Suburbs Can Grow Together (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 3.

  • 120. For examples of this work, see Pastor, et. al., Regions that Work; David Rusk, Inside Game/Outside Game: Winning Strategies for Saving Urban America (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2001); Peter Dreier, John Mollenkopf, and Todd Swanstrom, Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century, 3d ed. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2014); Chris Benner and Manuel Pastor, Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in America’s Metropolitan Regions (New York: Routledge, 2012); Chris Benner and Manuel Pastor, Equity, Growth, and Community: What the Nation Can Learn from America’s Metro Areas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).

  • 121. Orfield, American Metropolitics.

  • 122. From “Smart Growth Principles,” from the Maryland Department of Planning’s Smart Growth Website.

  • 123. Orfield, American Metropolitics, 111.

  • 124. The Del Mar Station Project in Pasadena, California, exemplifies New Urbanism principles. It is a transit-oriented development that combines apartments (including 15 percent affordable units), retail, restaurants, and a plaza, all adjacent to a Metro station. In 2003, it won a Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award.

  • 125. The Charter of the New Urbanism.

  • 126. Davis, City of Quartz, 159.

  • 127. Mike Maciag, “Gentrification in America Report,” Governing: The States and Localities, February 2015; Abigail Savitch-Lew, “Gentrification Spotlight: How Portland is Pushing Out Its Black Residents,” Colorlines, Apr 18, 2016.

  • 128. Leigh Gallagher, The End of the Suburbs (New York: Penguin, 2014), 5. Also see Thomas J. Sugrue, “The New American Dream: Renting,” Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2009.

  • 129. Jed Kolko, “2015 U.S. Population Winners: The Suburbs and the Sunbelt,” Atlantic CityLab, March 24, 2016.

  • 130. On retrofitting, see June Williamson, “Retrofitting Levittown,” Places 17.2 (2005); on spatial stasis in the midst of demographic change, see Nicolaides and Zarsadiaz, “Design Assimilation in Suburbia.

  • 131. The Magic of Crabgrass: Thirty Years Later, An Appraisal of Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier (Best of UHA 2014, Part 2),” Tropics of Meta blogsite, October 15, 2014.

  • 132. Carol O’Connor, A Sort of Utopia: Scarsdale, New York, 1891–1981 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983); John Archer, Architecture and Suburbia: From English Villa to American Dream House, 1690–2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005); Mary Corbin Sies, “Paradise Retained: An Analysis of Persistence in Planned, Exclusive Suburbs, 1880–1980,” Planning Perspectives 12 (1997), 165–191; Michael Ebner, Creating Chicago’s North Shore: A Suburban History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988). Also see Keating, “Suburbanization Before 1945,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History, for more works on the early period.

  • 133. Barbara M. Kelly, Expanding the American Dream: Building and Rebuilding Levittown (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993); Dianne Harris, ed., Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010); Baxandall and Ewen, Picture Windows. “

  • 134. Kruse and Sugrue, New Suburban History, 6.

  • 135. Jon Teaford, City and Suburb: The Political Fragmentation of Metropolitan America, 1850–1970 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979); Jon Teaford, Post-Suburbia: Government and Politics in the Edge Cities (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997). Robert Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, 2003); Matthew Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton, 2006); Kevin Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton, 2007).

  • 136. Geismer, Don’t Blame Us; Andrew Highsmith, Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Ansley Erickson, Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and its Limits (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Andrew Needham and Allen Dieterich-Ward, “Beyond the Metropolis: Metropolitan Growth and Regional Transformation in Postwar America,” Journal of Urban History 35.7 (2009), 943–969; Allen Dieterich-Ward, Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America, Politics and Culture in Modern America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, November 2015); Lila Berman, Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

  • 137. Dolores Hayden, Redesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work, and Family Life (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984).

  • 138. Arnold Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto; Thomas Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis; George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998).

  • 139. David Freund, Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007); Robert Self, American Babylon; Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). On the production of heteronormativity in postwar suburbia, see Clayton Howard, “Building a ‘Family Friendly’ Metropolis: Sexuality, the State, and Postwar Housing Policy,” Journal of Urban History 2013.

  • 140. Andrew Wiese, Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Emily Straus, Death of a Suburban Dream: Race and Schools in Compton, California (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); Matthew Garcia, A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900–1970 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Jerry Gonzalez, “‘A Place in the Sun’: Mexican Americans, Race, and the Suburbanization of Los Angeles, 1940–1980” (PhD diss., University of Southern California, 2009), Nicolaides, My Blue Heaven. Also see Kruse and Sugrue, eds., The New Suburban History; Matthew D. Lassiter and Christopher Niedt, “Suburban Diversity in Postwar America,” Journal of Urban History 39.1 (January 2013), 3–14; Nicolaides and Wiese, eds., The Suburb Reader, 2d ed., especially chapters 7 and 14.

  • 141. Key works included William H. Frey, “Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs: Racial and Ethnic Change in Metro America in the 2000s,” Brookings Institution State of Metropolitan America series 30 (May 4, 2011), Audrey Singer, Susan W. Hardwick, and Caroline B. Brettell, eds., Twenty-First Century Gateways: Immigrant Incorporation in Suburban America (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2008); Michael B. Katz, Matthew J. Creighton, Daniel Amsterdam, and Merlin Chowkwanyun, “Immigration and the New Metropolitan Geography,” Journal of Urban Affairs 32.5 (2010), 523–547.

  • 142. “Most suburban” quote is from Susan Hardwick, “Toward a Suburban Immigrant Nation,” in Audrey Singer, Susan W. Hardwick, and Caroline B. Brettell, eds., Twenty-First Century Gateways: Immigrant Incorporation in Suburban America (Washington, D.C., 2008), 45. On Asian American suburban historiography, see Becky M. Nicolaides, “Introduction: Asian American Suburban History,” Journal of American Ethnic History 34.2 (Winter 2015), 5–17. For example, see Min Zhou, Yen-Fen Tseng, and Rebecca Y. Kim, “Rethinking Residential Assimilation: The Case of a Chinese Ethnoburb in the San Gabriel Valley, California,” Amerasia Journal 34.3 (2008): 55–83; Wei Li, Ethnoburb: The New Ethnic Community in Urban America (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 2009); Charlotte Brooks, Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

  • 143. Geismer, Don’t Blame Us; Niedt, ed., Social Justice in Diverse Suburbs; Carpio, et. al. “Right to the Suburb.”

  • 144. Harris, ed., Second Suburb, 363 n3.