Sprawl: A Compact History

By Robert Bruegmann | Go to book overview
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3
Sprawl in the Interwar Boom Years

The outward dispersion of people and businesses visible in the early twentieth century became even more conspicuous during the boom period of the 1920s. The basic processes were similar throughout the Western world but, as in the nineteenth century, with time lags due to the relative age of the city and the amount of economic and population growth taking place.

By the 1920s, in both northern Europe and America, the rush to the urban periphery was no longer confined primarily to the wealthy and powerful; it had become a mass movement.1 In London in the interwar years, for example, tens of thousands of families of modest income were able to move out from congested central neighborhoods to row houses, single-family detached houses, or, most conspicuously, “semidetached” or double houses on the periphery (fig. 4).2 A great deal of this housing was built at densities from six to ten units per acre, which was extremely low by historic British urban standards. Along with the residential population came a major outward movement of industry of all kinds.3

The result was an explosion of growth in urban land area. Although the population of the London urbanized area grew only by about 10 percent in the years 1921–31, from about 7.5 million to 8.2 million, the area developed for urban uses grew nearly 200 percent.4 By the end of the interwar era, the London area displayed many of the traits that we associate with postwar suburbs. New industrial complexes had sprung up along the major highways out of the city, and mile after mile of new houses marched across what had been open

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