Suburban Century: Social Change and Urban Growth in England and the USA

Suburban Century: Social Change and Urban Growth in England and the USA

Suburban Century: Social Change and Urban Growth in England and the USA

Suburban Century: Social Change and Urban Growth in England and the USA

Synopsis

Bad architecture. Soulless. Destructive of communities. The suburbs are much-maligned places. We see this time and again in films like American Beauty and novels like The Ice Storm. But are they really as homogenous and conservative as we think they are?In this wide-ranging comparative study of England and the United States, Mark Clapson offers new interpretations on suburbia. The majority of people in both countries now live in suburbs, largely as a result of the rising affluence of the postwar period. Millions of Americans pursued an aspiration to settle away from the poorer town and city centres in new subdivisions, while in England people were keen to leave terraced streets and poorer suburban housing areas.Examining housing policies, the politics of affluence and social class, Clapson challenges deeply held myths by demonstrating the complexity of suburban life. He shows how suburbs are becoming increasingly multicultural and compares the minority experience in both countries. He analyzes voting patterns to reveal some surprising political trends. In addition, he discusses gender and the experience of community life. Throughout, he uncovers the similarities and differences in the English and American experience of suburbanization in the twentieth century.This is a timely and original account that looks beyond the stereotypes of life in the 'burbs.

Excerpt

A history of suburbanization might appear to be less immediately interesting than other momentous themes in contemporary history. How, it might be asked, can it be as profound as the impact of total war on society? Can it possibly compare with the struggle for civil rights? How can it be as significant as a study of the consequences of affluence in class societies? Can it really be as important as a history of the changing roles of women? and surely it cannot be as fascinating as contemporary political history? in fact, suburbanization is intimately related to war, ethnicity, affluence, class and gender, and to party politics in the United States and England. It involves, furthermore, the impact of motor cars and of communications technologies on everyday life. It is no exaggeration to argue that an understanding of the suburbanization of England and the United States reveals a great deal about the changing cultural values and material realities of both countries.

During the twentieth century, the United States and England evolved into societies dominated by the suburbs. But in numerical or quantitative terms, this evolution had very different starting points. in 1900, nearly three-quarters of Americans lived in rural areas. Stated another way, only one in four Americans lived in an urban context. the urban-industrial revolution, however, had been gathering pace in the United States since the 1870s, drawing large sections of the internal and the immigrant populations into the town and city centres to find work. the suburbs were by then quite small, and still largely populated by the middle classes. the great cities of the United States grew hugely after 1870, but downtown remained at the heart of urban life. Even by the end of the Second World War, and despite the growth of the ‘automobile suburbs' of the 1920s, about 80 per cent of Americans lived in either town or rural environments, as opposed to those designated as suburban. During the post-war period, however, the United States experienced the remarkable rise and dominance of the suburbs.

In England during the 1900s, three of every four people were living in towns or cities. the rural population was much smaller than in the United States. More significantly, suburbanization was more advanced in England than in the United States. Widespread middle-class suburban living had been established longer in England than in the United States, a function of the earlier arrival of the industrial revolution during the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As the proletarian and factory districts of towns and cities spread rapidly through the land, many in . . .

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