Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Urban Adolescence

Academic journal article Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy

Urban Adolescence

Article excerpt

After the Second World War, nothing in America was ever the same. Not even our cities were spared. The war was a right of passage, a loss of innocence. Our childhood dreams and fantasies were incinerated at Auschwitz and Hiroshima, and we entered the self-absorbed adolescence of the modern era.

The changes weren't immediate, of course, especially not in our cities. Nor were they obvious. The fruits of the war ripened for a good 15 years before they began to turn. By the 1960s, America was in deep trouble, and the young generation growing up at that time knew it.

The main engine of urban decline was the automobile. Cheap cars and cheap gas made it easy for people to move into the country. So did the Interstate Highway System, Ike's network for national defense. If there were to be a World War III--and who could say there wouldn't be, especially with the Cold War heating up--we'd have to swiftly shuttle supplies and soldiers to seaport cities or to strategic spots around the country if, God forbid, the next conflict should be on American soil.

A second major contributor to urban decline was cheap housing. In the late 1940s, VA loans for new housing for GIs returning from the war set off an unprecedented 2-million-units-a-year building boom. With income tax deductions for property taxes and mortgage payments, but not for lease payments, it was cheaper to buy than to rent.

Bill Levitt learned how to construct entire towns for the Navy cheap and fast during the war. …

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