Postwar Dystopia or Family Paradise?

By Von Blum, Paul | Tikkun, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Postwar Dystopia or Family Paradise?


Von Blum, Paul, Tikkun


POSTWAR DYSTOPIA OR FAMILY PARADISE? SECOND SUBURB: LEVIHOWN, PENNSYLVANIA Edited by Dianne Harris University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010

Review by Paul Von Blum

LEVITTOWN. FOR MANY, THE name of this Philadelphia-area suburb conjures a vision of sterility and conformity- a postwar dystopia concealed by images of smiling children on bicycles and tricycles, crowded swimming pools and Little League fields, happy consumers at the Levittown Shop-a-Rama, and men mowing lawns and women sitting on outdoor furniture in front of identical but comfortable houses.

Cultural critic Lewis Mumford convinced many that the suburb was a place with bland people leading bland lives with similar tastes and incomes in a parody of the American dream. And indeed, this savage critique contains some truth. I know because I lived in Levittown as a teenager for about five years in the mid-1950s, shortly after its beginning in 1952. My residence in this iconic "planned community" coincided with its most traumatic historical experience: the momentous struggle in 1957 to break the color line that builder William Levitt imposed with his whites-only policy.

My parents, Peter and Selma Von Blum, played a crucial role in this historic civil rights battle as active supporters of the first African American family to move into Levittown, braving widespread hostility, debilitating ostracism, and extensive violence in the process. Many of my 1950s neighbors, however, were deeply conformist, even retrograde, especially on matters of racial equality. Many seemed perfectly content to equate the good life with modest material comfort and middling levels of personal and family consumption.

Still, social reality is complex and nuanced, and there is much more to say about Levittown beyond Mumford's critique. I have waited for this new book for about half a century. Second Suburb provides a rich and diverse set of essays about Levittown, contributing significantly to such fields as urban/suburban studies, architectural history, sociology, and many others. Editor Dianne Harris has assembled a stellar group of scholars to explore various dimensions of Levittown's architecture, history, politics, and culture. Essays locate the "second suburb" (described as such because Pennsylvania's Levittown followed in the footsteps of another suburb by the same name built in Long Island, New York, in 1947) in a broad context of post-World War II suburban growth, with all its demographic, economic, political, environmental, and architectural consequences.

Richard Longstreth's chapter, "Looking at Levittown from the Outside," offers a revealing glimpse into the history ofthe Levitt & Sons Company itself. In the late 1930s, the firm had built a development in Manhasset, New York. Seeking to limit the community to "refined" American families, the company adopted a policy to restrict buyers from "undesirable" elements. In 1936, that also meant prospective Jewish buyers, a bizarre restriction given that the Levitt family was itself Jewish. This perverse choice of profit over principle (not to mention religious and cultural disparagement, perhaps even self-loathing) would emerge again, with equal harshness, in Pennsylvania in the late 1950s.

Longstreth also chronicles the pervasive anti-union animus of the Levitt enterprise. Unlike most other American builders ofthe era, William Levitt and his associates refused to hire union labor, maintaining that doing so would drive up construction costs- the historic rationalization for corporations seeking to maximize profit by maintaining lower wages. Longstreth likewise reveals the company's insistence on various covenants for purchasers of its Levittown houses. Among other restrictions, new owners were not permitted to erect fences and were required to mow their lawns at least weekly. This drive for uniformity reflected a near-totalitarian vision that reinforces the harsh views of Levitt & Sons' most vigorous critics. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Postwar Dystopia or Family Paradise?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.