Why Suburb Development Occurred Thesis

Pages: 8 (2539 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Urban Studies

Suburbanization: Identifying Convincing Rationale in Support of the Process

Throughout history, mankind has tend to migrate to large, densely populated urban centers in an effort to provide themselves with mutual support and protection, as well as to engage in trade and the humanities. Today, these same forces at hard at work, of course, with many of the world's biggest cities continuing to grow larger and larger. Nevertheless, some contemporary authorities suggest that these factors are no longer as relevant to the survival of modern mankind and in reality, many -- if not most -- people do not necessarily want to live in such close proximity to their fellows and have increasingly sought to escape from such densely populated urban centers as soon as it became practicable. In sharp contrast, other authorities maintain that innovations in transportation and housing construction were more likely responsible for suburbanization while still others cite the part played by the federal government in making housing more affordable. It quickly becomes apparent, then, that there is more involved in the process of suburbanization than first meets the eye, and these trends must have some other explanations that can help determine how and why people tend to congregate together in the first place, only to seek to escape from each other when possible. To this end, this paper provides a review of four books concerning suburbanization to determine which argument is most compelling in explaining these trends, followed by summary of the research in the conclusion.

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TOPIC: Thesis on Why Suburb Development Occurred Assignment

Because it has been such a powerful force in American history, it is little wonder that social researchers have been interested in how and why the process of suburbanization has taken place in the United States and elsewhere around the world. In fact, many of the same migratory trends that have characterized the move from densely populated urban areas to the suburbs on cities' peripheries in the United States are also taking place in other countries today, just as they have throughout history. While cities have always had this type of environment on their fringe, the manner in which these enclaves evolved have tended to differ from country to country and time to time in ways that make developing a one-size-fits-all explanation problematic. Furthermore, in the Age of Information, the forces that have historically driven the move to the suburbs have become even more pronounced as many people find they do not need to live in close proximity to their jobs in order to make a living. The authors reviewed and discussed below offer similar yet different analyses of how these processes have taken place, and while there are some common elements in their explanations, they tend to differ on what elements have been the most compelling.

In their book, Picture Windows, Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen (2000) describe a series of waves that have characterized the migration of people from large urban centers to more rural and suburban environments in the United States, with suburbanization simply representing the latest of these waves. The first three "waves" of migration were westward expansion into the frontier, a process that "dispersed a farming population across the continent"; the second wave was industrialization, a process fueled by "water power and railroads" that "carried people from farms to small factory towns"; the third wave was urbanization, or "the migration of people from small towns to large industrial and financial centers." According to Baxandall and Ewen, "Suburbanization was the most recent migration spurred by America's great social and technological transformations. Suburbanization was the fourth migration, made possible by new technologies and giving working- and middle-class people the opportunity to move from congested cities to spacious suburbs."

This migration was part and parcel of the "American dream" wherein people of ordinary means could aspire to something better for themselves and their children than the teeming squalor of densely populated urban centers. In this regard, Baxandall and Ewen report that, "Traditionally families moved to suburbs to escape metropolitan exigencies and acquire a private house, with a car in the garage and a yard on a quiet, uncluttered street where children can roam free."

From Baxandall and Ewen's perspective, two fundamental innovations in particular helped to fuel the suburbanization wave in the United States: electricity and internal combustion. For example, these authors report that, "Electricity [is] an essential prerequisite for this current migration. Unlike coal or water, electricity can be dispensed anywhere relatively inexpensively. People no longer were forced to reside near former sources of energy for work. The automobile as well made it practical for people to live in this new decentralized society." These two innovations, though, important as they were and while making it possible for people to move from urban centers to more rural locales, do not necessarily fully explain why they felt compelled to do so. After all, electricity and improved transportation also improved the quality of lives for people in the densely populated cities. Therefore, there must be some other and additional explanations that can account for suburbanization and in fact, there are.

For example, authors such as Kenneth T. Jackson, suggest that a number of other important factors contributed to the suburbanization of America. For instance, in Jackson's book, Crabgrass Frontier (1985), the author reports that during the early part of the 20th century, the suburbs in the United States grew at twice the rate as cities and by 1920, one out of every six Americans was a suburbanite. After World War II, these trends became even more pronounced and accelerated the latest move to the suburbs: "As returning World War II veterans sought homes to raise their families, the government financed large tracts of houses on the periphery." As a result, by 1980, fully two out of every five Americans lived in a suburb, a trend that was facilitated in large part by improved urban transportation systems and innovations in mass home construction techniques a la Levitttown, as well as more readily available financing provided by the federal government. According to Jackson, "New developments in home construction and in urban transportation encouraged American families to move away from their old neighborhoods to new residences on the periphery."

Notwithstanding this "build it and they will come" aspect of suburbia, people do not generally uproot themselves and their families from one place to another without some more compelling reasons. Indeed, Jackson is of the opinion that the growth of cities was originally fueled by the need for humans to come together for mutual protection and to provide a means of livelihood, but as soon as the means became available to escape these urban jungles, people began to take advantage of them. In this regard, Jackson advises, "Suburbanization is a common human aspiration and that its achievement is dependent upon technology and affluence." Other factors that contributed to the suburbanization of America included more readily available mortgage financing and the part played by the federal government in advancing this aspect of the "American dream." In this regard, Jackson emphasizes that, "In the 1930s, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, and the Federal Housing Administration were churned out in rapid-fire succession by a government anxious to reduce unemployment and to provide a way for the home buyer to compete with large corporations for credit." The overriding theme for Jackson, though, appears to be that humans do not necessarily like being packed like sardines in densely populated urban settings and will naturally seek to escape these environments at their first opportunity. According to Jackson, "The appeal of low-density living over time and across regional, class, and ethnic lines was so powerful that some observers came to regard it as natural and inevitable, a trend that no amount of government interference can reverse."

This point is also made in Robert Bruegmann's book, Sprawl: A Compact History (2005), wherein the author advises that urban centers tend to "sprawl" because their citizens have historically wanted to escape from the negatives aspects of living in densely populated areas as soon as it became possible for them to do so. In this regard, Bruegmann reports that "sprawl" refers to "an unplanned, scattered, low-density, automobile-dependent development at the urban periphery."According to Bruegmann, suburban sprawl is not a recent phenomenon nor is it essentially a "wave"; rather, suburbanization "has been a persistent feature in cities since the beginning of urban history." This observation is supported by the fact that throughout history, large urban centers have tended to expand at their seams, creating fringes around cities that were increasingly less dependent on them. As this author points out, "In almost every era in urban history, there was a transitional zone between [urban and rural areas], a region just outside the city that housed activities and individuals that were still intimately connected with the social and economic life of the city but that couldn't be accommodated easily within the walls."

One of the more interesting aspects of suburbanization, from Bruegmann's perspective, is how the suburbs themselves tend to become… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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