Suburbanization Identifying Convincing Rationale in Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

For instance, Bruegmann notes that, "Despite a common belief that suburban sprawl is accelerating and that the most affluent people are moving constantly outward to areas of ever-lower density, in fact the suburbs of American cities are, if anything, becoming denser."

Indeed, the recent trend to build more and more "McMansions" in the suburbs is reflective of how American suburbs are becoming more densely packed while seeking to maximize actual available living space. For instance, Bruegmann adds that, "Suburban lot sizes, after peaking in the 1950s, have been declining, and the number of square feet of land used by the average house in new developments at the suburban edge has fallen sharply in the past 10 years even as the houses themselves have grown in size." In sum, this author maintains that, "Sprawl cannot be adequately explained as a simple result of specific government policies, economic systems, or technological advances. Notions that sprawl was caused by widespread use of the automobile, or by American tax policies, or by anti-urban attitudes, or by racism are clearly inadequate. In fact, sprawl predates the automobile and has happened in a way that is basically similar in cities with large minority populations and in cities with hardly any minority residents."

In her book, Building Suburbia, Dolores Hayden makes the alternative point that "Suburbia is the site of promises dreams and fantasies. It is a landscape of imagination where Americans situate ambitions for upward mobility and economic security, ideals about freedom and private property, and longings for social harmony and spiritual uplift." Alas, while these lofty ideals were becoming increasingly available for some Americans, others - particularly minorities and those with low-incomes, were at a distinct disadvantage. For instance, according to Hayden, "[T]his book highlights the complex relationships between real estate entrepreneurs and a wide range of suburban residents and workers." This author also points to "the complex relationships between real estate entrepreneurs and a wide range of suburban residents and workers" to help explain suburbanization in the United States. These "complex relationships" were characterized by the affluent residents of suburbs seeking to keep their lower-income counterparts from gaining access as well.

Although she does not cite the same series of migratory "waves" as Baxandall and Ewen in explaining how and why suburbanization took place in the fashion that it did, Hayden's several chapters nevertheless describe such a wave in a step-wise fashion in a comprehensive fashion. For instance, each of her chapters, "borderlands," "picturesque enclaves," "streetcar buildouts," "mail-order and self-built suburbs," "sitcom suburbs," "edge nodes," and "rural fringes," are reflective of such patterns of migration and help to explain how mail order catalogs such as those offered by the Sears & Roebuck Company were directly responsible for facilitating suburbanization.


The research showed that throughout history, mankind has sought out the comfort, security and prosperity that tend to go hand-in-hand with living in close proximity to others. The research also showed that as people became more and more densely packed into these urban areas, the disadvantages of urban living became more apparent. Over time, various innovations have facilitated the move from these urban areas to suburban settings, including improved transportation, housing construction techniques, the availability of mortgage financing and even mail-order catalogs that provided those living in the suburbs with access to the same consumer goods enjoyed by their urban counterparts. In fact, although the primary beneficiaries of this most recent wave of suburbanization have been the affluent and for the most part, white Americans, things are changing and increasingly, low-income and minority families are also becoming part of the suburban landscape. In the final analysis, while none of these texts provide a completely comprehensive explanation as to how and why suburbanization occurred in the fashion it did in the United States over the years, Picture Windows by Baxandall and Ewen appears to provide the best analysis of how these trends have actually played out, at least in America. For example, rather than provide a cogent explanation of how and why suburbanization has occurred, Bruegmann tends to focus on how to counter the adverse impact of urbanization. Likewise, Hayden's explanations concerning suburbanization tend to overlook the impact of government intervention in the provision of financing that helped fuel suburbanization. Finally, although Jackson's book, Crabgrass Frontier, provides a useful framework in which to examine and understand suburbanization, it is apparent that many people around the world continue to flock to highly urbanized settings in ways that tend to counter her assertions that technology and affluence are the driving forces behind suburbanization. It would appear reasonable to conclude that some people will want to continue to live in highly populated areas for individual reasons that transcend the traditional views of the "American dream" based on the attributes that city-living provide; likewise, others will eschew such lifestyles in favor of a less densely populated suburban area for equally individual reasons. As many visitors to New York observe, "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there," yet millions of New Yorkers do want to live there in spite of all of the constraints and problems associated with such lifestyles. These individual perceptions may and probably will change over time, but today, people in the United States are largely free to live where they want depending only on their ability to pay for it, and many chose to live in densely population cities while others prefer the more tranquil aspects of suburban life.


Baxandall, Rosalyn and Elizabeth Ewen. Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Bruegmann, Robert. Sprawl: A Compact History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Hayden, Dolores. Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000. New York: Pantheon, 2003.

Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

End Notes

Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 41.

Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 138.

Robert.Bruegmann, Sprawl: A Compact History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 18.…

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