Suburbia Suburbs in the Context Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

For example, in his book, the Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South, Lassiter maintains that it is inaccurate to use what he terms as a "southern strategy" in the analysis of why the South was fundamentally changed from a Democratic Party base into a bastion of the Republican Party during the latter part of the 20th century without taking into account what part was played by the policymakers and voters alike (Lassiter). A superior approach to this analysis, Lassiter suggests, is to examine the regional and local developments that took place during this turbulent and formative period in the nation's history and how the interaction between blacks and whites became focused on issues of property rights rather than a merely pigmentocratric approach. In fact, even within some minority communities themselves, the focus of the debate over changes in public policies in recent years has been more on property issues than on race (Haynes).

From Lassiter's perspective, the transformation of the these views in the American south was at least fueled in large part by both the Civil Rights Movement as well as initiatives designed to provide these minority citizens with more political power and a voice in how their communities would be shaped in the future. The structural inequalities that were in place (and which remain in place in many parts of the country) in the South during the latter part of the 20th century are well documented, of course, but Lassiter emphasizes that these inequalities did not spring up overnight, but were rather the result of longstanding policies that placed minorities living in inner cities at a distinct disadvantage across the board, but particularly in terms of employment and education. According to Haynes (2001), these disparities remain firmly in place in many regions of the country and access to suburban residences can be equated with the ability to prosper based on relative property values. The various half-measures used over the years to address these inequalities, though, such as busing, only intensified the debate. Nevertheless, it was this debate over equitable public policies that helped create an environment in which the real issues involved in the debate could be addressed without being shaped by issues of race only. In fact, the grass-roots political activism (Haynes) and environmental activism (Rome) that emerged among both inner city minorities and suburbanites in recent years and the political influence of minority members gaining ground indicates that both camps are seeking to exert more power in this debate.

Indeed, the recent election of the nation's first black president suggests that the "color-blind rhetoric" cited by Lassiter that emerged during this transformation of the south (p. 121) was responsible in a significant way. While it may be several more generations before racism completely disappears from the American consciousness, if in fact it ever does completely, the fear tactics used by the Republican Party in the past will clearly no longer be as effective as they were during the 1970s, and political power in the 21st century will increasingly accrue to constituents based on their mutual interests rather than their mutual distrust (Lassiter). Moreover, the country's reliance on fossil fuels will undoubtedly create more calls for more energy efficiency in housing of all types, but particularly those that have characterized the nation's suburbs in recent decades. There are clear signs, though, that the response by suburbanites and their urban counterparts are becoming focused on issues other than race, and these must be regarded as positive changes by any measure.


The four selected texts reviewed above showed that the responses of suburbanites concerning what living in the suburbs did or should entail have changed in fundamental ways over the years, with the overriding pragmatic theme emerging from this analysis of suburbanization being a shift from fear of others based on differences in race to a fear of others based on differences in wealth and educational credentials. This shift, though, was painful and probably took longer than anyone might have guessed, but the impact of suburbanization extends far beyond this shift only to include other issues such as how these building patterns have affected the environment and what citizen responses are appropriate, and how the political influence of various constituencies has affected policies concerning land use and how these policies have historically been crafted to the mainstream's advantage to the detriment of minorities. As noted above, though, things are changing and while it is going to take some time, the trends discerned in the selected readings indicate that the residents' responses are going to increasingly seek to advance their respective interests, whether these are related to inner city or suburban environments, through the political arena as well as other collective group efforts. Unfortunately, even though there appears to be progress on many fronts, the trend towards gated communities continues and many Americans continue to feel the need to protect themselves from a violent society by erecting walls, both mental and physical, to keep out the bad guys. The good news gleaned from these readings, though, if it can be called that, was that blacks and other minorities are not being excluded from these communities based on their race, but only on their ability to afford the lifestyle, their educational credentials, and their willingness to abide by certain locally established standards that continue to define who is and is not acceptable for membership in the community. The other good new was that the growing clamor for public policies that end the historic practice of encouraging exclusive communities has also focused attention on the environment consequences of short-sighted housing developments and urban planning as well as just how powerful and effective people can be in a free society in achieving their respective goals when they band together in meaningful ways in order to influence public policy.


Hayes, Bruce D. Redlines, Black Spaces: The Politics of Race and Space in a Black Middle- Class Suburb, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Lassiter, Matthew D. Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South: The Silent Majority, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2006.

Low, Setha. Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America. New York: Routledge, 2004.


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