Suburbia did not exist before the 20th century because most Americans lived in agrarian communities. At the turn of century, cities became the norm in many areas of America, with the rise of industrialization. American citizens, though, hated the congestion, pollution and overpopulation, especially with increasing automobile usage. Just as residents exited rural communities in the late 19th century, people began leaving the cities in a quest for the quintessential picket fenced neighborhood. Thus, the rise of suburbia in America began.
What is Suburbia?
Suburbia, or a suburb, is a residential neighborhood located in an outlying area of a city. At times, they are unincorporated communities and have a degree of autonomy. They may have their own fire and police departments, utility company, governing body and school system. People flock to suburban neighborhoods because populations are smaller. Most homes look exactly the same, with very few original features.
The history of modern-day suburbia has its roots in post-World War II America when about 16 million GIs returned home. They wanted to settle down, marry and raise families in nice neighborhoods but had a hard time finding suitable housing. The war also created a shortage of construction materials. Many former soldiers were forced to move in with relative, rent small apartments or lived in small bungalows. GIs in the worse situations lived in barns, trolley cars and tool sheds.
Lieutenant William Levitt saw the need for post-war houses and proposed his idea to his father and brother. They created Levitt & Sons and purchased a potato field to build affordable housing for returning GIs. GIs received low-interest “GI Loans” to get homes in the Levitt’s new neighborhood. Levitt & Sons publicized their plan to mass produce 2,000 rental homes on Island Trees in May 7, 1947. Levittown, therefore, epitomized suburbia in 20th-century America.
Levitt & Sons built houses cheaper and faster, eliminating basements and constructing homes on concrete slabs. Although the Town of Hempstead prohibited their building idea, they allowed the Levitt’s to continue with their plan because of the housing needs. The Town of Hempstead modified their building code to accommodate the new neighborhood. The Levitt’s also had all of their lumber precut and shipped from their lumberyard in Blue Lake, California. They used non-union contractors to cut down costs. By July 1948, they constructed 30 houses a day. Levittown homes had modern appliances to make the life of housewives easier, outfitting the kitchens with General Electric products.
The last Levitt & Sons original Levittown home was purchased in 1951. The success of Levittown ignited the rise of suburban neighborhoods all over the country in the 1950s and 1960s. Many neighborhoods featured ranch-style homes with small backyards and one- or two-car parking garages. Suburbia served as a symbol for middle-class America and family values, with dad working and mom at home preparing meals for her family.
Today, many of the original Levittown homes have been remodeled or expanded to keep up with new building standards or enlarged. Some of the original residents live in the home. Similar, cookie cutter neighborhoods still symbolized middle-class America, featuring lookalike homes. Suburbia symbolizes America so much that movies and television have portrayed life in these neighborhoods from the time Levittown began.