Revisions & updates

The demographic profile of suburbanites today deviates significantly from the stereotypical imagery in the popular media of affluent dual-parent households — driving child-filled minivans through predominantly white, often gated, neighborhoods. Furthermore, recent historical scholarship is bringing to light the ways in which socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial diversity have always been characteristic of suburban settings, despite generations of commentators who assumed otherwise. Historian Becky Nicolaides points out how the scathing mid-century critiques of Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and William Whyte created “a recognizable cultural icon that lives on even in the popular culture of our own day.” She cites the “hellish ’burbs” depicted in recent films like American Beauty and the popular television series Desperate Housewives. Despite these persistent stereotypes and critiques, a close look will reveal that there is a great deal of demographic diversity within suburbs and, with retrofitting, increasing diversity in physical patterns as well.

. . . Kevin Kruse and Thomas Sugrue, editors of a 2006 anthology entitled The New Suburban History, set out to “challenge an older scholarship that looks at the history of suburbs largely internally and, instead, examine the ideological, political, and economic issues that bound city and suburb together in the postwar world.” Essays in the book pay special attention to the lesser-known histories of blue-collar, African American, Latino, and Asian suburbanites and consider how contentious political debates over such issues as taxation, school busing, and immigration have played out in suburban contexts.

. . . It is hardly coincidental that suburbia’s history is being revised at the same time that its physical fabric is getting retrofitted. Major changes are afoot and these new histories help urban designers working in suburbia appreciate the rich, layered complexity of these places.

From Retrofitting Suburbia, which I finally got a copy of recently, and which I’m not getting enough time to read.

One Reply to “Revisions & updates”

  1. Just looked up the post by Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson from which I first learned of this book. Here’s a funny thing: she made that post one year ago today. — Pure coincidence.

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