Introduction[ edit ] Jackson attempts to broadly interpret the American suburban experience, which he views as unique. He states that "the United States has thus far been unique in four important respects that can be summed up in the following sentence: affluent and middle-class Americans live in suburban areas that are far from their work places, in homes that they own, and in the center of yards that by urban standards elsewhere are enormous. This uniqueness thus involves population density, home-ownership, residential status, and journey-to-work. Also dominant in the book is the notion that the wealthy began the flight from the city first — something that the middle classes eventually emulated as city tax rates gradually increased to pay for resulting urban problems - as the poorer classes remained in the older central urban areas. Jackson argues that before and the industrial revolution , every major city was a "point" on a map that could be walked from edge to center in two or three hours. Cities had five characteristics: [2] High population density or "congestion", comparable to New York City in the s: 35,, residents per square mile.

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From ancient times, the city was the place to live, close to the arts and seat of government. The upper classes lived within walking distance of work and cultural activities, while the poor laborers lived in the suburbs, or the rough edges of town. Residents wanted to pattern them after the big cities. This development gave new meaning to family, home life, and the yard.

That said, fewer than 50 percent of families owned their own home well into the twentieth century. As Rome notes in Bulldozer in the Countryside and as Jackson details in chapters eleven and twelve, the years between the two world wars witnessed the demand for more housing, especially as soldiers returned home. By grading certain areas based on "desirability" i. Encouraged by the emergence of new cities of wartime production and government assistance for veterans, increasing numbers of Americans could afford to buy homes.

Given the massive growth of affordable dwellings accessible by the highway and train, families flocked to planned towns such as Levittown where all the details such as schools and public works were already in place so that builders could erect as many as thirty homes a day to meet demand In addition to highways to transport suburban residents to the cities and garages in the new suburban homes, post-war suburbs also contributed to new forms of commercialism including the motel, drive-in theaters, fast food, and shopping malls.

He enhances their arguments with his own. This book is perfect for both graduates and undergraduates, as well as a reader interested in the rise of suburbs. Commentary Amy Lechner, Fall Crabgrass Frontier is a solid overview and introduction to the causes of what became a unique form of American living: suburbanization.

Further, Jackson compares the American experience in cities, and later, in the areas surrounding to European counterparts to illustrate the singularity of the American experience. Although Jackson draws examples from various sized cities across the nation, much of the focus is on Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Despite the breadth of coverage, however, Crabgrass Frontier is an overall unsatisfying read. Firstly, the writing style is very dry, making the subject matter tedious and unnecessarily technical. Secondly, Crabgrass Frontier is already showing its age, both in its conclusions and its scholarship. The matter of scholarship is really the third limiting aspect of the book. Jackson provides a synthesis of a variety of topics, but lacks much on the cultural changes of suburbanism.

He hints at the privatization of American life and discusses the changing nature of shopping and movie-going, but these sections are very brief and skim the surface without much useful analysis. As is evidenced by the case of Betty Friedan, women were clearly much more important in American suburbanism as dissenters and compromisers. Jackson cannot be faulted for inaccurately predicting twenty years in the future and will likely address these statements in a revised edition, but this case underscores the dated feeling that runs throughout Crabgrass Frontier, especially in an otherwise solid, concise conclusion.

While he does cite some connections to English antecedents, he clearly sees its development in the United States as being a singularly American feature.

What is not clear is why he finds it necessary to ignore the English and European antecedents of suburbs. Any suburban development in this country was clearly going to be different with the amount of land that planners had available to exploit and with the number of cars owned which Jackson illustrates with tables. Transportation was the key to the rapid spread of the suburb beginning in the mid-nineteenth century when commuter railroads and horse cars made it possible to travel easily between the city and the outlying area.

Jackson also makes the important connection between the suburb and the middle-class emphasis on family. The suburb created family space with each house having its own tiny park that created a buffer of privacy. He illustrates how it developed with no historical precedence of inner city apartment buildings or townhouses that cities on the east coast or even Chicago had experienced.

Developers understood that they benefited from an emphasis on highways rather than mass transit and Jackson covers this story convincingly.

He does discuss the impact that the computer might have on the dichotomy of city versus suburbia but he, not surprisingly, misses the mark on the impact that the dominance of the internet in current life might have on how people work. It would also be interesting to know what effect the green movement might have on suburbs in the future. Will the amount of driving that is necessary in suburban life be targeted as unsustainable or will the green canopy of the suburb be seen as negating the impact of the carbon footprint.

This history of the suburb is valuable in so many ways, but I found the organization of the book with the many sub-headings made it seem like reading the text for a documentary and I kept hearing the accompanying voice of a narrator in my head.

Alan S. Brody, Spring Crabgrass Frontier, with its cleverly titled allusion to Turner, is a classic work and winner of the Bancroft Prize, while it may be au courant to note its outmoded predictions or traditional prose, one must see it in its time and place it within its historiographical context. Jackson is working at a time when social history and American Studies were dueling for the hand of new approaches to the past and I believe that this work is using urban history to read the suburbs.

I suggest that Jackson was moving forward an argument that the suburbs were a place first and foremost of American imagination, and it was this that clearly differentiated and evidenced as part of the American experience. Jackson make several points that are well worth reiterating. First, the built environment and abundant land allowed for a uniquely American character and physical and political development.

Second, the willingness to embrace new technologies, such as transportation, allowed for rapid change and innovation. Read this way, Jackson asks some important questions about why the suburbs developed the way they did and he looks at those factors for some high level cause and effect, this is not to say he ignores the details or that he does not do analysis, instead I found the sub headings to be helpful.

While I found myself wanting more, I appreciated the broader context in which to place my desires. Like the suburbs, one has to seed the lawn of history and then allow others to plant the garden with unique items. In other words, one can trace the work of the next generation of historians directly to Crabgrass Frontier.

The essential message in this work is that suburbia was the confluence of planning, policy and technology that highlighted and propelled extant trends that had begun in the nineteenth century.

This is a highly accessible book that has stood the test of time and will inform by helping to keep in mind the various factors at play when looking at the built environment. Brody, Fall Looking back almost one year later, I find Crabgrass Frontier to be more inspirational than I originally thought, clearly the definition of suburbs put forth by Jackson rings true and my comments about the imagination and American character also seem most valid.

In close reading, what stands out are the meta questions about place, use and geography and perhaps this social geography is the reading that has the most relevance for me. Working towards a definition of social geography, I see it as changes in the environment and its use and quantifying those changes — and here is where Jackson shows his social history muscle, by asking those questions with a qualitative answer.

Historians like Thomas Sugrue also remind us that the suburbs were plagued by racial intolerance, violence and that many of the cities ills were transplanted to the suburbs. The essential questions for anyone interested in the suburban experience are raised in Crabgrass Frontier, however, many historians have dissected and invented new threads to explore while trying to empower those who moved away from cities and in the most modern sense, those who moved back. Richard Hardesty, Fall Kenneth T.

As a result, Jackson sought to explain the differences that characterized American land use and spatial arrangements when compared to the rest of the world. He thus offered a broad synthesis that focused on the importance of land development, inexpensive lots, efficient construction methods, improved transportation, government incentives, and racial homogeneity. In examining the American suburbs, Jackson argued that suburbanization represented a natural process aided by governmental intervention, facilitating the American desire for a lifestyle characterized by home ownership in sparsely populated, racially homogeneous neighborhoods that are significantly separated from work and the urban environment 10, Jackson presented a strong argument that advanced several important historiographical themes that characterized urban scholarship.

As the twentieth century progressed, suburbanization emerged in response to the growing problems that confronted the urban environment. Issues of congestion, decentralization, and black migration facilitated the departure of whites first to the urban periphery and then to the suburbs.

To compound matters, efforts to bring people back into the city backfired. The freeways, for instance, sought to take advantage of the automobile by making downtown and, by extension, the city more accessible, but did the reverse as more people continued to leave. White Americans thus used the suburbs as a haven that separated them from the congestion, decentralization, and black migration that helped define the urban crisis.

Yet, because Jackson presented his analysis as a synthesis, he exposed himself to generalizations that sometimes hurt his presentation. Yet, while Jackson mentioned the presence of service workers in upper class suburbs, he lent the impression that they did not represent true suburbanites. After all, his working definition of suburbs contained a class component identified by the middle-class and upper-class Sheri A. In general, Jackson describes suburban movement as a result of two major factors: choice for the wealthy facilitated by transportation technology and federal policy that racially prejudiced suburban value and home ownership over inner city immigrant or minority residential living.

Jackson traces the emergence of this movement to city peripheries as a purposeful choice for elite and middle class in early years of the nineteenth century, nearly a century prior to more recent notions of post-war or white flight housing development strategies.

By carefully selecting locations that enhanced resident status; offered sanctuary from urban congestion, disease, and immigrant life; and provided access to emerging transportation routes back to commercial hubs, Jackson asserts that elites forged the way for an American suburb lifestyle that promoted the sanctity of family and healthful benefits of nature away from city centers.

This perspective of the suburban movement contrasts with twentieth century versions of the flight from city centers as a racially-motivated shift, so adds valuable context to the reasons for expansion away from city centers.

An integral part of this movement required transportation technology and Jackson describes how the emergence of the omnibus in New York City in , the ferry service in , and the commuter steam railroad in first helped move people away from the city by opening up options for residential areas away from congested city centers, yet connected to jobs via public transportation systems.

Jackson also explains how many suburban developers used ownership in trolley, horse car, or rail systems to promote development in suburban communities by establishing transport routes and offering commuter short rail service and competitive fare rates. As operating costs soared, transit owners hesitated to raise fares and failed to earn enough funds to upgrade systems.

Ridership decreased and many companies went out of business. The invention of motor cars only exacerbated the decline of rail trolley transports. As travel by cars grew in popularity, suburban developers influenced city boards to build parkways and commuter highways and created instant value in potential land development projects. From this framework, the suburb was created not by squeezing people out, but by expanding the walking city work-residence pattern as new transportation technology emerged.

Jackson presents a second compelling argument in that the development of suburbs reflected cultural norms about the role of the family and home as places of status and domesticity. As the field of architecture professionalized, home designers guided the public in creating homes that conveyed certain styles or tones. These styles created an image of low-density living in neighborhoods with detached homes with yards as the new American ideal rather than row houses.

The outcome of these various attempts failed to live up to expectations, but the HOLC did provide the advantage of uniform loan payments for home purchases with the possibility of loan renewals. The downside to the HOLC was the appraisal and rating system that stigmatized and racialized valuations of neighborhoods based on density, ethnic or racial composition, or age of structures.

After the Second World War, the need for housing presented another problem for the federal government and construction industry also responded by building up suburban areas rather than revitalizing urban areas.

Cookie-cutter suburbs financed by government-backed VA mortgages again revealed the bias towards new construction in the suburbs for middle class rather than for housing projects to restore declining city centers or support the needs of lower income population. He provides statistical analysis for financial reasons to move further from jobs and psychological and social reasons for moving away from city congestion to create residential retreats.

Jackson tracks the relationship between emerging transportation technology and the ability it creates for a larger socioeconomic cross-section of the population to move further from urban centers while still being able to travel to work.

As financial pressures create needs for cities to increase a tax base, suburban areas were forced to decide whether to remain attached to urban centers to provide moral and financial support for declining urban centers.

Then as the nation faced financial crisis in the s, Jackson shows how federal support of the suburban ideal as a residential retreat and homeownship as a middle class ideal for white Americans guided policy making that purposefully created barriers between inner city and suburban movement through land valuations, mortgage policies, construction loans, and housing projects. Jackson presents a compelling argument that the American suburb has developed along a trajectory different than other nations due to the availability of land and the idealization of the home as a middle class goal.

His talents rest on the long view of suburbanization, not only as a recent phenomenon, but as an evolving process between citizen, city, and federal government. Kirk Johnson, Spring While acknowledging that "suburbs" of some kind are as old as civilization, 12 Jackson argues that American suburbanization began in and is fundamentally unique to the United States for a variety of reasons. In this synthetic history, Jackson seeks to explain both why the American experience was so unique, and how it happened.

Jackson places the beginning of suburbanization in because prior to that, all cities--dating back to the beginning of civilization--had been relatively small, compact, and crowded places for the very good reason that people needed to be within walking distance of where the worked, when they did not work where they lived. The French innovation of the omnibus--a horse-drawn wagon for passengers which followed a fixed route at standard times for a small fare--was the first step towards creating the public transportation networks which would facilitate the spread of urban development from the center.

At the same time, the Anglo-American disdain for cities combined with the desire of wealthier residents of large cities for separation from the crowded and often unhealthy conditions in places like New York City or Philadelphia led to development of the first suburbs, which were isolated, and exclusively for the rich and their lower-class servants.

Later modes of transport would allow for a greater geographic spread, but there were other factors involved as well. The rise of the middle class ideal of the nuclear family with rigidly-defined gender roles helped legitimize the idea of moving families to the suburban fringes of the city, where the wife could maintain the sanctity of the domestic sphere in a ideally pastoral setting while the husband ventured out by steam railroad or electric trolley to the male preserve of the inner city.

This was a world view in which the lower class and non-whites had no place.


Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States

From ancient times, the city was the place to live, close to the arts and seat of government. The upper classes lived within walking distance of work and cultural activities, while the poor laborers lived in the suburbs, or the rough edges of town. Residents wanted to pattern them after the big cities. This development gave new meaning to family, home life, and the yard.


Crabgrass frontier : the suburbanization of the United States



Crabgrass Frontier


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