Crabgrass frontier : the suburbanization of the United States

by Kenneth T. Jackson

Hardcover, 1985




New York : Oxford University Press, 1985.


In America, in contrast to almost anywhere else in the world, the good life means traveling a long distance to get to work. How and why this came to be our cultural norm is the subject of this long-awaited book. Because more than two-thirds of all dwellings are single family homes surrounded by an ornamental yard, suburbia is the most distinctive physical characteristic of modern American society. Crabgrass Frontier is the first book to trace the growth of suburbs in America from their origins in the 1820's--in Brooklyn Heights opposite Manhattan--until the present day. Combining social history with economic and architectural history, the book discusses suburban communities in every section of the country as well as making comparisons with Europe and Japan. Jackson considers such intriguing questions as why transportation technology changed the shape of American cities more than European ones, why the family room and the television set replaced the stoop and the street as the focus of social interaction, how the evolution of the garage reflected increasing affection for the automobile, how federal housing programs undermined inner city neighborhoods, and how government policies insured the collapse of the nation's once superb mass transit system. The book shows not only that Americans have long preferred a detached dwelling to a row house, rural life to city life, and owning to renting, but also that suburbanization has been as much a governmental as a natural process. About the Author: Kenneth T. Jackson is a Professor of History at Columbia University and the author of The Ku Klux Klan in the City.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Scapegoats
Jackson provides a comprehensive analysis of the the move to the suburbs in America. He argues that this is not a new phenomena, but goes back to the nineteenth century. He cites the causes as the abundance of land, distrust of cities, racial tensions and unregulated use of private property. New construction techniques and improvements in transportation were also very important. In particular, the growth of the use of cars allowed greater movement to the suburbs. In addition, federal policy, with public housing and red lining, contributed to suburbanization.

Jackson fluctuates between seeing suburbs as symbiotic and parasitic, with parasitism dominating recent decades. He sees suburbs as a drain on cities, offering very little in return. He appears completely hostile to the car, which is his primary villain in 20th century suburbanization, as it combines mobility and status. Yet he sees hope for the future as land and construction prices go up. Although most of his analysis has become the standard, his predictions have not held up as well. Twenty years later, suburbanization continues with little change in sight.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Why does the US look so strange compared to other places with big cities, with failing urban cores surrounded by prosperous (ticklike, even) suburbs? Jackson gives the history of US suburbanization, which started with cheap transportation via streetcars and railroads and exploded with the rise of the automobile. He argues that there were two key preconditions—the suburban ideal of living in detached housing with an automobile (desires he argues are shared widely beyond the US, but the US’s wealth enabled more people to fulfill that ideal) and population growth, making geographic expansion seem desirable. And then there were two fundamental causes: racial prejudice (which led whites to flee cities when they could, and led to government policies that made it easier for whites to flee and harder for minorities, most especially African-Americans, to go anywhere—the government turned prejudice into policy, so that homes in “redlined” areas couldn’t get mortgages and therefore couldn’t help African-Americans build wealth) and cheap housing (also the result of government decisions to subsidize suburbanization, homeownership, and automobile transit, as well as new construction technology, abundant land, and relative wealth). Wealthy developers were allowed to shape government policy, unlike in Europe, so, for example, municipal services were extended to suburbs, often paid for by the cities they were draining.

Very interesting and depressing reading; published in 1984, Jackson makes some predictions about the future of suburbanization that, a quarter-century later, have mostly not been borne out, though they haven’t been disproved either.
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LibraryThing member drawnstring
I read this for a seminar I had on Urban and Suburban Sociology.
It is an interesting read (however, that is a subject that I truly love, so take this review with a grain of salt)

The writing is a little dry, can't really expect much from it, but it was very informational and makes me want to move out of the suburbs and despise it more =)… (more)



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