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When America Became Suburban

2006
Author:

Robert A. Beauregard

When America Became Suburban

Understanding the consequences of the decline of cities and the rise of the American suburb

Robert A. Beauregard examines the intersection of urban decline, suburbanization, domestic prosperity, and U.S. global aspirations as it unfolded from 1945 to the mid-1970s. Placing the decline of America's cities and the rise of the suburbs into a cultural, political, and global context, Beauregard illuminates how these phenomena contributed to a changing notion of America's identity at home and abroad.

In this boldly interpretive book, Robert A. Beauregard embeds the story of postwar urban and industrial decline and massive suburbanization in a transnational framework, connecting it to notions of American exceptionalism and national identity in a fresh and illuminating way.

Thomas Bender, author of The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea

In the decades after World War II, the United States became the most prosperous nation in the world and a superpower whose dominance was symbolized by the American suburbs. Spurred by the decline of its industrial cities and by mass suburbanization, people imagined a new national identity—one that emphasized consumerism, social mobility, and a suburban lifestyle. The urbanity of the city was lost.

In When America Became Suburban, Robert A. Beauregard examines this historic intersection of urban decline, mass suburbanization, domestic prosperity, and U.S. global aspirations as it unfolded from 1945 to the mid-1970s. Suburban expansion and the subsequent emergence of sprawling Sunbelt cities transformed every aspect of American society. Assessing the global implications of America’s suburban way of life as evidence of the superiority of capitalist democracy, Beauregard traces how the suburban ideology enabled America to distinguish itself from both the Communist bloc and Western Europe, thereby deepening its claim of exceptionalism on the world-historical stage.

Placing the decline of America’s industrial cities and the rise of vast suburban housing and retail spaces into a cultural, political, and global context, Beauregard illuminates how these phenomena contributed to a changing notion of America’s identity at home and abroad. When America Became Suburban brings to light the profound implications of de-urbanization: from the siphoning of investments from the cities and the effect on the quality of life for those left behind to a profound shift in national identity.

When America Became Suburban

Robert A. Beauregard is a professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University. He is the author of Voices of Decline: The Postwar Fate of U.S. Cities and editor of Economic Restructuring and Political Response and Atop the Urban Hierarchy.

When America Became Suburban

In this boldly interpretive book, Robert A. Beauregard embeds the story of postwar urban and industrial decline and massive suburbanization in a transnational framework, connecting it to notions of American exceptionalism and national identity in a fresh and illuminating way.

Thomas Bender, author of The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea

This original and important book brings a unique global perspective to the study of American cities and suburbs from World War II to the recession of the mid-1970s. As always, Beauregard writes with his unique combination of wit, learning, originality, and solid scholarship.

Robert Fishman, Taubman College of Architecture and Planning

While this is a small book, it is filled with big, provocative ideas, many of which should keep scholars busy for some time exploring more deeply.

Antioch Review

With the combination of continuing sprawl overall and periodic resurgence in the downtowns and neighborhoods of at least some older U.S. central cities, Beauregard’s book makes for an intriguing reconsideration of the parasitic urbanization concept.

Journal of Planning Education and Research

This is a story of fascinating but much-neglected time in U.S. history. Unlike most analyses of the period from the end of WWII to the recession of the mid-1970s, it focuses both on the decline of the urban U.S. and its cultural impact on national identity. Recommended.

Choice

Beauregard’s book would be useful in the classroom—it’s well-written and includes at least brief discussions of most topics that might be covered in a course on American urban history—and also merits serious scholarly attention for its efforts at placing post-World War II suburbanization in the context of American exceptionalism and economic development. Provides an excellent introduction to new students. Beauregard does an excellent job presenting the complexity of Americans’s attitudes toward both cities and suburbs.

Urban Affairs Review

An extended and passionate commentary on important historic trends. Advanced undergraduates and graduate students will find the book useful and challenging, libraries should certainly adopt this book, and a variety of metropolitan observers, academic and non-academic, should find much of interest here.

The Pennsylvania Geographer

It is well worth reading Beauregard to stimulate our own reflections on the significance of the dawn of most Americans’s and Canadians’s dominant everyday world.

Canadian Journal of Urban Research

When America Became Suburban

Contents

Preface

1. The Short American Century
2. Urbanization’s Consequences
3. Parasitic Urbanization
4. Culture and Institutions
5. Domestic Prosperity
6. Ways of Life
7. America’s Global Project
8. Identity and Urbanity

Acknowledgments

APPENDIXES

Appendix A. Decennial Population Loss for the Fifty Largest U.S. Cities, 1820–2000
Appendix B. Demographic and Economic Comparisons across Periods of Urbanization
Appendix C. Measures of Urbanization for Historical Periods

Notes

Index