How did white middle-class suburbia come about?

The stereotype that you are grappling with is a product of the '50s. The public policies of subsidized home mortgages and support for highways led to a rapid spreading of the American population after World War II. The idea behind the highway system was that it would link the whole country together. But freeways also allowed people to get out of the city easily. It allowed a much greater dispersal of the population into suburbs. A lot of it was the building of new developments. Developers had to obey zoning regulations. In some places, you could not build on less than a quarter-acre. It created financial homogeneity, and that, in America at the time, meant largely racial homogeneity.

There was also, whether intended or not, a flight from the city, which left behind people who couldn't move as much; they tended to be poor and more colored.

The flight to the suburbs in America is radically different from what happens in Europe, where the country is a place of peasantry and ignorance and the city is a place of enlightenment. There's an anti-urban strain in our cuture that's at least 200 years old. The city is a place of corruption and the country is a place of virtue.

And the suburbs?

A lot of people, when they move to the suburbs, think they're moving to the country. That's a fantasy because you may have a cow out your bedroom window this week, but the next you're going to have somebody else's house. The more people are oriented by this self-defeating goal, the fewer are going to have it.

The U.S. Census shows that suburbia is increasingly diverse, yet the idyllic promise of this dream still attracts people.

There's a lot of inertia in social life. Once you get an idea, it can hang ...

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Christianity Today
Religion in the 'Burbs
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July 2003

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