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Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985 (396 pp.). Jackson argues that "suburbanization has been the outstanding residential characteristic of American life," and nearly two decades after its publication, his sweeping history is still one of the finest and clearest overviews of how American-style suburbs came to dominate the landscape – showing how the automobile, federal programs, racism, and numerous other economic, political, and social conditions created the perfect storm that pushed development outward, ruining cities in the process. Jackson begins by comparing housing patterns in America with those in Europe, noting that there are at least four areas where the two differ: work-live conditions, density, home ownership, and residential status. That is, Americans tend to live farther from work, density is much lower here, more people own their homes, and there is less distinction between core and periphery. All of these are more conducive to a suburban rather than urban lifestyle. The remainder of the book explains how these differences came about, and he places great emphasis on the role of corporate developers, the available of inexpensive land, the evolution of the building industry (balloon-frame housing), new transportation methods, an abundance of cheap energy, government programs, and race relations. A main argument here is that government activities, such as lending programs that privileged developers and the auto industry – and which were downright discriminatory – furthered the ghettoization of downtowns by encouraging white flight and sprawl, especially after World War II and the Baby Boom era. An extremely helpful aspect of Jackson’s book is his historical research, which traces the beginnings of the modern suburb to the early 19th century, and we see that the initial reasons for moving outward (contact with nature, low taxes, more land, status, safety, etc.) are still very much with us today. Transportation plays a huge role in this story – from the streetcar to the bus to the automobile, and each successive development led to a different neighborhood form – each one less centralized than the previous. Abetting Jackson’s research are countless graphs, charts, maps, reports, and appendices that document the development of America’s suburban drive-in culture. One wishes that more of the case studies in Crabgrass Frontier looked at western and southwestern cities, which grew up in the age of the automobile; it’s odd, for example, that there is almost nothing on retirement communities, such as Sun City, Arizona. Jackson tells this story as an impartial historian, and for the most part he retains his objectivity; although his disdain sometimes shows through, especially when he describes the affects of suburbanization on community bonds. Finally, Jackson writes at a time when Edge Cities, gated communities, and power centers are emerging, but he clearly anticipates their development; and he concludes with this caution: "Thus, the United States is not only the world’s first suburban nation, but it will also be its last. By 2025 the energy-inefficient and automobile-dependent suburban system of the American republic must give way to patterns of human activity and living structures that are energy efficient."


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