“The hour of a profound human change”

Transitional Landscapes and the Sense of Place in Two Proto-Suburban Narratives
  • Robert Beuka


The landscape that Americans think of today as “suburbia” began to emerge rapidly in the years following World War II, with developers across the nation following the example set by the architectural firm of Levitt and Sons in their creation of Levittown, New York, an immensely popular preplanned suburb built in 1946–47. Nevertheless, the American suburban impulse did not begin with Levittown, but rather was evident as early as the first decades of the nineteenth century, with the founding of the nation’s first commuter suburbs.1 Over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, suburbs continued to gain prominence across the country.2 From the outset, American suburbs have occupied what environmental historian John Stilgoe aptly refers to as a “borderland” identity, a space situated both physically and philosophically between the urban and the rural.3 Thus, while nineteenth-century suburbanization reflected the increasing importance of urban centers in American society, at the same time the suburb served as the physical embodiment of an ongoing agrarian impulse in the national culture. Tied to both the urban and rural spheres yet not fully identifiable with either, the early suburbs composed a new type of landscape, one that quickly became overlaid with symbolic meaning. From the outset, the suburb was viewed, alternately, as a landscape modeling democratic values and a pastoral retreat from the rush of urban culture.4


Federal Housing Administration Domestic Sphere Social Landscape Sexual Politics Utopian Vision 
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© Robert Beuka 2004

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  • Robert Beuka

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