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“The hour of a profound human change”

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

Abstract

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

Keywords

Federal Housing Administration Domestic Sphere Social Landscape Sexual Politics Utopian Vision 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    For excellent, extended discussions of the first century of American suburbanization, see Margaret Marsh, Suburban Lives (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990)Google Scholar
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  3. 4.
    Landscape theorist J. B. Jackson, in Landscapes: Selected Writings of J. B. Jackson, ed. Ervin H. Zube (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1970)Google Scholar
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  5. 9.
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  6. 12.
    And, in this regard, these stately landscapes helped to inspire the future shape of suburbia. Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen argue this point in their recent suburban history Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York: Basic Books, 2000)Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), xxxi.Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of this fascinating redirection into the social sphere of Freud’s oedipal model of desire, see Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane, section 4.5, esp. 353–357 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983).Google Scholar
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    Schultz, 48. Schultz’s observation gets at the sense that postwar suburbs functioned according to the logic of what C.B. Macpherson terms “possessive individualism,” or the elevation of private property ownership as the measure of not only personal dignity, but indeed political power. See Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1962).Google Scholar
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    Martini’s phrasing calls to mind the analysis of the cultural significance of the pig offered by Peter Stallybras and Allon White in The Politics of Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert Beuka 2004

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  • Robert Beuka

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