The Suburbs at 75: Levittown and Beyond

Allen Pietrobon
Allen Pietrobon
American University

Dr. Allen Pietrobon is an Assistant Professor of Global Affairs at Trinity Washington University. He specializes in 20th-Century American history and U.S. Foreign Policy, focusing on nuclear weapons policies and Cold War diplomacy. Since 2011, he has also served as an Assistant Director of Research at the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University.

Overview

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The 1950s are often remembered in an idyllic and nostalgic way, sparking images of a single-family home in a leafy suburban neighborhood. Backyard barbeques and white picket fences. An American-built car in the driveway. The perfect picture of the American dream.

It’s easy to understand how some people long for that era. After all, the country was globally respected, the economy boomed, and an abundance of well-paid industrial jobs grew the middle-class. Life was safe and pleasant in the newly built suburbs which had seemed to sprout up from farmlands overnight. About 15 percent of the population, or 20 million Americans, had moved from cities to suburban homes in places like Glenmont, MD, or Levittown, PA, marking one of the largest migrations in American history.

How and why did the unique form of suburban living first arise in America? What are the legacies of the suburbs and how did they shape American politics and culture? What can we learn from our ideas about suburban living and how they continue to impact America today?

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