Story of the Suburbs

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The Story of the Suburbs: How the State Destroyed Our Cities and Segregated Society By Brian Foglia


Abstract: This paper seeks to explain the creation and dominance of suburbia in the United States from a historical and socio-economic perspective. The phenomenon is shown to be caused by significant state intervention in various markets such as housing, banking, and automobiles. The data and research presented confirm the validity of Austrian theories of state intervention and market distortion. First, we will discuss the historical emergence of suburbia before the intervention. Second, we will describe the particular state policies that introduced perverse incentives into the aforementioned markets. We will then discuss the impacts of these policies on cities and the systematic victimization of their inhabitants. Finally, we will discuss the overall social and economic repercussions of this suburban subsidization.


It has become conventional wisdom throughout academia that the emergence of suburbia during the 20th century has created – or perpetuated - a great deal of social strife in the United States. The rise of the suburban dominion has, on no small scale, contributed to the stark racial segregation that has persisted throughout the postwar era. The taxes required for such an endeavor have drained untold resources from the urban population to finance suburbia’s largess. The socio-economic organization of the suburban landscape stifles the sense of community and cuts Americans off from one another, leading to a litany of social and psychological pandemics. Below, I will show that the natural process of suburbanization that began to take place in the prewar United States was appropriated by the federal government and used as a means of enriching entrenched interests and propagating racist policies. The state has, over the course of roughly a century, enacted legislation and enforced policies that have subsidized and artificially invigorated the growth of suburbia at the expense of the vibrancy and livelihood of American cities and their inhabitants. The major ramifications of this phenomenon will also be discussed. To begin to understand what suburbia is and how it came about, we must first embark upon a journey through history. Prior to the 1920s, nonrural real estate had to be developed within reasonable walking distance of


mass transit.1 Cities were physically centralized and harbored ethnically diverse populations. The lower and middle classes lived and worked in very close proximity to one another, and residential and commercial buildings were evenly dispersed amongst one another.2 However, as big cities became increasingly populated and unsanitary, the upper class quickly developed a desire to escape the noise and dirt of the city to the peace and quiet of the hinterlands. In fact, at the outset of the 20th century large portions of Long Island were quickly bought up and renovated by the wealthy New Yorkers who built lavish estates to seclude themselves from the riff-raff while remaining in close proximity to Manhattan.3 Elsewhere, in smaller cities and towns, “suburbs” were primarily slums.4 Suburbia began in the US not as a bastion of the middle class, but as a refuge for the wealthy. However, the allure of suburban life was not solely for the well-to-do. As early as the late 19th century, developers who built estates for the rich outside the largest cities also began building affordable housing for the middle class.5


Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York:

Oxford University Press, 1985), pg. 189
2 3

Ibid., pg. 15 Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York:

Basic Books, 2000), pg. 4-13

Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York:

Oxford University Press, 1985), pg. 25

Ibid., pg. 29


Then, beginning...
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