It’s interesting how things change; how they go from one extreme to the other over time. In this radio documentary, produced in 1972, the issue is how this Suburban Sprawl has negatively impacted the Urban environment – how people were abandoning the cities in droves, seeking refuge in the less hectic, less congested, less crime-ridden areas known as The Suburbs.
You could trace the decline of the City to somewhere after World War 2, where returning Veterans were given generous VHA loans and “bedroom communities” were springing up everywhere, especially on the West Coast. The establishment of Freeways made commuting to work a simple, effortless thing and the promise of “breathing space” was an added enticement.
But it’s interesting to trace the history, even further back than WW2 – go back to the Industrial Revolution of the late 1890s, where the wealthy established homes in the country (suburbs now) as a way of getting away from the congested cities, largely inhabited by the middle and working class who were tied to the city because transportation in and out of the suburbs was prohibitive, and goods and services were really only available in urban areas. Unless of course, you were part of Rural society, and there was a division there too. Suburbia existed for the wealthy.
But after the war, and as housing developments grew, attracting city dwellers to the less crazy environment of country living, businesses and even industry began to relocate to the suburbs – further abandoning the City. Suburbs became the home to the Shopping Mall and cities were becoming rusted, hulking ghost towns home to the poor.
Add to that the element of violence; the Civil disturbances of the 60s, and you had a condition known as “White Flight”; further emptying the neighborhoods of the city in favor of the suburbs, and the (ostensibly) “lily-white” shops and schools and neighborhoods this country living was offering.
But as history seems to be more of a pendulum swing than an actual ebb-and-flow, people who no doubt grew up in Suburbia found the city an attractive and vibrant place to be. Artists and musicians flocked to the areas of Downtown because of cheap rents and sparse population and the desire of many to live in that “gritty, realistic environment” only a city in decay could offer.
So as the city became a magnet to the adventuresome, those escapees from the Suburbs who found living in their environment antiseptic and boring, were now moving back into formerly all white neighborhoods that had became ethnically and racially mixed in the meantime, supplying their own identities and cultural nuances to Urban living. But it also attracted those who saw this reverse trend as an opportunity to make money – lots of money, with greed rearing its gilded head. And now, some 40 years later, the City has become a place which is trying, very hard, to be home to the wealthy, while chasing out the Middle and Working Class, the ethnic mixes and artisans, by making it economically impossible to afford living where many of them had lived since the initial flight abandoned their city in the first place some forty and fifty years ago. They are now moving to the largely abandoned and decaying Suburbs – where the Malls have closed (thanks mostly to On-line shopping) and crime has risen and the number of vacant houses skyrocket each month.
To get a better idea of the history behind the reversal in living environments, this one-hour documentary lays out the reasons and the history behind why we live where we live and why things just aren’t the same as they used to be.
Here is Urban Sprawl, from the Second Sunday series from NBC Radio, first broadcast on August 13, 1972.