As a companion piece to the Urban Sprawl documentary from the early 1970s I ran a few days ago, discussing the rapidly abandoning of American cities, here is a dramatized essay written by Social commentator, and former Associate Publisher of Playboy Magazine, A.C. Spectorsky called The Exurbanites. It deals with the growing trend of city dwellers to abandon their claustrophobic surroundings in favor of the “wide open spaces” of the country. And even though it’s dramatized, it reflects what was a growing trend in American cities, beginning just after World War 2.
As in the 1970s, in the 1950s, moving to the country and commuting to work each day via train had a certain status attached to it. As is pointed out in The Exurbanites, people living in the country were, what they called “Captains of Industry” – everyone from Ad Agency executives to Newspaper publishers; the country was the place for the wealthy and successful to relocate to. In exchange for a certain amount of “roughing it’, the Exurbanite was treated to unending amounts of fresh air, quiet, peaceful bucolic surroundings and “elbow room”. What it offered was a far cry from city living, with cramped living conditions, crime, bad air and noise.
It’s interesting to juxtapose the sentiments of this piece, aired some sixty-two years ago, with the current living situation we are experiencing in our cities, where people are priced out of their homes and apartments, businesses are forced to close and Real Estate developers are infesting older neighborhoods, gentrifying and building in order to make attractive for the wealthy and successful to relocate to. And ironically, the outlying areas of these cities are now facing abandonment, where the seeming dead-end of living in the outer reaches from the city have seen a spike in crime and drug abuse. The once popular shopping mall, that essential element of life in Suburbia and Exurbia are now things of the past. No longer useful or attractive. The cities are now the places to be, or are trying. I’m not sure how successful this new trend will be in the long run – already, there are indications it’s not, as is evidenced by the amount of empty new construction and vacant new apartments dotting our cities at the moment.
Maybe this speaks more to the pendulum nature of life and our society; how we go from one extreme to the other in a matter of years or decades. I think we’re right in the middle of this story, and it would be premature to predict how it will go; one way or the other.
But in 1956, people were talking about it, and to many it was a goal.
Here is The Exurbanites as it aired on March 30, 1956 via CBS Radio.