Picture Windows: How The Suburbs Happened

Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall

Published by Basic Books, 2000
ISBN 10: 0465070450 / ISBN 13: 9780465070459
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Synopsis: In Picture Windows, Baxandall and Ewen shatter naïve stereotypes of suburban life, replacing them with a clear and compelling historical analysis that situates the development of the suburbs in relation to the pivotal issues of postwar American life. They examine the years from World War II to the present, chronicling the transformation of rural lands into tidy, uniform subdevelopments that promised all of the comforts of postwar technology.The building of the suburbs, the authors argue, was conducted in the context of heated debates over the American standard of living, visionary planners and architects' attempts to solve the housing crisis,” women's liberation, and racial segregation. Baxandall and Ewen use interviews with hundreds of residents of three Long Island suburbs to weave together a story about suburbs past and present, and ultimately to insist on the centrality of suburban experience in the second half of the twentieth century.

Review: This fascinating study of the suburbs of Long Island, New York (and by analogy, those across America) arose from the authors' daily commute from Manhattan to SUNY Old Westbury, which is near Levittown, one of the earliest and perhaps the most famous of American suburbs. Initially they had imagined suburbia "as an anaesthetized state of mind, a no place dominated by a culture of conformity and consumption." Their research quickly taught them otherwise. While Picture Windows does document a growing obsession with middle-class consumer goods, like the televisions that came with 1950 houses at Levittown, it disrupts the myth of suburban serenity to reveal "a rich and stormy history" of political and social conflict. The planners and visionaries of suburbia, as the authors attest, tried to create a place "where ordinary people, not just the elite, would have access to affordable, attractive modern housing in communities with parks, gardens, recreation, stores, and cooperative town meeting places." Shunning the "snobbery" of cultural critics who deplored the "neat little toy houses on their neat little patches of lawn," Baxandall and Ewen find much to celebrate in the burgeoning suburbs. Most of those who flocked to the new towns had been crowded into city slums during the depression and war; they never questioned the architectural conformity of the suburbs, but only rejoiced in the chance of owning their own brand-new homes, places empty of anyone else's memories and rich with potential. Picture Windows is a quintessentially American story, told with skill and conviction. --Regina Marler

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Title: Picture Windows: How The Suburbs Happened
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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