Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Art History; Urban Studies
This project explores the development and evolution of the suburban built environment in the United States, from the nineteenth century in the wake of the Industrial Revolution into present day. Philosophical movements and the advent of urban planning as a recognized academic discipline at the beginning of the twentieth century contributed to a focus on urban design and development as a way to combat problems within society. Architects and planners were employed to not simply build homes in residential districts, but to increase social capital and foster healthy growth. By constructing a physically perfect model of society, a utopia, planners like Ebenezer Howard believed they could engineer a perfect population. The architecture and urban layout of planned suburbs was meant to facilitate this overall goal for a philosophically united group of people. Embracing modern materials and engineering methods, these planned new towns took on forms that suited the designer’s utopian ideal, which I am defining in this paper as the ‘American Dream’. This dream is rooted in socio-economic factors, most importantly home ownership, which has had a profound effect on the built environment of suburbia. I am looking specifically at three movements from the twentieth century: the Garden City Movement as exemplified by the community of Forest Hills Gardens, New York; the post-World War II single use zoned suburbs inspired by Levittown, New York; and the New Urbanism movement of the 1980’s and 90’s as seen at Seaside and Celebration, Florida. These three movements demonstrated similar American ideals of independence and community, yet have disparate physical landscapes. I am focusing more of my attention at each town’s plan rather than the architectural style of the buildings, because more thought and energy was put into the urban design than the appearance of residential structures. A reliance on visual image is part the overall goal to support what was really a spatial and ideological shift in urban design sensibility. Ultimately, I am opposing the sprawling suburbia that began in the latter half of the twentieth century, which has done little to increase social capital and instead has created several problems for society. Instead, I am advocating for the construction of planned suburban towns that were designed to reduce the emphasis on automobile use, with designated public spaces and minimal use of restrictive zoning, similar to the Garden Cities or more recent New Urbanist towns, that I believe do more to foster a healthy community.
Schwartz, Nicole, "The Built Environment, Utopia, and the American Dream: Suburban Development in the United States in the 19th and 20th Centuries". Senior Theses, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 2015.
Trinity College Digital Repository, https://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/theses/465