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How The Suburbs Got Started

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There's an interesting op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that talks about the history of suburbs, specifically Levettown, New York. Growing up I was always taught that Levittown was the first suburb. I don't know if that's true, but it's an interesting read.

What made this revolution possible was in large part what made cars, refrigerators and TV sets luxury goods no longer: mass production. Like most geniuses, William Levitt, the founder of Levittown, worked on a simple premise. If you could build houses on an assembly line and remove cost-creating encumbrances (most famously, basements), you could make them affordable for average Americans. "Any damn fool can build homes," Mr. Levitt, who made the cover of Time in 1950, once noted. "What counts is how many you can sell for how little."
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. Growing up I was always taught that Levittown was the first suburb. I don't know if that's true, but it's an interesting read.

Levittown is one of the first modern suburbs-- post WWII suburbs-- but the idea of suburbs have been around for a much longer period. Suburbs were developed in the mid to late 1800s and were accelerated with the development of streetcars. These suburban areas were home to upper and middle class residents who were able commute to the city. West Philadelphia connected to the center city by the streetcar was a originally a suburb. And Philadelphia's Main Line Suburbs-- Swarthmore and Villanova, for example, were built along the Pennsylvania Main Railroad Line. As commuter stations were built, suburbs also grew up around other cities. Chicago and Boston are two examples. One of the first street car suburbs in Boston was Roxbury that once been farmland and orchard. Although once was a separate town, Roxbury was annexed by the City of Boston. Many of the homes in Roxbury were large Victorians built in the mid- to late 1800s. Located in a former street car suburb, my first house a wonderful elegant 12 room Roxbury Victorian in a neighborhood composed of many Victorians all of which had been built for and once occupied by upper class families.

A book, Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900, by Sam Bass Warner describes the development of streetcar suburbs in Boston.

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