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The History of Alternative Suburbs

A new book about unconventional suburbs challenges the perception that these were socially and racially homogenous places.
April 22, 2019, 7am PDT | Camille Fink
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In an excerpt from her new book Radical Suburbs, Amanda Kolson Hurley describes various experimental communities that sprung up from the 1820s to the 1960s outside of cities and challenge conventional notions of American suburbs. "These groups had very different backgrounds and motivations, but all of them believed in the power of the local community to shape moral and social values, and in the freedom provided by outskirts land to live and build in new ways."

Hurley says that the perception of suburbs as filled with tracts of cookie-cutter homes where middle-class whites resided is not wrong, but it is a limited understanding of their diversity. Lower-income suburbs existed as did black and integrated suburbs, suburbs based on religious ideology, and suburbs founded by anarchists and socialists.

For Hurley, looking back at the past is important as demographic, social, and economic changes influence the transformation of present-day suburbs. "Heavy-handed zoning and land-use regulations might try to make time stand still, but nothing is predestined about the future of suburbia, where most Americans live. Instead of despairing over the suburbs’ problems, we should be inspired by suburban history to try to solve them."

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Published on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 in CityLab
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