Little Boxes by HC12091814549


									                                   Little Boxes
        In 1947, something strange started growing in the potato fields of Long Island,
New York. It wasn’t edible, and it was far from organic. From the air, you could tell it
was something new: row upon row of houses, each exactly like the next. It was
Levittown, the first modern suburb, and towns like it would soon become home to the
largest generation of American teens yet.
        After World War II, 16 million soldiers flooded back home to marry and have
babies. They helped produce a record, 76 million children during the “Baby Boom”
years of 1946 to 1964. But as the new parents tried to get settled, they faced a severe
housing shortage. By 1947, 6 million families were sharing homes, while another
500,000 lived in whatever they could find—barns, garages, tool sheds, even chicken
        Enter William Levitt
        We build shelter. We build roofs over people’s heads. They needed it. Half the
women were pregnant and half had tots in their arms.
        --William Levitt, developer

        In the spring of 1947, Levitt announced plans to construct 2,000 affordable homes
for veterans on fields 25 miles east of Manhattan. Using the techniques of mass
production, he was able to build houses for next to nothing.
        When I saw houses for $6,990, with no down payment. I couldn’t believe it. We
followed the map we were given and bought the first house we saw without going inside.
        --John Kilbride, Levittown resident

        There were 27 steps to building a Levittt house, and each worker had a single task
to perform. With great efficiency, Levitt built 36 houses a day. By the time Levittown
was completed in 1951, it contained 17,400 homes, housing 82,000 people on 6,000
acres. Companies all around the modern subdivision were born. Critics looked at the
“ticky-tacky” Levittown houses s\and their homogeneous residents and panicked.
        …a multitude of uniform, unidentifiable houses, enabled by people of the same
class, the same age group, witnessing the same TV performances, eating the same
tasteless, prefabricated foods from the same freezers.
        --Lewis Mumford, architecture critic

       Levitt, like most developers, barred anyone but whites from his subdivision. But
most residents of Levittown didn’t care. They loved owning their own places. And they
enjoyed the camaraderie they felt with neighbors who had the same backgrounds, hopes
and problems.
       Your Home is a Retreat from the frustrations of life, where you can shut out the
world; it’s a haven your children can run to, not run from.
       --Ethan Allan Furniture ad

       By 1970, a majority of Americans lived in the suburbs. The generation that
reached their teens in the 1960’s was the largest in American history and most of them
were molded by the ‘burbs, for better or worse.
        Parents had escaped the downside of city life—crime, crowds, mediocre
schools—and felt they had given their kids an advantage. Unlike previous generations,
suburban teens did not have to work in the fields of their family’s farm, or sweep the
floors of the corner grocery store. They had a huge group of friends in neighborhoods
complete with playgrounds, swimming pools, and baseball diamonds. They dropped out
of school less and went to college more.
        On the other hand, the suburbs were an insular world.
        In many of the new suburbs, the white child never sees a Negro. In others the
Jewish child never plays with any but Jewish children. Some of these suburbs are all
Catholic. In others there are no Catholics.
        --Sidonie Gruenberg, journalist

        As people moved to the suburbs, extended families broke up into nuclear
families—just father, mother, and kids. Only rarely were youth exposed to people of
different ages, races, religions, or classes. And intolerance flourished where contact with
different people was scarce.
        The new suburbia had given post-war parents a haven in a dangerous and
unpredictable world. But could a cozy house in a cozy neighborhood prepare kids to deal
with the world beyond the picket fence?
        --Sean McCollum

Suburban Lifestyle
        The fifties were a time of prosperity and tranquility during which the country was
entranced by materialism. Something new was being invented just about every minute,
and the people had the money to buy these new inventions. During these years,
television, suburbia, superhighways, and automobiles became dominant factors in
American life. Many people felt that the god life had finally arrived; the poverty of the
Depression and the disruption of World War II were over.
        It was a time of new stoves, clothes, houses, and cars, air conditioners, self-
service, elevators, direct mail telephones, McDonalds, computers, credit cards transistor
radios, diet drinks, filter cigarettes, TV’s and any other appliance you could think of. And
on the streets, there were men in hats, vests, and gray flannel suits, women and children
everywhere. The young boys had crew cuts and the girls wore skirts and bobby sox.
        The great prosperity of the fifties was cause by the overall postwar affluence and
by the enormous expansion of the economy. Between 1950 and 1958, the economy
expanded at a steady rate of 4.7%, heralding remarkable increases in the standard of
living for most people. This expansion was caused by a number of factors. For one thing,
there was a lingering postwar back-up demand for consumer goods, which was
supplemented by the people’s increased purchasing power which was a result of people’s
savings. Also, World War II had resulted in the expansion of factories and other
technological advancements, which were revised during the Cold war and the Korean
conflict. The fifties also heralded the appearance of new and modernize industries
ranging form electronics to plastics.
         The population growth, the expansion of large cities, sprawling suburbias, and
highway and automobile construction also contributed to the expansion of the economy,
as well as an increase in the productivity of the work force. In addition to this, there was
the commitment to the foreign aid, which made overseas credits and the American
exports possible, ad Cold war spending.
         With the cities expanding, there were many people who wanted to escape the
urban crime and congestion. This led to the rise of suburbia. At the close of World War
II, suburbia attracted only a small portion of the population, usually rich people.
However, there was a massive suburban building boom in the late 1940s which led to a
massive middle and lower middle class exodus from the cities to a bulldozed landscape of
tiny ranch houses on 50 foot tracts surrounded by shopping centers, recreational facilities,
schools, churches, and parking lots.
         Thousands of suburban communities sprang up all over the country, built for the
affordability and the function of raising children with an assembly line. The houses, and
the people, in these communities were uniform and unimaginative. Everyone who lived
there was about the same age, had about the same income, and the same number of kids;
even the problems, habits, conversation, dress, and processions were identical. There
were few people in the suburban communities that were poor, wealthy, black, single, old,
or childless. There were only couples between 25 and 35 with one or two small kids in
most of which the men held middle class jobs (managers, salesman, professionals, and
small businessmen) and were rising up the economic or corporate ladder.
         In additions to city expansion, the trend towards early marriage in the forties and
fifties also contributed to the rise in suburbia. The trend was to go steady, marry young,
have lots of children, and live the conforming life of togetherness. Overall, people in the
forties and fifties believed that family togetherness, focused mainly on children, was the
mark of a successful and wholesome personal life.
         This trend in marriage was an inevitable result of the return to peace and
prosperity after World War II. The people wanted to put the hardships of the war behind
them and enjoy the abundance at home. The family also provided a fortress against the
problems in postwar America, such as the communist and nuclear scares. Thus, in the
fifties, 96.4% of the women and 94.1% of the men were married, almost everyone was
married by their mid-twenties, and most couples had 2 to 4 kids born soon after marriage
and closer together than before.
         All the families that arose from this trend needed somewhere to live, and thus
suburbia was treated, and, along with it, the perfect family. The home of the perfect
family was in suburbia, in a model ranch structure house in the price range of the average
worker ($8,000 for a house, earn $5,000 - $7,000 a year), filled with all the modern
appliances and conveniences to make the life of a housewife easier. All these appliances
were not “traditional” throughout history; the fifties represented the first effort to create a
home that fulfilled everyone’s personal needs.
         In suburbia, the American center of family life and togetherness, the neighbors
very close and there were many community activities. They were always helping each
other out with home repairs or coming to each other’s aid un times of emergency or
sorrow. There were also carpools, babysitting pools, backyard barbeques for the whole
neighborhood, and block parties. For companionship, there was the PTA, churches,
swimming pools, bridge, writing, ceramics, photography, and many other clubs for all
         The traditional gender roles were a central feature of the fifties “perfect family”.
The man was the father and the bread winner of the family, working a 9 to 5 day.
Fatherhood was the center of a man’s identity; his job came second to being a dad. Thus
he was more likely to settle for a lower paying job if it was more secure and allowed him
to spend a lot of time with his kids. The father also felt that they had to spend a lot of
time with their sons to make sure that they were not sissies.
         The role of the woman was that of the mother and professional homemaker. The
prosperity of the period made it possible for the entire family to be supported by one
income. She took are of the kids and the home, enjoying her independence from control
over her work. She devoted most of her time and energy to the home and the family, and
many women felt teat they had to be mothers to lead a fulfilling life. It was also easier to
be a housewife in the fifties, because of all the new appliances that eased the burden of
the work. It was also the women’s job to create the home of their dreams with the money
her husband brought home from work. The housewife was the thread between the family
and the community.
         One example of a perfect family can be seen in Sloan Wilson’s novel Man in a
Gray Flannel Suit. The main character, Tom Rath, has a wife named Betsy, 3 kids, a 6-
room house in Westport, a 1939 Ford, $10,000 in GI life insurance, and a $7,000-a-year
job at a charitable foundation where his duties are negligible. He is offered a job paying
$9,000 a year and takes it, but finds a hitch. He now has to work overtime and even
come in on Saturdays sometimes, and this cuts in on his time with Betsy and the kids. So
he tells his boss he doesn’t want the job anymore, because he doesn’t want to curtail his
roles as a husband and a father.
         The tomes of the 1950’s were content to work from 9-5, 5 days a week, while
devoting the bulk of their time to leisure activities – church, civic activities, getting to
know the kids, golf, Little League, and leading a rewarding life with Betsy.

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