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Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,197 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews

In America, in contrast to almost anywhere else in the world, the good life means traveling a long distance to get to work. How and why this came to be our cultural norm is the subject of this long-awaited book.
Because more than two-thirds of all dwellings are single family homes surrounded by an ornamental yard, suburbia is the most distinctive physical characteristic of

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Published October 10th 1985 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1985)
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James Smyth
Feb 20, 2014 James Smyth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The US is not only the world's first suburban nation, but it will also be its last." Growing up in suburbia (like most of you) I assumed it was the natural order of things. The amazing 1987 book "Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States" by urban historian Kenneth T. Jackson disabused me of that notion. Moreover, it taught me about the pervasive power a conservatism based on selective memory and benign ignorance has to maintain structural inequalities.

There was so much amazi
For thousands of years, people lived in either the country or the city, but with the coming of the industrial revolution that changed, and especially in America. Seemingly as soon as they were able, the wealthy and later the middle class abandoned the cities in favor of neighborhoods set in the country, first commuting into the city and then commuting to other areas outside it once jobs followed the wealth out of town. Why was the traditional urban form abandoned for the suburbs to the degree th ...more
Dec 18, 2015 Yupa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geography, history
Boring and highly informative, just as I expected.

The suburbs, a manifestation of middle-class values, trick their inhabitants into thinking they are the norm. So by telling the history and exploring the dynamics that created suburban USA, Kenneth Jackson's book is a demystification of this society's ideology.

According to this book, the availability of land, the rise of middle-class mores about the nuclear family, the American ideals of freedom, and a fear/disdain for minorities and immigrants
Sep 16, 2013 Kaufmak rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: old-comp-list
Easily another classic if you are looking to know more about twentieth century US cultural history. But before all of that, perhaps the most haunting aspect of this book is the dedication to Jackson's son, who had died in a car accident. Just a gut-wrenching episode that I wouldn't wish on any one. ever.

The book itself is an excellent comparative text between American and European suburbs, the emergence of the modern suburb and the government's role in the shaping of US suburbs. It does focus o
Simultaneously really boring and really fascinating, it’s a look at suburbanization in the US (and bits of it elsewhere as a matter of contrast).

Lots of information of value to come away with… but the damning critique of the goverment’s housing policies and the loan appraisal system’s (and a few other things I’m not aware enough to comment on) effect on (and indeed, as prime causes of) urban decay, ghettoization, racial segregation and any mashup concocted between them was the most intriguing pa
Apr 14, 2013 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really clear and cogent analysis of suburbanization in America: how it happened, why, and when. The author's big argument is that it wasn't an inevitability, a natural inclination to sprawl proceeding apace over a massive landscape - instead, it was the product of specific technologies and especially governmental policies. Those policies changed forever the fate of American cities and the nature of our suburbs, with implications of course for race, opportunity, education, and individual prospe ...more
Jun 03, 2015 Simone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-read

This is a book I read for dissertation research. I normally try to keep the more dissertation-y grad school books off of my Goodreads, on the assumption that people aren't interested in them. But i've been doing a lot of historical reading on the development of the suburbs and urban spaces, which is slightly less inside baseball and more aligned with my general interest in spaces. Anyway, I really enjoyed this one. Considered a foundational book in the study of the US suburbs, it really lays out
Jan 22, 2014 Kent rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While providing a much needed historical basis for the modern American suburb, Jackson leaves too much to economic, technological, and political forces to explain the rise of suburbs. While he does consider the cultural and ideological underpinnings of the American suburb ideal, he fails to acknowledge that these underpinned not only people's decisions to move to the suburbs, but also capitalist and governmental decisions. Also, it is surprising how dated the book feels as a new period of the su ...more
Mar 26, 2015 Jan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Kenneth Jackson thinks we should all be happy to live stuffed into cities within walking distance of our places of work, and take mass transport to visit pristine and preserved nature on the weekend. It would be so much more environmentally sound you see. To bad if you want privacy, peace, the security of your own land, and the freedom of driving as far and as fast and in whatever direction you want. You should listen to your betters you selfish peasant!

But really - if you can set aside the poli
Tim Brown
Sep 22, 2015 Tim Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although 30 years since publication and outdated (it was written before the wave of young people settled in cities where they revitalized old decrepit neighborhoods in the 1990s and 2000s), this book does a very creditable job of explaining the history of the American suburb until the 1980s. References to the histories of the suburbs I'm familiar with outside New York City and Chicago were of particular interest. For example, my neighborhood in the Bronx was originally a bucolic suburb in Westch ...more
Jun 26, 2016 Les rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a surprising book with insights on every page. Jackson traces the history of the suburbs, from the 19th century (anti-urban) idea through its 20th century reality. Transportation (trains, street cars, and then automobiles) has a large role in this story, but the author makes clear that other factors such as relatively cheap land, innovative building practices (balloon frame houses), and government policies have played a critical role. Jackson is direct in suggesting that the federal governm ...more
Nov 05, 2013 Liam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Several themes recur in this analysis. These include the importance of land developers, of cheap lots, of inexpensive construction methods, of improved transportation technology, of abundant energy, of government subsidies, and of racial stress. Pervasive throughout is the notion that Americans have long preferred a detached dwelling to a row house, rural life to city life, and owning to renting." (11)

"This carriage was called a 'troller' because it was pulled or trolled along the wires. A corr
Aug 19, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fascinating social history of America covering 150 years - 1830s to 1980s. As the title suggest it concentrates on suburbanisation but does so during the most explosive growth seen in the US. It covers the period where the US became the world's sole superpower and also covers a lot of political, technical and economic change.

I learnt a lot about my adoptive country and how this sort of suburbanisation was somewhat unique here compared to other countries.

The author has managed to d
David Bates
Apr 17, 2013 David Bates rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kenneth Jackson’s 1985 study of cities and suburbanization, Crabgrass Frontier, while not explicitly about race was an early forerunner of the urban histories that would emerge a decade later. Jackson’s central aim to dispel the illusion that the suburbs in which a plurality of the American people live arose naturally from individual preferences of different families. Jackson points out that in major world cities outside North America well off citizens cluster in the urban core, while the workin ...more
In understanding how on earth American cities developed as they did, there is probably no better place to start than this book. It is immensely well researched, marshaling a wealth of information that I found jaw-dropping at times. This makes it a bit too detailed on occassions, perhaps a bit harder to get through and I am no fan of reading ad nauseum that old garden city ideal or the building of early havens of wealth and beauty. I could have done with less of that, but so many of the tidbits a ...more
May 08, 2008 Abby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who's ever lived in or wants to live in a suburb (and anti-suburb sympathizers)
Another book in the series of seminal urbanist books I want to read instead of actually going to grad school, this book explains the economic, social, historical, racial, philosophical, etc. reasons for the propensity over its short history for American citizens to decentralize away from urban cores and what that did/does for people both remaining in cities and those who have "escaped" with their private vehicles to the suburbs. Having been written in the 1980s, the book anticipates, but is not ...more
Adam Grossi
Jul 03, 2008 Adam Grossi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To put it bluntly, if you want to know how the American suburbs developed, this is the book for you. Kenneth T. Jackson is clearly a historian here, and this text is laced with plenty of citations, his observations backed by hard data and statistics. But he is also eager (and able) to develop a broad narrative about suburbanization as an evolving cultural desire. For example, in his fascinating discussion of the development of mass transit, he traces the evolution of various technologies while r ...more
Vince Tirri
Sep 06, 2014 Vince Tirri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This work changed my academic career. Originally focused on America-Soviet Foreign Policy, this work opened my eyes to the domestic issues of where and why we live where we live. Since reading this book in Dr. Tom McCabe's class at Rutgers Newark, I have dedicated my academic pursuits to this field, and it has stoked my interest in urban planning. It is academic in nature, but a significant work that I feel all Americans should read to understand our nation better.
May 09, 2007 Bri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historians, urban history fiends
Shelves: americanhistory
Do you love white picket fences? Do you love tract housing? Do you love the history of commuting? Then this book is for you.

This book is really for anyone who has ever lived in suburbia, scorned suburbia, or wants to live in suburbia. It really is the most complete historical account of American suburbs.

It's tremendously lively; there is plenty of sex and rock n'roll in Jackson's narrative. Learn about walking cities, the Great Depression, and ornamental lawns! (It's really more interesting th
University of Chicago Magazine
Kenneth T. Jackson, AM'63, PhD'66

From our pages (Spring/86): "The author traces the growth of suburbs in America from their origins in the 1820s until the present. Combining social history with economic and architectural history, the book discusses suburban communities in every section of the country and compares them with those in Europe and Japan."
Feb 03, 2014 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
I read this years ago as part of the syllabus for an Urban Politics course in college. Mr. Jackson's work is an incisive look at the migration of middle class families from urban centers to the suburbs. Now, granted, it's been over twenty years since I read this book, but I do remember thinking at the time that the book had dealt more with race and suburban flight.
Rebecca Radnor
Interesting read, kind of a classic in the urban studies area, but also useful for history majors. A history of the development of the American suburbs and decline of the cites showing how suburbs are a distinct American phenomena that evolved out of multiple causes, cultural, technological, etc. Direct links are drawn between the transportation technologies of any period (include elevators), and the costs of those transportation techs, cost of land, cost of building housing/building tech, cultu ...more
Feb 19, 2016 Mehrsa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The later chapters are a thorough and robust account of the suburbanization of America and what that means for us today. This book really helps explain America in terms of institutions, race, and culture. The earlier chapters are somewhat boring and I think the book could use an update, but it's a must-read.
Feb 16, 2009 Gina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-re-read
If you have strong but hard to explain or substantiate feelings about the suburbs, read this book. I read it for school and I imagine it's probably dated at this point, but it helped me to understand why on earth we have these sprawling suburbs, and what made them the way they are. We do still follow a lot of these patterns today, but I don't even think we know why any more. They're so ingrained in us that even recent attempts to revitalize urban cores have been guided by this suburbanizing ment ...more
Jake Cooper
Crabgrass Frontier is (embarrassingly) too academic and detailed for me. I gave up after 100 pages of sentences like "And in Oakland, California, real estate tycoon E. C. Sessions organized the Oakland Fruit Vale Railway Company in 1875 to service his newly subdivided..."
A wee bit ambitious for 300-some pages. Too many important topics are just briefly discussed. As a child of the suburbs, I think the insights into homogeneity and resistance to urban culture were interesting. Also this was written in 1985, it could use a little follow-up.
Jul 05, 2011 Ian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Americans have had a strong affinity for a detached home on a private lot [...] [S]uburbanization was not willed on an innocent peasantry [...] [T]he single-family house responded to the psychic value of privacy or castlehood. In fact, suburbanization was an ideal government policy because it met the needs of both citizens and business interests and because it earned the politicians' votes" (pg 216).

"Automobility proved to be far more deadly than war for the United States. It was as if a Pearl
Jul 21, 2010 Rock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A classic of urban studies and maybe the turning point in the American disposition towards their built environment, this book is both thick with evidence and fair-minded about its subject. While Jackson has no choice but to conclude that the automobile-centered suburb is unsustainable, he concedes that they do offer what many Americans are looking for: a cheap house in a quiet private environment. Of course, what is classic about his book is that it was the first book-length, thorough exploratio ...more
Craig Werner
A good "view from 20,000 feet" study of the American migration from city to suburbs. I was reading primarily for the 50s-60s part of the story, but learned more from Jackson's presentation of the deeper history that came to a head when I was a kid growing up in one of the ubiquitous GI-Bill fueled suburban developments. Didn't really learn much about the areas I was already familiar with, but that clearly wasn't Jackson's purpose. Well written treatment of a significant movement, one that create ...more
Nov 29, 2010 Tara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-studies
Kenneth Jackson's treatise on the surburbanization of America, while slightly outdated and outmoded given its 1985 publication date, is comprehensive and masterful. Jackson is able to weave the cultural, philosophical and political nuances of urban -- and thereby suburban -- planning across continents (primarily North America, the U.S. and Asia) and time (citing residential tendencies from Mesopotamia up to 1980s America). This book is a must read for anyone interested in a deep and broad study ...more
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