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Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States
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Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  1,287 Ratings  ·  88 Reviews
This first full-scale history of the development of the American suburb examines how "the good life" in America came to be equated with the a home of one's own surrounded by a grassy yard and located far from the urban workplace. Integrating social history with economic and architectural analysis, and taking into account such factors as the availability of cheap land, inex ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 16th 1987 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1985)
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James Smyth
Mar 12, 2013 James Smyth rated it it was amazing
"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
Oct 13, 2011 Andrea rated it really liked it
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
Sep 13, 2013 Kaufmak rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 19, 2012 Onefinemess rated it liked it
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
Oct 28, 2015 Yupa rated it really liked it
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
Apr 14, 2013 Michelle rated it it was amazing
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
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
Andrew Fairweather
Dec 30, 2016 Andrew Fairweather rated it really liked it
Jackson's approach is very well balanced--refraining from the temptation of holding any single issue responsible for the suburbanization truly unique to the United States in terms of scale, the first half of the book covers the early days of the nineteenth century. Drawing from writers and essayists from that time period who promoted the domestic life of the spacious country home as beneficial for the raising of children (among other things) over against the congestion of the city, these chapter ...more
Dave Courtney
Sep 17, 2016 Dave Courtney rated it really liked it
Crabgrass Frontier is chalk full of information on the social, political and personal development of suburb culture. It is at its core a data book, which might be another word for boring. But it presents the data in what I felt was an entertaining mix of stories and narrative development.

Perhaps most noted is that this is not necessarily an opinion piece. While Jackson is laying a framework, at least from my perception, for how the process of suburbanization negatively impacted the life of our
David Dayen
Mar 23, 2017 David Dayen rated it really liked it
30 years old but fascinating about the unique development of suburbanization, its racial undertones, and the dovetailing with American abundance. The ending begins with a fatalism that develops into a somewhat prescient expectation of gentrification and urban renewal. But I just read a stat that low-density suburbs grew more in 2016 than any other area. We still love to shutter into our homes, maybe more so now that modern conveniences make leaving less necessary.
Jul 20, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it
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
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
Jan 23, 2017 James rated it it was amazing
Jackson argues that suburbs have been a part of the growth of American cities from nearly the very beginning of their founding, much earlier than the standard post-war narrative of suburbanization. He argues that suburbs, though they differ in actual racial and class composition, they came to mean a place of normal American identity, where all could buy into homeownership and self suffiency, displacing the city as where the middle to affluent classes resided. He divides his book into sections wh ...more
Apr 30, 2007 Abby rated it really liked it
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
Nov 01, 2013 Liam rated it it was amazing
"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
A broad history of the suburbanization and decentralization of population in the United States over the past century or so, which has had a major impact on American culture, society, and politics, which the book unpacks in a variety of interesting ways. The author traces the successive innovations in transportation technology – trolley, commuter rail, car, highway – that made suburban living feasible for urban workers, as well as the government policy interventions that supported suburban develo ...more
Jan 20, 2016 Les rated it really liked it
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
Adam Grossi
Jul 03, 2008 Adam Grossi rated it really liked it
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
May 09, 2007 Bri rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 17, 2014 Kent rated it it was ok
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
Feb 16, 2009 Gina rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jun 24, 2010 Rock rated it really liked it
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
Jun 04, 2011 Ian rated it it was amazing
"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
Aug 22, 2007 Cat rated it really liked it
Shelves: culturalhistory
It's an acknowledged classic in the field of Urban History, but it's twenty years old and the last quarter of Crabgrass reads like it. Delores Hayden has covered the same ground in her more recent "Building Suburbia". The approach is hisorical, Jackson takes each period of suburbanization in chronological order. In terms of explanation for why America is so surburban, he focuses on government policy and the unique characteristics of the american middle class mind. Also, the fact that land is che ...more
Craig Werner
Oct 01, 2011 Craig Werner rated it really liked it
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
Oct 05, 2010 Tara rated it it was amazing
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
Daniel Brockman
Jan 06, 2010 Daniel Brockman rated it it was amazing
Simply put, this is one of the best books about America, and how it came to be, that I have ever read. Really, I know it's a cliche, but this is the sort of book that school kids should be reading in history class. If you ever look around you whilst standing in a parking lot or a suburban housing development or a bombed out city square and wondered "How the hell did this area become this?", this book is a great explanation. It is a less of a screed than many other tomes on suburbanization, and i ...more
Mar 26, 2015 Jan rated it liked it
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
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