The BBC on Levittown 60 years later

The BBC goes back to Levittown, Pennsylvania and finds that it looks like much of America:

Now, as then, the community is home to a diverse cross-section of middle-class voters. But whereas in 1960 unemployment rates were less than 6% and business in Levittown could not expand fast enough to meet growing demand, the outlook for current residents is grimmer…

Now, the outer roads around Levittown are lined with strip malls, and in them a dozen different grocery and convenience stores, a Super WalMart, McDonalds, and hotel chains.

The houses, once indistinguishable from one another, have developed individual flair: on one street, one house has painted pink brick face, while another has built a covered front porch…

It’s not a greying district by any means – thanks in part to the housing collapse, Levittown is once again an abundant source of inexpensive housing, and as a result more new families are moving here to get their start.

The Levittowns are often held up as exemplars of the massive suburban boom in the United States in the decades following World War Two. The mass production of the homes was unique then though the techniques would look fairly normal today. I like that this article emphasizes the changing nature of this suburb that was once derided for its similar looking homes and relatively homogenous population. We would do well to have such a view of all suburbs: they change over time even if some of the physical pieces, such as single-family homes or strip malls, are the same.

The two best books I can recommend on Levittown(s):

1. The Levittowners by Herbert Gans. Based on ethnographic work conducted during the early years of the development, Gans combats some of the common suburban stereotypes.

2. Expanding the American Dream: Building and Rebuilding Levittown by Barbara Kelly. Kelly gives more details about how Levittown residents have customized their homes and what this means for the community.

8 thoughts on “The BBC on Levittown 60 years later

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    • I came to Levittown on Sept.6, 1952. I was 13 years old. We came from Bronx, NY because my father worked for Levitt. To say I hated it would be putting it mildly. To come from the Bronx, where we had movie houses within walking distance to the “sticks” that had nothing, was very difficult for me.
      It is now 60 years later, I married, raised 2 children and I live around the corner from where my parents forced me to live as a young teen. I am moving soon, mot because I know love Levittown, but because I want to be near my daughter. Levittown was and is a great place to raise kids. I thank my parents for the foresight of moving us here.

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