The End of the Suburbs | Leigh Gallagher

Summary of: The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving
By: Leigh Gallagher


The book ‘The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving’ by Leigh Gallagher delves into the history, significance, and challenges of suburban living in America. The dream of homeownership, facilitated by banks and the US government, made the suburbs an emblem of prosperity and patriotism for many. This dream, however, comes with its own set of issues, including cultural monotony, lack of access to facilities, heavy reliance on cars, and increasing poverty and crime rates. Through this summary, we will explore the reasons behind the development of the suburbs, the challenges faced by their inhabitants, and how societal changes are affecting the future of suburban living.

The American Dream and Homeownership

The path to homeownership as a symbol of the American Dream was largely driven by government and bank policies. The Federal Housing Administration encouraged lenders to offer mortgages to hopeful buyers, while banks saw profits in debt bonds. The result was an influx of new homeowners and suburban development. However, the desire for this version of the American Dream has declined in recent years.

The Uniformity & Homogeneity Of Suburban Life

Living in the suburbs may seem like an idyllic dream where people can enjoy a big house, a big yard, and miles away from the polluted cities. However, contrary to popular belief, suburban life has its problems. It can lead to depression, anxiety, and lack of creativity due to its homogeneity, which can be reflected in films, TV series, and works from intellectuals. Sociologist Lewis Mumford feared that people were limited to consuming the same processed foods, socializing with the same social class, and enjoying the same mass-produced culture, especially from watching television. Writer Jane Jacobs saw the destruction of “real” nature in all this new suburban development, as the new houses, roads, and malls are built upon what was once a natural landscape and ecosystem. Hence, suburban life confines people to social routines that plunge many into depression, limits creativity, and uniformity, making it more uniform than the city.

The Consequences of Single-Use Zoning

Single-use zoning, introduced in 1926, has led to the segregation of houses, factories, shops, and apartments in suburban areas, resulting in the creation of boring and impersonal communities. Unlike urban environments, where everything is jumbled together, suburban space is limited, leading to the need to drive to experience new things. The author argues that single-use zoning creates unfulfilling experiences and misses opportunities for mixed-use spaces that create possibilities and excitement.

The Dark Side of Suburban Life

Suburbanites need cars for ease of transportation, but this renders them vulnerable to health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The wide roads increase the risk for pedestrian accidents and the high fuel prices encumber lower-income households.

The suburbs are synonymous with cars. The design of these residential areas reflects the desire of drivers to be comfortable on their commutes. Cul-de-sacs and looping streets facilitate easy navigation, and arterial roads between communities are wider to accommodate more vehicles. However, dependence on cars and a lack of exercise have led to health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. This reliance on cars has led to pedestrian fatalities throughout the suburbs. The wide roads make it very challenging for people who want to walk from one place to another. The darker side of suburbs is the spiraling cost of fuel, which has made transportation unbearable, especially low-income households. A study suggests that lower-income suburban families spend more of their income on transportation than on housing, making the cost of fuel unbearable. It is time to rethink the design of suburbs, making them less car-centric and prioritizing the health and wellbeing of residents.

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