Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wolfinger on "A Tale of Two Levittowns: Race and Housing in Suburban Philadelphia"

Over at the UNC Press Blog, James Wolfinger (DePaul University) has posted a short essay titled "A Tale of Two Levittowns: Race and Housing in Suburban Philadelphia."

Here's the first paragraph:
There are two Levittowns outside of Philadelphia. Both were constructed by the famous builder William Levitt in the decades after World War II when mass suburbanization remade America’s cities. The look of these Levittowns is familiar to many of us: small houses on small lots on curving streets, a uniformity that was cost effective to the builder and monotonous to many observers. What is less familiar is that Bill Levitt racially segregated both of these communities from the start. But segregation, especially in the North, depended to a great degree on state law and the prevailing views about race held by local people. One of the Levittowns opened in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1951 while the other opened across the Delaware River in Burlington County, New Jersey, nearly a decade later in 1958. Location is everything, as they say in the real estate industry, and these two communities, despite having the same look and the same policies, had far different histories because of the places they were built and the times that they integrated.
You can read the rest here.

It strikes me that Levittown has become a hot topic. A quick search turned up two recent books: a monograph (David Kushner, Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America's Legendary Suburb (Walker & Company, 2009)) and an edited collection (Diane Harris, ed., Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010)).

The image comes from a State Museum of Pennsylvania exhibit called Levittown, Pa.: Building the Suburban Dream. It includes lots of cool stuff: marketing materials, construction photos, excerpts from a Homeowner's Guide, and a reconstruction of a model kitchen.