Little Boxes, Big Ideas

Looking to America’s history of experimental suburbs to solve the housing crisis


The mythology of the 1950s American suburb—mom, dad, white picket fence, two-car garage, two-point-five kids—doesn’t align with the reality of who lives in suburbs today. Suburbs are bustling with multigenerational families, immigrants, and multiracial residents who defy the Stepford stereotype. While it’s true that after WWII, the federal government heavily invested in the creation of middle-class suburban havens for nuclear families—slashing funding for downtowns and forcing de facto segregation through redlining and community covenants—in the decades since, the suburbs have become more diverse than ever. With affordable housing currently in crisis, climate change ascendant, evictions on the rise, and a flood of people abandoning the suburbs for rapidly gentrifying cities, can this pocket of the American dream evolve? For solutions to the present-day problems of suburbs, Amanda Kolson Hurley, senior editor at CityLab, looks to the suburbs hidden throughout American history that did something a little different: forgotten places where utopian planning, communal living, socially conscious design, and integrated housing flourished.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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