Book Review: Crabgrass Frontier

Crabgrass Frontier:  The Suburbanization Of The United States, by Kenneth Jackson

There is a deep problem with an author who can have nice things to say about the atrocious mass public housing efforts during the Great Depression and afterward but has little or nothing nice to say about the suburbs of the United Kingdom, United States, and other settler colonies.  One of the problems one encounters when one wishes to read about suburbs and their developments is that those who are engaged in the process of building homes for others are too busy engaged in the work, so that those who write about this process by which people are able to get detached houses with a bit of grass and garden around their single-family dwellings are written about by those who hate the process and who wish that the United States would be like corrupt big government European nations and those that have imitated that malign example around the world, where the city is chosen because of the power it brings, rather than people preferring to be free on the peripheries [1].  This gap in worldview between writer and reader makes this book, and others like it, of interest mainly to fellow bitter Marxist travelers whose advice is not worth taking anyway.

This book of about three hundred pages is organized in a largely chronological fashion as the author wishes to tell the narrative of America’s suburbanization from a predictably and lamentably negative perspective.  After a short introduction in which the author laments the death of his son shortly before the book was finished, the author discusses that in most of the world, suburbs are synonymous with slums (1) and people seek to live in the city because that is where the power is.  After that the author talks about the transportation revolution and the erosion of the walking city of high densities (2), and the vision of house and yard that encouraged early developers of the peripheries of cities (3).  The author spends some time talking about romantic suburbs (4) as well as the main line and the elite suburbs that were served by expensive commuter railroads (5).  After that comes an examination of the time of the trolley (6) as well as the dream of affordable houses for the common man (7), and the rise and fall of municipal annexation that left cities unable to take in suburbs that had been developed precisely to avoid the problems of the city (8).  After that the author bemoans the development of the auto (9), suburban development in the interwar period (10), and the role of federal subsidies in the spread of suburbanization (11).  There comes a comment about the ghettoization of public housing that resulted because of a laudable unwillingness to make property rights insecure to put public housing in areas where its residents were not wanted (12), a look at the baby boom and the age of the subdivision (13), the drive-in culture of contemporary America (14), some whining about the loss of community in metropolitan American (15), and some stunningly false prophecies about the revitalization of the hipster urban ideal and the end of suburbs (16).

There is a lot wrong with this book, and little that is right.  The book, of course, won awards from people who think like the author does, but such people pass out book awards that no one except their coterie cares about and pontificate while people ignore them and go about doing what they should be doing anyway, serving the culture hostile to metropolitan gigantism with its belief in high rises and high densities and a hostility to freedom of movement and a dependence on public transportation and public largess for ordinary people.  When someone has an antithetical worldview to the author, it becomes clear why the author and others of like mind write as they do and think as they do, but their vision for an America with massive and dense metropolitan areas hostile to the car and siphoning off the wealth and property of the productive classes to cater to a politically leftist proletariat is not a vision I want any part of, which is why I have spent most of my life in suburbs and the rural areas of the United States where the dream of freedom, along with its costs, can be recognized and achieved.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/07/10/periphery-and-core/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/07/10/the-economy-of-galilee-during-jesus-day-a-case-study-in-historiography/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/07/06/book-review-voyagers-to-the-west/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/05/11/book-review-to-begin-the-world-anew/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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