America's Changing Suburbs

August 17, 1979

Report Outline
Signs of Suburban Transition
Evolution of the Outer City
Future of Metropolitan U.S.A.
Special Focus

Signs of Suburban Transition

Urban Problems Migrate Out of the Cities

People went on a rampage. They threw rocks, smashed windows and fought with the police. There was, by all accounts, a complete breakdown of social order. A decade ago, it might have been identified as an expression of big city frustration. This particular uprising, however, began as a protest against high gasoline prices. That it took place in June in Levittown, Pa., once a synonym for suburban tranquility, suggests a troubling new sort of discontent may be brewing in the nation.

Long seen as a place to escape to, suburbia has been invaded by the outside world. Suburbanites, in one sense at least, are having to pay the price for the comfortable distance they've been keeping — higher fuel costs to indulge their long-distance lifestyle. But the suburbs are feeling the strain in other ways as well. If commuting is more expensive, so is the American Dream of climbing “the ladder of consumption.” Inflation has driven up the price of everything from new homes to private school tuition. And all the while, the problems of the city — crime, overcrowding and neglect — are edging closer. Residents of the suburbs, wrote columnist George Will, “feel they are suffocating in the open air…. Suburbia's symbol, the cul-de-sac, expresses [their] mood on the eve of the 1980s. A cul-de-sac is, after all, just a fancy dead end.”

The gap between the reality and the myth of suburbia often makes it difficult to come to grips with the changes occurring there. Suburban life commonly evokes a romantic image of small, out-of-the-way residential villages, commuter train platforms and fleets of station wagons traveling back and forth from nearby city centers. The reality is usually very different. In recent years many suburban communities have become heterogeneous, urbanized areas where all of the traditional activities of the cities — and many of the city's troubles — can be found.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Suburban Life
Sep. 25, 1987  Suburban Homes
Nov. 14, 1986  Downtown Suburbia
Aug. 17, 1979  America's Changing Suburbs
Jul. 20, 1960  Suburban Migration
General Social Trends
Regional Planning and Urbanization