The Suburbs at 75: Levittown and Beyond

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Duration 01:03:44

Trinity Washington University

Dr. Allen Pietrobon is an Assistant Professor and Program Chair of the Global Affairs department at Trinity Washington University. An award-winning historian and public speaker, Allen specializes in 20th-Century American history and U.S. Foreign Policy, focusing on nuclear weapons policies and Cold War diplomacy. Since 2011, he has also served as an Assistant Director of Research at the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University. His latest book, Norman Cousins: Peacemaker in the Atomic Age, explores the widespread influence that prominent journalist Norman Cousins had on postwar international humanitarian aid, anti-nuclear advocacy, and Cold War diplomacy, including secret diplomatic missions he conducted behind the Iron Curtain.



The 1950s are often remembered in an idyllic and nostalgic way, sparking images of a single-family home in a leafy suburban neighborhood. Backyard barbeques and white picket fences. An American-built car in the driveway. The perfect picture of the American dream.

It’s easy to understand how some people long for that era. After all, the country was globally respected, the economy boomed, and an abundance of well-paid industrial jobs grew the middle-class. Life was safe and pleasant in the newly built suburbs which had seemed to sprout up from farmlands overnight. About 15 percent of the population, or 20 million Americans, had moved from cities to suburban homes in places like Glenmont, MD, or Levittown, PA, marking one of the largest migrations in American history.

How and why did the unique form of suburban living first arise in America? What are the legacies of the suburbs and how did they shape American politics and culture? What can we learn from our ideas about suburban living and how they continue to impact America today?



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Kathy Caceres

Excellent presentation.

3 years ago
Altansas Brown

The Suburbs at 75

This was well done. Loved the vintage graphics and video, except the ones showing the hateful Americans.

3 years ago
Mark Sunwall

mixed message

The presentation includes slides documenting the grossly polluted rivers and air of the Levittown era plus the other challenges of inequality in civil rights and income yet fails to acknowledge fully the tremendous progress made by American society to mitigate these issues and improve the quality of the environment and of life. In the end the Dr. Pietrobon reverts to the now popular narrative of blaming suburbanization for climate change.

3 years ago
Maureen Heakin

Informative and Personally Lived

Missed the first minutes of his talk, but the overview of why and how this march to the suburbs happened is very interesting. I am one of those daughters of a vet who bought a $10,000 co-op in the Chicago suburbs — Skokie, which now prides itself on the fact that they have to rotate the flags representing the multitudes of ethnic groups living there in the sculpture park “circle of flags” exhibit because there aren’t enough flag poles to all fly at the same time..

This all started with the Jews, who moved there after WWII. In my memory (a “child’s memory”, granted) – there were no problems between existing residents and the incoming Jewish immigrants. It was an absolutely wonderful place to grow up.

3 years ago
Jeff Lind

Excellent presenter!

Fascinating, concise and enlightening presentation of our American dream of home ownership. Ideally, we’d move beyond mass marketing/consumerism and systemic racism for a more sustainable and just society in America. Why not?

3 years ago
Judy Polatchek

Great presentation

Really interesting information. Fascinating that ancient Rome had a segregated ‘suburbia’. My parents bought a house in the original Levittown in New York and I remember it well. My Dad was a veteran and got a GI loan with no down payment. We couldn’t have done it otherwise. The pieces of the houses came on trucks and were constructed in no time.

2 years ago
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