Tuesday, January 18, 2011

20th Century 20 - 4

Bill O'Reilly lives in Levittown, Nassau County, New York. Thankfully, he's not one of the twenty.

Levittown is named for it's designer and founder: William Levitt. There are a few Levitt-towns around the U.S. The one in New York was the first, and it was just far enough outside of the city to be in easy commuting distance. It wasn't a real separate town, though. It was subservient to the urban community. A suburb.

The 1950s were a time of interstate highways, duck and cover, Eisenhower, and the burbs. In the post-war atomic family environment the suburbs became the backdrop for the American story: the set behind the story of James Dean, the appeal of John Ford's landscapes, the personal garage. Levitt's towns were planned communities: of the gated and white variety, rather than the old-timey Main Street.

Suburbs have totally changed main street. The main street of a town is practically an attraction anymore: not a principal place of business or work, or life. And so with the burbs on the rise the new stores, in new strip malls, followed.

Most Americans, I bet, shop at a strip mall on a weekly basis. The supermarket doesn't fit in the store fronts of main street. More than just a change of perspective recall that Americans consume more stuff, 25% of all stuff, the planet has to offer. Where do we find it? The WalMarts and other box stores that have now begun to live off of suburban gluttony.

Peripheral urban spaces are ancient. But they usually were slums and shanty-towns. Levitt made the outskirts a desirable location, and further, made the city itself a place to visit, rather than live, giving space to the megastores around the world.

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