After World War II, the American urban landscape experienced major changes. Thanks to an economic boom, a baby boom, and government anti-socialist policies, people started moving en masse to newly constructed single-family homes in the suburbs. This migration into the suburbs was facilitated by a massive investment in infrastructure occurring around the same time, which focused mostly on suburban areas. While the idea of owning a house in the suburbs became an integral part of the American Dream, it also caused changes in the traditional lifestyle, and caused many problems that are unique to suburban life.
Historically, families in the United States were quite stable. People usually lived with their parents until they were married and had children, at which point they would move into their own home, where they would stay. Once the migration to the suburbs began, however, this relative residential stability disintegrated. Since people began to see houses primarily as investments, rather than residences, they started moving to more expensive houses as soon as they could. Additionally, families now often move to a different house when a major life event occurs: a couple moves into the perfect starter home (like the middle right image), then moves when they have children, then moves again when the children are teenagers, then moves again when the children go off to college, etc. Furthermore, young people now tend to live separately from their parents as a sign of independence. When combined, these changes destroy the sense of community in neighborhoods, essentially making them anonymous. This new American lifestyle requires massive consumption, which constantly fuels the economy (until it all falls apart and doesn’t fuel the economy anymore, like in 2007-2008).
Obviously, the suburbanization of the United States has caused some major problems. Socially, the suburbs have isolated people, especially due to neighborhood street layouts. Fences between houses prevent children from walking to friends’ houses, and make driving necessary. Thanks to cul-de-sacs like the ones in the middle left image, children who live in houses that back up to each other might need to be driven multiple miles to visit each other. House designs within a neighborhood are usually very homogeneous, like in the top left and top right images, and are meant to isolate the family within from everyone else in the neighborhood, even if they have the appearance of fostering a neighborhood community. For example, some houses have front porches that are too small to actually use. In the suburban world of isolation that is ruled by the car, many issues arise in teenagers who aren’t old enough to drive. Boredom leads to crime, drug use, vandalism, etc.
Suburbs also cause some economic problems. Building infrastructure in the suburbs is very expensive because the density is so low. Water mains, power lines, and roads need to be brought to a much larger area than would be necessary for the same population in an urban setting. Transport costs also skyrocket because suburbanites must commute to the city to work on interstate highways, like the ones in the bottom image. The cost of commuting is high not just because of the cost of gas, but also because of lost time. Many commuters, often stuck in traffic, spend an hour or more in each direction of their commute. This commute also causes environmental problems, since most suburban commuters must drive to work.