Friday, November 23, 2007

Joel Kotkin Looks at Levittown and the American Dream

Joel Kotkin is the anti-snob. He is a scholar of land use and urban planning who studies how land-use decisions affect society, but he utterly lacks the patronizing superiority that professional academics often project. He does not pretend to know better than the average guy what is best for the average guy. He champions the ordinary joe whose hard work, law-abidingness and middle-class moral values preserve liveable society.

In an essay in today's Opinion Journal, Kotkin, a resident of my own suburban community, Valley Village, California, marks the 60th anniversary of the development of Levittown, the iconic American suburb on Long Island, New York. He notes that despite the criticism of the social elites, who perceived only boredom, vulgarity and a cultural desert in the new American suburbs, the affordablility of suburban single-family homes brought to fruition the American Dream of home ownership, on a mass scale unprecedented in history. "Indeed," Kotkin notes, "by the mid-1980s America enjoyed a rate of homeownership--roughly two-thirds of all families--double that of Germany, Switzerland, France and Britain." He observes that the success of Levittown and its descendents, "revolves around many of the basics that [Levittown developer] William Levitt recognized as critical--affordable homes, good schools, nice parks and public safety," and concludes, "As long as suburbs continue to deliver them, the master developer's legacy is likely to live on for another 60 years."

A good read and, as a child who grew up in an American suburb, a good reminder to me of "the accidents of birth" for which I am so thankful on this Thanksgiving holiday weekend.


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