After World War II, millions of Americans seeking a house and a yard of their own moved out of cities and into newly built suburban towns, a trend that soon led to profound social and environmental consequences. With the sudden departure of so many residents, many older urban areas were thrown into crisis. Meanwhile, millions of acres of rural farmland were lost to so-called sprawl as the suburbs grew inexorably outward.
The major housing crunch that emerged after World War II helped trigger suburbanization. Few new houses had been built during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As a result, many returning war veterans were unable to find a place to live. In cities such as New York, some families were forced to double up in tiny apartments. In congressional testimony in 1947, housing advocates said, “Veterans and civilians alike are seeing the ruins of their postwar dream homes.”
In response, developers began to build new communities from scratch. The first and most famous postwar suburb, Levittown, New York, opened in 1947. Thousands of others sprang up over the next decades. Amid the economic growth of the 1950s, the suburbs became symbols of the nations postwar prosperity.
The departure of middle-class residents, however, left many cities in decay. Urban unrest in the 1960s exacerbated this trend by sparking another exodus to suburbia (sometimes known as white flight).
Suburbanization also made millions of Americans completely dependent on their automobiles for transportation, a trend that some economists and social scientists blame for rising air pollution, increasing dependence on imported oit, and even the nation’s staggering obesity rate.