From HousingWiki

Lewis Mumford on the history and ideals of suburbia: 

Suburbia is "a collective effort to lead a private life." [Mumford 1938].

“All through history, those who owned or rented land outside the city’s walls valued having a place in the country, even if they did not actively perform agricultural labor: a cabin, a cottage, a vine-shaded shelter, built for temporary retreat if not for permanent occupancy..” The suburb, very nearly from the beginning of its development in ancient times, “might almost be described as the collective urban form of the country house–the house in a park–as the suburban way of life is so largely a derivative of the relaxed, playful, goods-consuming aristocratic life that developed out of the rough, bellicose, strenuous existence of the feudal stronghold.”  [Mumford 1961].

the modern mass suburb (1815-):  "To be your own unique self; to build your unique house, mid a unique landscape: to live in this Domain of Arnheim a self-centered life, in which private fantasy and caprice would have license to express themselves openly, in short, to withdraw like a monk and live like a prince--this was the purpose of the original creators of the suburb. "This utopia proved to be, up to a point, a realizable one: so enchanting that those who contrived it failed to see the fatal penalty attached to it–the penalty of popularity, the fatal inundation of a mass movement whose very numbers would wipe out the goods each individual sought for his own domestic circle, and, worse, replace them with a life that was not even a cheap counterfeit, but rather the grim antithesis." [Mumford 1961].

"In the mass movement into suburban areas a new kind of community was produced, which caricatured both the historic city and the archetypal suburban refuge: a multitude of uniform, unidentifiable houses, lined up inflexibly, at uniform distances, on uniform roads, in a treeless communal waste, inhabited by people of the same class, the same income, the same age group, witnessing teh same television performances, eating the same tasteless pre-fabricated foods, from the same freezers, conforming in every outward and inward respect to a common mold, manufactured in the central metropolis. "Thus the ultimate effect of the suburban escape in our time is, ironically, a low-grade uniform environment from which escape is impossible. What has happened to the suburban exodus in the United States now threatens, through the same mechanical instrumentalities, to take place, at an equally accelerating rate, everywhere else–unless the most vigorous countermeasures are taken."  [Mumford 1961].



In 1843, deeds for the lots in the Linden Place subdivision in Brookline, Massachusetts, included the provision that houses be erected at least thirty feet from the street and 'that the only buildings to be erected or placed upon said parcels shall be dwelling houses.' As the century progressed, deeds forbade Sales to 'any negro or native of Ireland.'" [Jackson 1985, p76]. 

1850s Llewellyn Park, in the Orange Mountains west of New York City -- arguably the first planned suburban development in the US.  Developed by New York businessmen Llewellyn Haskell, with site plan by architect Alexander Jackson Davis. 
Llewellyn Park intoduced curvilinear roads and planned natural open space at center of the development. 

1868-. Riverside, Illinois, outside Chicago. The first and most influential of the 16 suburbs laid out by the partnership of Frederic Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. 
Nine miles west of central Chicago, around the first suburban station on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. 


"As long as the railroad stop and the walking distances controlled suburban growth, the suburb had form." [Mumford 1961].

"Unlike their employers, the lower-paid workers who serviced the large homes in the railroad suburbs could not afford the cost of regular commutation. Typically, they lived wither in servant's quarters within the estate grounds or in the more modest dwellings that surrounded the railroad stations. In Brookline, for example, the 40 percent of the population that was Irish almost inevitably lived in small, inexpensive houses on the low-lying land near the town center and station. Thus, the physical appearance of the railroad suburbs tended to duplicate the class-related spatial patterns of the core cities, with the poorest inhabitants living closest to the tiny business districts and more affluent residents living in commodious homes on landscaped grounds of a quarter acre or more." [Jackson 1985 p.101]. 




  • Beecher, Catherine. Treatise on Domestic Economy, For the Use of Young Ladies at Home at School. (1841).
        "An immediate popular success, it was frequently adopted as a textbook and was reprinted dozens of times over the next thirty years. Because the 'cult of true womanhood' linked the home with piety and purity, Beecher sought to connect architectural and landscape design with her doomestic ideal. Covering such topics as the care of infants and the propert procedure for every household activity, room by room and day by day, the Treatise was the first American book to offer plans for the practical dwelling; the recommendation was for a substantial one- or two- story cottage with such amenities as parlors, dining-rooms, sleeping areas, and indoor privies....
       "Beecher did not specifically refer to suburbia, but she assumed that family life could best thrive in a semirural setting. She believed that 'implanted in the heart of every true man, is the desire for a home of his own.' Devoting five chapters of the 
    Treatise to yards and gardens, she argued in favor of the physical and social separation of populations into the female-dominated sphere of home life, preferably suburban, and the male-dominated sphere of the business world, usually urban."  [Jackson 1985, p.62-63]. 
  • Davis, Alexander Jackson (1803-1892). Rural Residences (1837).
       A friend of Andew Jackson Downing, architect Davis was selected by Llewellyn Haskell to design the siteplan for Llewellyn Park, in the Orange Mountains west of New York City -- arguably the first planned suburban development in the US. 
  • Downing, Andrew Jackson. A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, adapted to North America. (1841).
    ____.  The Architecture of Country Houses (1850). 
    "Downing became the most literate and articulate architectural critic of his generation, and the most influential single individual in translating the rural ideal into a suburban ideal." [Jackson 1985, p.63].

    Downing went into partnership in 1850 with English-born Calvert Vaux.  
    After Downing's early death in the 1850s, Vaux joined with Frederick Law Olmsted to enter the competition to design New York's Central Park, and subsequently formed a partnership with Olmsted, the first iteration of the highly influential Olmsted landscape architecture practice. 
  • Fishman, Robert. Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia. (1987). 
  • Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. (1985).
  • Mumford, Lewis. The Culture of Cities (1938).  
    ____. (1961). The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. Google preview: 
  • McKenzie, Evan. Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government (Yale University Press, 1994). 
    Google Books preview:
  • Vaux, Calvert. Villas and Cottages (1857).