William Levitt

As the roads became larger and because they provided much more direct and
accessible routes to cities, people had more options about where to live. The
construction of Levittowns across the country exemplified another regularization
phenomenon partially resulting from the interstate system. William Levitt, the
mastermind behind the plan, bought thousands of acres of land outside cities
such as New York and Philadelphia. On these vast stretches of property, Levitt
organized the construction of entire towns. Construction of the roads induced
the construction of suburbs and “suburbia,” such as Levittown, (originally
called “Island Trees”) which drastically influenced the culture and social
expectancies of the 1950s.

Construction started in the late 1940s with the passage of the GI Bill to aid
the soldiers returning from home. The increase of men coming home led to a
serious housing shortage and the GI Bill provided money for housing as well as
education. The need was so great Cape Cod and Ranch homes on Levitt\'s plots went
up in a single day. Contractors merely reconstructed the prefabricated houses.
With the help of Levitt, the baby boomers formed communities of these Cape Cod
and Ranch houses winding along on roads with a village green that served as the
central part of town. All of the homes looked similar, but it did not matter to
the residents, satisfied and content to just have a house.

William Levitt promoted his construction well and people bought the homes
before he built them. Homes within a community represented the ideal set up for
the returning veterans and their families. These people wanted an appropriate
place to start their new post-war life. By the 1950s and the end of the Korean
War, a strong nationalistic and patriotic fever swept the country. It all
culminated in a desire for the “blessings” of life - a happy family, a
pleasant house, a job, and the materialistic benefits that came along. As the
first planned community in the United States, Levittown provided all these
things and helped to define the middle class American life. It was the
stereotypical 1950s community with mowed, green grass and happy nuclear
families. Levittown, Long Island represented the quintessential auto age suburb,
what with the largest entirely white community in the United States. Most of its
70,000 residents held federally guaranteed mortgages.

But similar to the contradictions presented by other architectural
developments along the road, Levittown was not all that it seemed. The outskirts
of cities had become, “interminable wastelands dotted with millions of
monotonous little houses on monotonous little lots and crisscrossed by highways
lined with billboards, jazzed-up diners, used-car lots, drive-in movies,
beflagged gas stations, and garish motels.” (God\'s Own Junkyard... Peter
Blake, p. 24) In her song “Little Boxes,” folk singer Malvina Reynolds
described the little box houses of Levittown and its residents as "all just
the same." She described how everyone living in the houses all lived the
same monotonous life and how everything always ended up the same, just like the
houses. In Levittown, all the homes did look the same. Even all of the gardens
were manicured similarly. Residents only hung laundry out to dry on specified
hangers and only on certain days. If someone disregarded their grass for too
long, Levitt would send people in to cut the grass and send the bill later. A
facade of independence and liberation from the ways of the earlier era
persisted, but Levittowns appeared just as rigid and standardized as most other
elements of the 1950s. Incorporation of Levittown was a direct result of the
Interstate Highway System.

The highways, for the sake of productivity and efficiency, generally skirted
the cities, and which created a discrepancy between what remained inside versus
outside the newly created border. Introduction of the interstate augmented
industrial as well as suburban development. Yet, by this point in the 1950s,
people associated the city with crowds and poverty, and so outside of the
interstate boundary became the more attractive place to live. Again, political
and social expectations fueled the move towards conformity (regarding residency)
and distinct political boundaries formed. The interstates provided more access
to cities from points outside, thus opening the door for the rise of “suburbia,”
or the lifestyle of outlying towns. William Levitt capitalized on this concept
and built the planned communities just off the interstate access roads.

I think the spread of suburbia brought more good than bad. It brought a
feeling of community, a feeling of belonging, and the great feeling of being a
part of something “new.” Today there are still subdivisions where the houses
are built the same, the families are the same, and the jobs are the same.
Levittown was merely the