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Office: HGH 210; phone: (408) 924-5378
Email: wooda@email.sjsu.edu
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Carol Christensen's Levittown chapter

In her chapter on Levittown, New Jersey, Christensen (1986) describes the postwar application of mass production and its emphasis on suburban design through the case study of Levitt & Sons housing communities. These towns, hardly Garden Cities by design, nonetheless illustrated principles of master planning and community-centered development. Like the Radburn plan, developed in 1928 as an evolution from Howard's Garden City design, the Levittowns featured curving streets that rarely intersected, parks and greenbelts to divide industry from housing, and nearby schools and other social facilities.

Describing the first two "Levittowns," Christensen outlines the firm's original attempts to standardize design to such an extent that, "All had the same basic floor plan . . Variation was achieved through color, location or carports, and siting of the house on the lot" (p. 96). Such is the typical understanding of this well-known community. However, she emphasizes that the third Levittown demonstrated lessons gained from its predecessors: primarily that (1) the community must be organized according to a single political unit and that (2) housing styles must be, to the extent possible, diverse. The single government, as opposed to the several municipalities that divided the first Levittowns, meant that the firm, "had a virtual tabula rasa on which to construct their third city" (p. 102). The diversity in housing design was a response to critics' charges of homogeneity and massiveness in the first two towns. Instead, Levittown, New Jersey, featured a mixture of housing designs and prices. Intriguingly, the diversity of demographics inspired by differing home costs and styles made it difficult for segregationists to form coalitions once the government forced Levittown to integrate African-Americans into the previously all-white community.

Throughout Christensen's discussion of Greenbelt communities and the postwar Levittown experiments, she illustrates the subtle balance of machine and garden in American public life. The grid and mechanical device are hard to discern in the green communities of the suburbs. Yet, the technology of surveillance practiced by the gently curving cul-de-sacs is hard to ignore. As we see in Garrreau's essay, these New Towns demonstrate the ambivalence shared by Americans who confront the rhetorical shape of progress in public life. Shall our roads be built straight toward the utopian horizon? Or, instead, shall they curve endlessly back home?


Christensen, C.A. (1986). The American garden city and the new towns movement. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press.

Off-campus webpages

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