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Paradise retained: an analysis of persistence in planned, exclusive suburbs, 1880–1980

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Scholars in urban history, planning history, and sociology have offered several plausible explanations for the decline of American suburbs, but have not succeeded in explaining suburban persistence satisfactorily. This article reconceptualizes persistence as both an artefactual and a social phenomenon and uses case study research to identify 1, the strategies employed in planned, exclusive suburbs in the United States to maintain the physical environment and quality of life, and 2, the local circumstances and social dynamics that determine the success or failure of those strategies. Four interrelated elements ensured persistence of the suburban residential environment in four case study suburbs for over one hundred years: (i) careful site selection, (ii) comprehensive planning, (iii) creation of a defensive framework of property restrictions, local ordinances, and boundary-marking strategies, and (iv) a communal consensus favouring persistence. Local control was a quality succeeding generations of suburbanites would fight to maintain but inherent in that quality is the practice of a variety of kinds of exclusion.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 1997

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