The Suburban Assault on Democracy
By Michael J. Thompson

Celebrations of Urbanity - The Urban Reinventors, Issue Nr. 2, December 2007

"The United States is the first suburban civilization in world history, by which I simply mean that it is the first major civilization that has seen the rise of a largely non-urban population, culture, and spatial organization. It is the first to organize itself around the idea that whole swaths of the population can live in a relation of a high degree of economic interdependence, but a high degree of residential and cultural isolation and individualism. It is the first civilization to organize itself on a mass basis and yet be characterized by social atomization. Suburban civilization is not simply an alternative, non-urban form of residential planning; it is a substantial shift in the contour of everyday life in modern western society. It is a form of life which is characterized by a desire for a simpler environment and has affected a marked decline in the diverse communities that composed the urban landscapes of the prewar period. Suburbs have given rise therefore to a new culture of life, one that, I would argue, when looked at through the nexus of culture, space, and politics, gives us an insight into its corrosive effects on democratic life in modern society…"

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Michael J. Thompson is Assistant Professor of Political Science at William Paterson University. His latest book is The Politics of Inequality: A Political History of the Idea of Economic Inequality in America (Columbia University Press, 2007) and is currently writing a new book, The Specter of Babel: Antiurbanism and the Demise of Public Reason.


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