So I get back from my history lecture and go straight to Google Maps. We were learning about the phenomenon of Levittowns and why they were so significant in mid-century America. Naturally, I’m weird and compelled to see how Levittown PA matches up with how it was envisioned by Levit back in the day…. How adorable these little casas are! There is just enough space to be cozy! But the advertisements and propaganda, the articles and posters… they all suggest there’s some high level of conformity here. The stereotypes of housewives, the GI Bill, the social fears and high de facto expectations all haunt the area even today through my innocent computer screen. How can we allow this to still shape our idea of vintage living…?
It honestly bothers me that this is considered scholarly. For you all, I’d like to point out some themes that we still live by today, which extend well past the township borders of 1957 Levittown.
One of the most profuse comparisons I can see is the frequency of larger homes and the expansion of ‘mcmansion’ developments rising all over the country’s suburbias. Each house on a given street still has expectations to be met on the foundation of appearance, which sometimes replicates the ‘cookie cutter’ feel that emerged around the 1950’s Levittowns. Of course, there is a notion of postmodern architecture that came to fruition through the Levit movement. At the time that Levittowns were being completed, a song called “Little Boxes” was published, which lyrically references the idea of these quaint little cottages. If they were little boxes, then are today’s houses jst bigger boxes? Asymmetry, detail, and craftsmanship is becoming more and more minimal, and more pieces are becoming scarily prefabricated, (remind you of Edgewater, New Jersey?) With these pristine homes, there is also expectation to keep them as lovely as they were when bought new. A sense of formality exists especially in areas that are known to be aesthetically, visually appealing: De facto rules clearly exist to maintain a location’s reputation.
It may sound stupid or overstated to some, but it really breeds into other conflicts of present interest like gender-specific expectations and even workplace inequalities. The community mindset sinks in and spreads like wildfire. Of course, we counterbalance these negative, petty, and often dramatic nonsense with new concepts to mesh with old traditions. How we can spend our time today makes us extremely efficient and capable of incredible social change. Instead of sitting on our technology devices all the time, there is time for us to create landscape architecture, produce inventions to better our lives, cook gourmet meals with the help of media and recipes, learn new skills and create things, and even learn to drive stick shift or renovate our homes (if you’re feeling ambitious). Becoming engaged in our communities as they are built to be will mold this world into what we want it to be. Generativity is what the vintage morale advocates. So spread the love, the values, and the happiness to your neighbors. In the end, all we have is each other, whether we had a ‘little box’ or a bigger box.