Levittown, New York

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“Levittown: Alter, Joseph, residence. “Children's room” in a Levittown, New York residence, 1955. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California via California Digital Library.

Levittown, a suburban community on Long Island, New York, began development and was ready for occupancy in 1947, just in time for the postwar demand for housing. The first subdivision to boast thousands of cookie-cutter single-family homes, manicured lawns and and wide streets, it is considered the archetype of the American suburb. Levittown eventually had 17,447 houses containing 82,000 people. For parents in postwar America, Levittown and the suburban life it represented were safe places to raise children away from the dangers of city life and bad influences.

Not everyone was encouraged to move their families to Levittown. A whites-only policy was printed in the original Levittown standard lease, although it was dropped in 1948. However, when the first African American family moved to Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1957, a second development built by the Levitts in the same model as the first, homeowners protested on the new residents’ lawn.

Levittown embodied the spirit of conformity that critics described at the heart of suburban life. It demonstrated that within this model of policed sameness, there was plenty of room for discrimination.