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SUBURBIA: THE GOOD LIFE IN CONNECTICUT?

SUBURBIA: The Good Life in Connecticut?
Produced, Written & Directed by Kenneth A. Simon

Broadcast Premiere: 1997
PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Printer-Friendly Version    

OPEN

It is the way most of us live in Connecticut --
Suburbia.
Where we go to find the good life --
Where the state’s economic and political power are based.

What led us here?
And what does the future hold -- for the suburbs

TITLE: SUBURBIA THE GOOD LIFE IN CONNECTICUT?

NARRATOR: For many Americans, the suburbs have historically been a place to search for the good life. In Connecticut, perhaps more than any other state, the suburbs are where we live.

HERB JANICK (Historian): While we’re here on this little piece of real estate we could be outside of any Connecticut city and we could be looking at exactly the same thing. Connecticut is really a suburban state where this is the lifestyle and this is the land use pattern that has really dominated the state.

JAY GITLIN (Historian): People are looking for a number of things. I think first and foremost, they’re looking for a place that has good schools. They’re looking for nature, neighbors who will respect your privacy--give you space and at the same time sort of be there if you need them.

NARRATOR: Connecticut’s suburbs are where the state’s political power resides.

JOSHUA MAMIS (Newspaper Editor): Most of the major issues facing Connecticut today are being played out in the suburbs.MATTHEW NEMERSON (Exec. Dir. Chamber of Commerce): We tend to fractionalize into 169 very autonomous bodies all with different roles. The suburbs being that great middle playing field.

NARRATOR: Our long embrace of suburban living has brought hidden costs and an uncertain future.

JOHN BRITTAIN (Law Professor): Forty-two years after the 1954 Brown versus Board of Education decision, we have more segregation today in residential living patterns than we did in 1953.

LAURA WEIR CLARK (Preservationist): If we are not careful in the next 20 years, the indications are that we will lose much of our rural lands, our small towns will lose their character.

NARRATOR: What is the Connecticut suburban experience and what does it reveal about our most personal and fundamental values?

DEEP ROOTS

NARRATOR: Suburban aspirations have been deeply rooted in the consciousness of our state for 150 years. Connecticut in the mid-19th century was primarily a rural state with a few small cities. In the 1840s, the idea of the suburbs began to take hold.

HERB JANICK: Very early mid 19th century - we’ve tried to establish that relationship of the middle landscape. Not too civilized, not too primitive, and that’s what the suburb is. I mean, the suburb was the pastoral kind of environment that all Americans wanted. Connecticut was just in a position to be able to do it more easily than other people. Connecticut has been able to a- buy into that way of living so completely because it is small. There are not any large physical barriers that would prevent people from traveling to live and traveling to work in some other place. I think it’s important for people to understand that this is a very strong part of CT’s heritage. That’s something we carry with us, with its pluses and with its minuses.

CAROL GRAZIANO (Newington Resident): Carol, what’s the good life for you? My backyard. We can be sitting out here and you don't hear anything but the trees blowing in the wind. You can hear the birds and you can come out in the sunshine and you don't have to worry. The good life to me is just being in my backyard. I like the front yard, too, but I like the backyard better.

AMANDA LAMOTHE (Uncasville Resident): Just walking down the driveway to get a newspaper in the morning is wonderful because you know, we’re surrounded by trees and it was nothing like where I grew up. You could walk out the door and wave into your neighbor’s kitchen and here you can’t even see your neighbors.

STREETCAR SUBURBS

GEORGE BOUCHE (East Haven Trolley Museum): Before the 1880’s, most people had to live in the cities near where they worked. In 1888 and after that, all the small horse car lines in the cities started to electrify and to extend their line out into the country. That enabled people to move away from the center of the city out to a suburb. Buy a home, a little better quality of life, and commute back into town to go to work.

NARRATOR: The electric trolley opened up rural areas all around the state to residential development.

HERB JANICK: The streetcar was less expensive, ran more frequently, made many more stops. So that people with a different income, people with a different work schedule found it possible to get out of the city.

JAY GITLIN: The trolleys finally brought the benefits of suburbanization to the middle classes, even the working classes. This is a beautiful classical revival home built in 1910 on a lot carved out of the estate of Donald Grant Mitchell. It's situated here in the trolley suburb of Westville, which is the probably the nicest trolley suburb of the city of New Haven.

NARRATOR: In Wethersfield, as in other small towns, the street car brought great growth.

ELEANOR WOLF (Wethersfield Resident): Albert Hubbard in the early 1900's developed what he always said was the first mass housing project. He had about 67 different housing plans, people would go and decide which house they wanted him to build. Mostly a large part of the center of town was his housing. I suppose the biggest change was that people had access to the city for shopping. There were no big stores in Wethersfield at all, but the food and things were supplied by peddlers. We had the fishmonger, we had the meat man, we had the baker, ice man, the scissors grinder, vegetable man, rag picker - all of these people came around to the door. And then the trolley helped put them out of business because then you got into your best clothes and went to Hartford to shop.

NARRATOR: By W.W.I, nearly 70 Connecticut towns had trolley systems. Trolley tracks were laid radiating out from the city’s central business district, following the main transportation routes in the city. All tracks led to the heart of the city, with its new business towers and great department stores.

Both the cities and the suburbs thrived as public and private development projects boomed.

HERB JANICK: The rail line and then the trolley line were the real glue that really brought together the suburbs and city in balance here. People left at 5 o’clock to go back to the suburbs, but they came in at 8 o’clock or at 10 o’clock when the suburban women came in to shop in the department store which really was a women’s club.

LAURA WIER CLARKE: You can see right behind us in New Haven, some of those older suburbs where the houses are set closer to the street and closer together and they’re off of the major streets so that someone can hop off the street car and walk a couple of blocks to their home. The street car suburbs were suburbs that had to have a pedestrian scale to them.

JAY GITLIN: These sorts of houses built at this time tend to have porches and parlor rooms. People had the expectation that they had a public face , just something that modern, very recent suburbs don't have.

NARRATOR: By the 1930s trolleys started to fade, pushed aside by the growing reliance on the automobile.

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