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NARRATOR: Americans have always tended to solve problems by moving on. The suburbs offered a new frontier, a borderland offering space, nature, a sense of safety, and distance from new immigrants who were settling in the cities.

As the urban working population grew, the suburbs as an escape from the city became the goal of many workers.

As successive waves of immigrants came to Connecticut’s cities, earlier arrivals left for what they saw as the safety, privacy, and greenery of the suburbs.

ROBERT DECRESCENZO (Mayor, East Hartford): When people think of East Hartford, they don’t normally think of a farming community, but then ‘till about 1930 that’s exactly what East Hartford was. You take this house here. This farm probably stretched back to Main Street and the house next to it was another farm that stretched back to Main Street. Well in January 1930, Pratt & Whitney opened its plant on Main Street and between 1930 and 1960 the population of East Hartford exploded and the urbanization of East Hartford occurred over relatively very short period of time very rapidly.

This is where the suburbs really started in East Hartford. Around the turn of the century to about 1920 or maybe even 1930, people were moving into neighborhoods like this from somewhere else, usually Hartford or in and around Hartford to get away from the urban life of Hartford and yet still be close enough to go to the same church and go back to the old neighborhood. And they found it comfortable here because they got away from the so-called city problems and yet they were still close by to the place where they worked ‘cause many of them worked in the City of Hartford.


NARRATOR: In the 25 years following WWII, unprecedented numbers of working and middle-class urban dwellers moved to the suburbs, finally transforming Connecticut from an urban/rural state to an urban/suburban state.

Both state and federal public policies encouraged and funded the suburban movement

JAY GITLIN: Right after World War II there was a tremendous housing shortage. And so tremendous numbers of houses were built. And this is a nice example, I think, of a pleasant post-World-War-II suburban development. It represents in many ways the Democratization of the American dream insofar as the American dream is suburban.

CATHERINE JOHNSON (Town Planner): And one of the things that made it possible for a lot of people to buy these houses was the funding from the FHA. You had 5 or 6% interest. You could take out a 20-year mortgage and you could borrow up to 80% of the house. Prior to that time you had 3 to 5 years to pay off 50% mortgages.

ROBERT DECRESCENZO: Servicemen coming back from the war needed two things: they needed a decent place to live and start their new families, and they needed a job. I this neighborhood they got both. The deal here was $4,999 with $499 dollars down and you could move into your brand new home with your new family, walk to work at the Pratt & Whitney plant, and your kids could walk to school. Today, the function of the neighborhood remains the same. It’s a place to get a toe hold into the middle class, and then grow from there.

LINDA CHAPLEY (Bristol Resident): My dad grew up on a farm. He was basically forced to go to a city to make a living and I'm sure the suburbs provided him that little enclave, that little half acre of country. Now for my mom, who grew up in a city and just dreamed about living in a home with a white picket fence and things like that, this was the manifestation of that dream. Yet she was still close enough to the city that she loved.

And it was a quantum leap for her generation and my dad's generation from being children of immigrants just eking out a living in this new country to all the sudden be able to afford their own home in an affluent area, send their children to good schools, have one maybe two cars, and take it from there.


NARRATOR: As car ownership increased in Connecticut throughout the 20th century, so did the road system. In 1907, an extensive state highway system was approved by the General Assembly. In 1923 the Post Road was widened. In 1938 the Merritt Pkwy opened. By 1950, the state had more roads per square mile than any state in the country. In 1956 The Interstate Highway Act created the federal expressway.

HERB JANICK: We had a very active road building program quite early in the ‘20s and ‘30s so that by the time of World War II, we had 3,000 miles of paved road in a state that’s only 5,000 square miles.

MATTHEW NEMERSON: Connecticut embarked on the greatest suburban support program that any state has seen. You know, we really invented the interstate highway and a lot of people don’t realize that I-95 along the shoreline was built before there was an interstate system. And it was incorporated in afterwards. That’s why we had tolls. That’s why there’s so many exits on it because in fact it was designed for people to commute from the suburbs along the shore into the cities.

NARRATOR: In 1965 when the new state constitution reapportioned the legislature, the power to shape public policy flowed to suburban residents and their representatives. The suburbs’ political power base continues today.

JEFFERSON DAVIS (CT State Representative): Politically here in the General Assembly before we went to one man, one vote, it was the rural areas that controlled the General Assembly and now that we’ve gone to one man, one vote. The suburbs are where the population is and in many ways they’re the ones that also set the political agenda.

HERB JANICK: And they have reinforced the pattern of the federal government which is to encourage suburban scattering, suburban sprawl, by subsidizing school buildings, subsidizing sewer buildings, subsidizing road building.

NARRATOR: Before 1920, private automobile or carriage transportation was largely limited to the wealthy, requiring middle class real estate developments to be within walking distance of public transit. The mass-produced automobile changed all that, and put the suburban house further out in the country.

HERB JANICK: The automobile didn’t have to stay on a fixed route. The automobile made it possible to fill in suburban areas that couldn’t be reached by the trolley or the train. Every family defines its own world. In terms of where they work, in terms of where they go to school, this old link between suburb tied to the city is been broken.

JAY GITLIN: Instead of thinking of central places, now we really accumulate our own set of personal destinations. To me our set of highways and these sorts of roads, they all lead home. You know, in a profound way. Instead of leading to the city, they lead home. I love cities mind you, but the city is nothing more than another stop off the turnpike.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012