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NARRATOR: The suburban experience has at its heart a quest for privacy -- a collective wish for a private life -- and a quiet place.

AMANDA LAMOTHE: It’s a place to go after the world beats you up so to speak. It’s just sort of nice to be able to go home and sit out on your back porch and you don’t care what you look like. You don’t care what you have on and it’s nice to not have to have all the noise and confusion. We all work weird hours and everybody pretty much just keeps to themselves. They’re all really nice. They wave, but that’s about it.

WALTER WHEELER (Stamford Resident): I know out of 50 neighbors I have here, I know half a dozen. One of the things I personally like about living here is that I don't have to deal with my neighbors. You'll see that there are no curtains in the windows in my house. I've got trees around here that do that job.

NARRATOR: Some suburbanites feel that this quest for privacy has led to isolation -- from neighbors, town, and state.

MIKE GRAZIANO: (Newington Resident): We live on the end of a cul de sac. In spite of the fact that on TV you normally see suburbia people, you know, a lot of camaraderie so to speak - I really don't find that at all in the suburban area at least where we live. Everybody's so busy maintaining their big homes and cutting their lawns and taking the kids to ballet or tap dancing or whatever, that there really is very little camaraderie among the neighbors in spite of the fact that we do live reasonably close together.

RAY WIEDERHOLD (Branford Resident): They just revitalized our center of town and there's a lot of activity where people are physically close together and you can talk to them. I know a lot of those people but the people up here I don't know. I may drive through in a police cruiser but they're really not out here. I mean, we've been out here quite bit. Have you really seen anybody walking around or - you know, it's the summertime, where are the kids? I don't know, maybe they're off in summer camp. I don't know where they are.

HERB JANICK: People focus in on their own immediate family, their own immediate needs, the needs of their own town at the widest a- reach and I think that that is a a- fragmenting kind of way to think. We don’t sense that we have a wider set of obligations and opportunities

HERB JANICK: And I think that’s what’s dangerous. If we’re trying to promote a state where we all realize we have a stake in - in the common good of this society, I think we have to break that down. And I think the suburb in some ways makes it harder to break down.

JOSH MAMIS: Your life becomes one of getting in your car, going to work, coming home, eating dinner, putting the kids to bed, watching TV. There's no real opportunities for mixing like there is in cities or in communities. I realized a lot of the politics of today are an off-shoot of this; why do I have to pay taxes so that somebody else can go to the public school, my kid's not going to a public school, my taxes shouldn't go to support the public school; they're not good enough for my kid or they're not safe or whatever it is, why should I do that? That's easier to say when you don't know your neighbor.


NARRATOR: The growth of the Connecticut suburbs reflects a long-held idea that our most cherished ideals can best be realized in small groups—the family, the congregation, the neighborhood, the town.

BUD BRAY (Niantic Resident): We’ve worked hard, we’ve gotten where we’ve gotten, we have these beautiful homes, we love our neighborhoods. Suburban people are wonderful people. They do great things all the time with their little leagues, their PTA’s, all kind of functions community service.

LEE DELLERT & CAROL BROWN (Glastonbury Residents): We love it so much.

CB: We've been here for how long?

IN UNISON: 35 years.

LD: Very cohesive group of people. Our children all grew up together.

CB: Even though these guys grownup.

LD: We took care of everybody's children, you know how things should be happening now which are not happening? That's what we did in those days.

CB: Right. We were all a family.

LD: We were a big family. If Chippy was doing something wrong in my yard, Chippy was in big trouble.

CHIP: She'd tell on me.

LD: I would tell on him!

BART RUSSELL (Exec. Dir., CT Council of Small Towns): I think there is a desire for a sense of belonging, a sense of connection. You can participate in the affairs of a small town. You’re not, a small fish in a big pond. And for some people, including myself, that’s an appealing virtue.

MIKE SWIFT (Staff Writer, The Hartford Courant): The whole sense of volunteerism is really incredibly strong and identifying with a small community is a pretty neat thing. A real kind of unique facet to Connecticut life I think.

And yet at the same time, when you see things like, you know, zoning regulations, NIMBYism, you wonder whether the real flow/push of these communities is to maintain the status quo and keep out things that are different or dangerous. So, it’s almost like 2 sides of a coin or something. I think there are these 2 characters of life of excluding as well as contributing that are both run very strong in Connecticut communities.

BART RUSSELL: I think it’s pretty clear that the smaller towns believe very much that local issues ought to be decided locally and that state mandates are a thing of the past or ought to be a thing of the past.

LYNN FETTER (Farmington Resident): Everything in Connecticut seems very separate. Each town has their own tax base, their own fire department, their own school system. It’s so separate and-and heaven forbid that somebody from Avon would use a Farmington whatever the heck, I mean I was at a town meeting and they were talking about putting in a (and this was like 2 weeks ago), they were talking about putting a sidewalk in by U-Conn. And this man, very angry man, stood up and said, "Well I just want to know who’s gonna be using this sidewalk around UConn? I mean, how many Farmington people work at U-Conn?" I thought, "Oh my God!"


ROBERT DECRESCENZO: If you look at some of the zoning decisions that the outer ring suburbs have made and some of the land use decisions and some of the ways that they portray themselves, I think there is a very active effort to keep certain groups out of those towns and I don’t think there’s any mystery about that and it’s not overt and no one’s ever gonna say that, but if you look at the composition of those towns it doesn’t happen by accident that some of these outer ring suburbs are 99.8% White and I think they’re making a very big mistake.

NARRATOR: The strong link behind suburban living patterns and widespread racial isolation is a relatively recent one.

HERB JANICK: The suburbanization hold on Connecticut goes back much further than the race issue in Connecticut. And people were striving to live this decentralized way long before Connecticut had a great diversity of population. And the whole issue of race, ethnicity, is kind of superimposed on that pattern. Race didn’t get involved until the middle of the 20th century when large numbers of migrants (new types of migrants) - from the south, from New York City, from the Caribbean area - came into Connecticut during World War II and were followed by large numbers of Hispanic migrants, Puerto Ricans particularly. That movement into Connecticut coincided with the biggest outward migration of Connecticut urban dwellers to the suburbs that came after World War II and it did for a lot of people provide an extra motive for moving to the suburbs. And that’s when in the 1950’s and ‘60s that race became superimposed on the suburban exodus pattern.

NARRATOR: Despite exclusionary racial and religious covenants long-written into deeds, African-Americans have always lived in the suburbs.

ROBERT GILL (Branford Deputy Chief of Police): I was born here and I married here and I brought my family up here. And um, I don't remember a time when I thought that Branford was not a great place to live. There wasn't much to do in the community socially, but we had each other and that was a lot of fun, and of course we had the church.

This is Evergreen Place and it's a parcel of land that the owner of the Malleable Iron Fittings Company made available so that minorities would be able to buy and build homes. And it's adjacent to another street that minorities had lived on for many years and they were all employees of the foundry. And the owner of the MIF made these houses possible and it stayed an all black community for a number of years. Well into the late 70's and early 80's it remained entirely minority.

NARRATOR: Although the move to the suburbs from the cities has historically excluded racial minorities -- that is now changing. The inner ring suburbs around Hartford -- Bloomfield, E. Hartford, Manchester, W. Hartford and Windsor -- are now at least 20 percent minority

JOHN BRITTAIN: I think the suburban dream has both tended to increase racial and ethnic isolation as well as class divisions and I think it also has transcended those race and class divisions, too. As many people of color who can afford to, as the expression goes, vote with their feet and they too are moving.

MIKE SWIFT: The most integrated places in Connecticut now are ironically some of the suburbs; places like Windsor, Bloomfield, now in West Hartford more so too. Windsor -- the school system is over 1/3 minority. Bloomfield it’s close to 75%.

SANDY KLEBANOFF (Deputy Mayor, West Hartford): West Hartford is becoming diverse not only ethnically and racially, but economically. You have some of the largest concentrations of wealth in West Hartford, and you have a very large middle income population, but you have a very significant poor population.

MIKE SWIFT: Blacks generally are moving into towns like Windsor and Bloomfield which historically have been more welcoming. You don’t see that type of migration in Newington and Wethersfield. Yet, you do see a strong migration of Hispanics to towns like South Windsor.

You definitely have a different character for every town and that’s something that’s really neat. But you also see that in the character of the migration that different towns are welcoming in different degrees of , you know, different minority groups and there’s no question that racial bias, preference, plays a role in that somehow.

I think there is, you know, "White flight" from some of the older inner ring suburbs and those people are being replaced by in many cases, minority groups that are, you know, seeing the suburban dream as well moving to places like West Hartford, Bloomfield, Windsor and you even see that more so in towns that have a reputation for being all White like Glastonbury you’re seeing some of those trends as well. Almost always they’re employed, often 2-income families. They’re parents that care about quality of education for their kids and it’s kind of the old quintessential American Dream there I think.

JACK HASAGAWA (Consultant, CT Dept. of Education): One of the things to note here is that this is not occurring, however, across class lines. So if you're looking at black and Hispanic families moving out of New Haven into Woodbridge, you're looking at black and Hispanic doctors, lawyers and business executives.

NARRATOR: Some suburbs are beginning to experience problems historically associated with urban ills, prompting residents to move to towns farther out in the country.

TOM LEWIS (Geography Professor, MCC): Those that now see the inner suburbs as negative environments will leave like the rings on a pond, you know, when you throw a stone. They'll continue to move out to places like Hebron and Sterling and places further and further out. So the trend will continue.

NARRATOR: The fastest population growth is in the small towns and then in the farther out suburbs.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012