Adam Ruins the Suburbs

Sep 24 2017

Adam gets out of the city to uncover the truth lurking in the suburbs, explaining why some homeowners are so obsessed with their lawns, revealing the high cost of suburban sprawl and excavating the racist history of the ‘burbs. Here are his sources.


"On average Americans spend 70 hours a year and a total of 9 billion gallons of water a day maintaining [lawns]."

Christopher Ingraham. "Lawns Are a Soul-crushing Timesuck and Most of Us Would Be Better Off Without Them." Chicago Tribune, 5 Aug 2015.

"Almost all lawn grass in America is actually native to Africa, Europe, and Asia."

Elizabeth Kolbert. "Turf War." The New Yorker, 21 Jul 2008.

"Way back in the schmancypants 1500s British aristocrats became obsessed with emulating the fantastical, dream-like lawns they’d seen in Renaissance art."

"Lawn Order." 99% Invisible, 18 Aug 2015.

"Well, in the 1800s, those fads made their way to dumb, fancy America."

Megan Garber. "The Life and Death of the American Lawn." The Atlantic, 28 Aug 2015.

"Let your lawn be your home’s velvet robe and your flowers not too promiscuous." — Frank J. Scott

Michael Pollan. Second Nature: A Gardener's Education. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2007.

"It was even common for wealthy women to form gardening clubs that would travel to poor neighborhoods and pressure them to keep their lawns in line."

Virginia Jenkins. The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession. Smithsonian Institution, 2015.

"After World War Two, with the advent of mass-produced suburbs, lawns were put in place before houses were even sold."

Virginia Jenkins. The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession. Smithsonian Institution, 2015.

"In some suburbs, like Levittown, residents were actually required to mow their lawns once a week."

Philip S. Gutis. "Levittown, L.I., at 40: Once a Solution, Now a Problem." The New York Times, 21 Sep 1987.

"Many towns and homeowners associations even have strict rules about what you can and can’t do with your lawn. Those who don’t comply are fined or even jailed."

"Lawn Order." 99% Invisible, 18 Aug 2015.

"Actually, when it comes to traffic, cul-de-sacs are unsafe. Did you know that traffic fatalities are 270% more likely on cul-de-sacs than on grid streets?"

Jonathan Becher. "The Curse of the Cul-de-Sac." Forbes, 9 Apr 2012.

"In a dense grid system you can walk from place-to-place. But the complex maze-like design of cul-de-sac neighborhoods positions just about every destination farther away, making walking practically impossible."

Tanya Snyder. "Cul-de-sacs Are Killing Us: Public Safety Lessons from Suburbia." Streetsblog, 7 Jun 2011.

"People with lengthy car commutes suffer from disproportionate levels of stress, pain, obesity, and are even forty percent likelier to get a divorce."

Annie Lowrey. "Your Commute Is Killing You." Slate, 26 May 2011.

"A study in Sweden even found that people who live more than 31 miles from work actually die sooner."

Jane E. Brody. "Commuting’s Hidden Cost." The New York Times, 28 Oct 2013.

"One study found that suburbanites have carbon footprints up to four times larger than city dwellers."

Francie Diep. "Suburbia's Carbon Footprint Is Four Times the Size of Urban Residents', Study Finds." Popular Science, 7 Jan 2014.

"Denser cities generate ten times as much tax money per acre. As a result, they often have to create special programs just to keep nearby suburbs afloat."

Mariela Alfonzo. "Making the Economic Case for More Walkability." Urban Land, 8 May 2015.

"Compared to cities, suburban sprawl costs an excess of one trillion dollars per year."

Tanvi Misra. "How Much Sprawl Costs America." CityLab, 24 Mar 2015.

"Schools are often better in the suburbs."

Laura McKenna. "Why Don’t Suburbanites Want Charter Schools?" The Atlantic, 1 Oct 2015.

"In the 1930s, as part of the New Deal, FDR created loan programs to help Americans finance their homes. But to decide who got the loans the government created color coded maps where green neighborhoods were good and red neighborhoods were bad. This practice became known as redlining."

Alexis C. Madrigal. "The Racist Housing Policy that Made Your Neighborhood." The Atlantic, 22 May 2014.

"Those were the neighborhoods where African Americans and other minorities lived, and redlining systematically prevented them from getting home loans"

Jamelle Bouie. "How We Built the Ghettos." Daily Beast, 13 Mar 2014.

"Early suburb developers like William Levitt instituted explicitly racist policies."

James W. Loewen. Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. New Press, 2005.

"Levittown homes must not be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race." — Levittown standard lease, clause 25, 1947

Bruce Lambert. "At 50, Levittown Contends With Its Legacy of Bias." The New York Times, 28 Dec 1997.

"And the federal government itself encouraged developers to discriminate."

Bruce Lambert. "At 50, Levittown Contends With Its Legacy of Bias." The New York Times, 28 Dec 1997.

"The result of these policies is that from 1934 through 1968, a whopping 98% of housing loans were given to white families."

"Historian Says Don't 'Sanitize' How Our Government Created Ghettos." Fresh Air. NPR, 14 May 2015.

"In the green neighborhoods, the influx of new wealth attracted new businesses."

Emily Badger. "Redlining: Still a Thing." The Washington Post, 28 May 2015.

"The red neighborhoods had far less ability to build wealth, and many remain trapped in poverty."

James Surowiecki. "The Widening Racial Wealth Divide." The New Yorker, 10 Oct 2016.

"That's why laws were eventually passed that made most of these discriminatory practices illegal."

"Fair Housing Laws and Presidential Executive Orders." U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, accessed 31 Aug 2017.

"Today, 70 years after Levittown was created, it's still less than 1% black."

Bruce Lambert. "At 50, Levittown Contends With Its Legacy of Bias." The New York Times, 28 Dec 1997.

“Black children are more segregated in schools now than in any time since the 1970s.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones. "Segregation Now." ProPublica, 16 Apr 2014.

"Highways that were built to make access to the cities easier for white Americans were often built right through black middle class neighborhoods, destroying them."

Nikole Hannah-Jones. "Living Apart: How the Government Betrayed a Landmark Civil Rights Law." ProPublica, 29 Oct 2012.

"Banks still regularly charge black home buyers higher rates on loans than they do white home buyers, even when they have the same credit"

Nikole Hannah-Jones. "How the Supreme Court Could Scuttle Critical Fair Housing Rule." Guernica Magazine, 11 Feb 2013.

"Worst of all, black and Latino home seekers still experience 4 million instances of illegal housing discrimination every year."

Nikole Hannah-Jones. "Have You Experienced Housing Discrimination?" ProPublica, 28 Oct 2012.

"In Atlanta a 22-mile park and transit loop around the city is connecting its suburban neighborhoods."

"Eastside Trail." The Atlanta BeltLine, accessed 31 Aug 2017.

"Pleasant Ridge, Ohio revitalized an old main street with new local businesses by designating it a community entertainment district."

"Market Study & Vision Plan: Final Report, 2016 Update." Pleasant Ridge Community Council, 2016.

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