An Urban Margin

If by “suburb” is meant an urban margin that grows more rapidly than its already developed interior, the process of suburbanization began during the emergence of the industrial city in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Before that period the city was a small highly compact cluster in which people moved about on foot and goods were conveyed by horse and cart. But the early factories built in the 1830’s and 1840’s were located along waterways and near railheads at the edges of cities, and housing was needed for the thousands of people drawn by the prospect of employment. In time, the factories were surrounded by proliferating mill towns of apartments and row houses that abutted the older, main cities. As a defense against this encroachment and to enlarge their tax bases, the cities appropriated their industrial neighbors. In 1854, for example, the city of Philadelphia annexed most of Philadelphia County. Similar municipal maneuvers took place in Chicago and in New York. Indeed, most great cities of the United States achieved such status only by incorporating the communities along their borders.

With the acceleration of industrial growth came acute urban crowding and accompanying social stress conditions that began to approach disastrous proportions when, in 1888, the first commercially successful electric traction line was developed. Within a few years the horse drawn trolleys were retired and electric streetcar networks crisscrossed and connected every major urban area, fostering a wave of suburbanization that transformed the compact industrial city into a dispersed metropolis. This first phase of mass scale suburbanization was reinforced by the simultaneous emergence of the urban Middle class whose desires for homeownership in neighborhoods far from the aging inner city were satisfied by the developers of single family housing tracts.

Constructed a network at public expense. Such was the road building fever that by 1810 New York alone had some 1,500 miles of turnpikes extending from the Atlantic to Lake Erie.

Transportation on these early turnpikes consisted of freight carrier wagons and passengers stagecoaches. The most common road freight carrier was the Conestoga wagon, a vehicle developed in the mid-eighteenth century by German immigrant in the area around Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It featured large, broad wheels able to negotiate all but the deepest ruts and holes, and its round bottom prevented the freight from shifting on a hill. Covered with canvas and drawn by four to six homes, the Conestoga wagon rivaled the log cabin as the primary symbol of the frontier. Passengers traveled in a variety of stagecoaches, the most common of which had four benches, each holding three persons. It was only a platform on wheels, with no springs, slender poles held up the top, and leather curtains kept out dust and rain.

(taken from 14 Exams in Preparation and Practice Test, p. 241)

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