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Description - Unplanned Suburbs by Richard Harris

It is widely believed that only the growth of mass suburbs after World War II brought suburban living within reach of blue-collar workers, immigrants, and racial minorities. But in this original and intensive study of Toronto, Richard Harris shows that even prewar suburbs were socially and ethnically diverse, with a significant number of lower-income North American families making their homes on the urban fringe. As early as 1900, Harris explains, the decentralization of blue-collar employment encouraged working-class families to leave the city, many of them taking advantage of lax enforcement of suburban regulations to build their homes themselves. In the short run, the advantages were obvious: a home of one's own, a garden, access to the surrounding countryside. But the unplanned--and therefore scattered--developments led to dramatic increases in the cost of needed services. Inevitably, property taxes rose, in many cases beyond the ability of working-class families to pay. Even as early as the 1920s, Harris shows, many families had fallen into tax arrears and lost their homes as a result, a trend that only worsened with the Depression. Harris concludes that even minimal planning might have helped retain the advantages of owner-built housing while reducing public costs, citing the success of European experiments in aided self-help for homebuilders. But in the United States and Canada, the lack of planning set the stage for a uniquely North American tragedy. Unplanned Suburbs serves as a reminder of the dangers of unchecked suburban growth. "The book is remarkable for its breadth, depth, and accuracy. Especially for the early years, statistical data on housing construction, demographics, and infrastructure availability was erratically and inconsistently maintained, if at all. Unplanned Suburbs stands out ...impressively as an excellent historical research primer."--APA Journal "Harris tells a nearly forgotten story ...If he is right about Toronto's suburban history being typical of North America, an entire chapter of it--the owner-built blue-collar suburb--has simply dropped out of memory."--Planning "Harris has found plenty of evidence for his argument in municipal documents, newspaper accounts, and company records ...But the real strength of his book lies in its human dimension: what it meant to live fairly far out, without much public transportation. Women were isolated and overworked, houses had no piped water, and families were so strapped for cash to buy building materials that many children left school at fourteen to work in the factories. On top of that, new municipalities soon raised taxes to pay for services ...Harris's work reminds us that not all suburbanites were affluent. It also raises fascinating theoretical questions about the nature of class, housing, and city planning."--Landscape Architecture

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780801862823
ISBN-10: 0801862825
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 152mm x 23mm)
Pages: 376
Imprint: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publish Date: 7-Oct-1999
Country of Publication: United States

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Author Biography - Richard Harris

Richard Harris is a professor of geography at McMaster University, Ontario. He is the author of Democracy in Kingston: A Social Movement in Urban Politics.

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