How did suburbanization contributed to the decline of US cities?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The focal point of suburbanization was a flight from American urban centers.  Simply put, cities were becoming overcrowded after World War II.  As families began to "boom as in "the baby boom," there was a need in the market for these families to find new locations in which families could be raised.  Home investment became a growth sector that emerged as "housing starts went from 114,000 in 1944 to an all-time high of 1,692,000 in 1950."   These housing starts were located in the suburbs as this became the area where most housing could be initiated.   At the same time, the GI Bill helped to support this movement away from the cities and to the suburbs as the federal government "created a program that provided federally insured loans to veterans and encouraged private investment in the housing mortgage market."  As tax breaks were being given to home owners, these elements started to fuel the rise of suburbia in American society.

The cities became seen as a collection point for the "undesirable" elements in American society.  Suburbia represented a "new start" for many Americans.  Adding to this was the exclusion of people of color from the reality of suburban life and the flight from the cities became complete.  Homes were not being built in the cities and were being built in the suburbs.  The process of "red lining" urban centers to prevent building of homes in the city centers coincided with the rise of suburban life and the decline of America cities.  

Finally, the specter of the Red Scare helped to make its way into the rise of suburban life and the decline for American cities.  Developers played on this fear and made it a subconscious reason for suburban flight.  For example, in articulating plans for a suburban shopping complex, developers suggested the following:

[Suburban life features] concrete expressions of the practical idealism that built America…plenty of free parking for all those cars that we capitalists seem to acquire. Who can help but contrast [them] with what you'd find under communism.

With the Red Scare infiltrating all aspects of American life, the American suburb was seen as the embodiment of American, capitalist values, and the city was seen as the opposite.  Consistent with the "undesirable" element, cities were seen as less than the suburbs from the point of view of national identity.  In this, one sees another reality as to why suburbanization contributed to the decline of American cities.