Monday, October 15, 2007


#307 Levittown

Happy 60th Birthday, Levittown, NY. You are and always have been the pits. And the worst single thing to happen to American cities.

That’s pretty politically incorrect. We’re supposed to celebrate, after all. Celebrate great, cheap housing for GIs who returned to the boroughs after World War II and wanted a “better” place to live and raise families. Nice sentiment.

So, Bill Levitt took a pretty big former potato farm and he and his pals at a bank with some unsavory history got together to build a six thousand dollar, four room cape. And then they duplicated it 73-trillion times.

We’re supposed to celebrate. And get all teary and sentimental.

The houses in their present conditions are worth close to half a mil each, unless, of course you try to sell one. Then, depending on how elaborately it’s been re-done (and just about every one of them has been,) you get to bargain and barter and maybe you can get a better price.

The original deeds said “Whites Only.” There’s a good start.

So, where are all those white people going to work? Many, if not most of the original buyers in New York City. But there were no good roads and no railroad connection. They went anyway. They’re still going. Check out the LIRR parking lots in Westbury, Merrick and Bellmore. Check out the Meadowbrook and Northern State Parkways.

All those lots have been expanded and are full. All those roads have been expanded and are full.

The place is a dump.

But that’s not the worst thing about it.

Levitt had the chance to build his horizontal housing project within the five boroughs. But that “whites only” thing got in the way.

What Levittown did was yank a good chunk of the white middle class population out of New York, a population that would have stayed and built a diversified city that would be as vibrant now as it was when all this started.

So much for diversity in New York.

So much for retaining an economic base in New York that would have come to include people of every stripe.

But even THAT is not the worst of it. The worst of it was that this “success” was replicated on the outskirts of practically every other major city in America.

Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, St. Louis, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles.

Bill Levitt turned America into a giant suburb, with people focused on Little Boxes and little patches of green (you can grow grass in Urbia, too. Did you know that?) and people focused on their cars and their electric ranges and themselves, but not each other.

There’s an accomplishment.

The lauded Mister Levitt died as scandal swirled about him. And his pals at the Franklin National Bank.

A fitting end to a master builder and a master banker and the shady characters who managed to remain mostly in darkness or in jail or in various Town Halls.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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