The next part of Chapter 4 of Stephanie Coontz's The Way We Never Were shows the policies behind the creation of suburbia.
The suburbs were a product of government policy and federal spending, especially in two areas: 1) constructing the roads that would ease suburbanites' commutes to and from cities and 2) housing.
Here on the blog, I've discussed the way that automobile manufacturers took advantage of federal funds in promoting a "car culture," and even going so far as to intentionally put public transportation out of business. Coontz details the federal government's role in building interstate highways, the prime beneficiaries of which were suburbanites. Ninety-percent of the interstate highway construction was funded by the federal government.
Every taxpayer may have financed the project, but not everyone benefited. "Despite arguments that road building served 'national interests,' urban interstates were primarily 'turned into commuter roads serving suburbia'" (p. 78). Coontz continues:
Such federal patronage might be unobjectionable, even laudable-though hardly a demonstration of self-reliance-if it had been available to all Americans equally. But the other aspect of federal subsidization of suburbia is that it worsened the plight of public transportation, the inner cities, poor families in general, and minority ones in particular.
Housing policy, which was itself closely tied to the policies behind highway construction, was also inherently inequitable:
Federal loan policies systematized and nationalized the pervasive but informal racism that had previously characterized the housing market. FHA redlining practices, for example, took entire urban areas and declared them ineligible for loans. Government policy also shifted resources from urban areas into suburban construction and expansion. At the same time, postwar "urban renewal" and highway construction reduced the housing stock for urban workers.
(p. 78). The way in which transportation was set up automatically disadvantaged urban areas. Coontz argues that "government transportation policy systematically fostered improvements in private rather than public conveyances, favoring suburban development over the revitalization of urban life" (p. 79).
I appreciated Coontz's discussion of the policies behind the creation of suburbia. I often hear white suburbanites claim that they personally are not racist or that racism simply doesn't exist anymore. These beliefs are an oversimplification of the structural, systematic nature of racism. Two or three generations of white suburban families have benefited from particular government policies, policies that systematically advantaged white, middle- and upper-class populations and disadvantaged poorer communities of color. These seemingly invisible advantages don't come into play when a white middle-class person considers racism.