Whither Levittown: The Changing Face of Suburbia

When one talks about suburbia, one gets the image of white-bread America—a homogenous Caucasian land of tract-homes, with nary a minority to be seen, except, perhaps, in the service-provider role. Certainly, that’s the image television still portrays to some extent, although if not Caucasian, then certainly homogenous middle-class. Now, I live in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles: a suburb that in the 1950s and 1960s certainly fit that bill.

Today, that image is no longer true. I ride my bike regularly across the valley for exercise, and I see the increased heterogeneity. Not only do I see a strong influence of hispanic culture (not a surprise in Los Angeles), there is an increased vital Korean and Armenian culture element, as well as a significant Islamic element. I base this on the increased signage I see in Korean, Armenian, and Arabic characters, and the increased number of prominantly-signed Halal markets. The latter aspect is what prompted this article: I don’t remember noticing a growing Islamic community in the valley… and now I’m noticing it a lot more.

I’ll also note how this reflects a change from the America of 100 years ago. At the turn of the previous century, we had an equally large influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, China, Japan, and Ireland (among other countries). Back then, the goal was to blend in: to become part of the fabric of America and melt into the melting pot. The 1960s and 1970s saw an emergence of ethnic pride, and it became acceptable to stand out from the homogenous blob. This started what I’ll call the world culture of suburbia today: individuals, families, and merchants that are not only American but proudly serving specific ethnic and religious groups.

I tend to try to take the role of neutral observer: I’m not saying this is good or bad, only interesting. I would love to learn more about some of these cultures and how they differ, and why they chose to make particular pockets within the San Fernando Valley their home. I’d love to learn how their communities are thriving and shifting (community shifts are normal: witness the movement of the Jewish community from Boyle Heights to Fairfax to the Westside and the Valley (such as the strong Orthodox pockets in North Hollywood and Encino)). In particular, I’d love to learn about the growth of the Islamic community in the valley, for it seems to have just popped out to me… and I don’t know whether this is due to commuity growth, conscious increased community visibility, or that I just have increased awareness that the community is there.

Now, I know that not all of my readers live out here in the San Fernando Valley. What about where you live? Have you noticed the changing of suburbia from the GI-bill era to the world culture? How has your community changed?

P.S.: As usual, the current music is very appropriate. Richie Valens was a San Fernando Valley native, having grown up in the community of Pacoima, part of one of the cultures that was and is an integral part of the valley.