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Suburban Landscapes

, 352 pages

45 halftones, 5 line drawings

November 2001



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Suburban Landscapes

Culture and Politics in a New York Metropolitan Community

Certificate of Commendation from the American Association for State and Local History

Most Americans today live in the suburbs. Yet suburban voices remain largely unheard in sociological and cultural studies of these same communities. In Suburban Landscapes: Culture and Politics in a New York Metropolitan Community, Paul Mattingly provides a new model for understanding suburban development through his narrative history of Leonia, New Jersey, an early commuter suburb of New York City.

Although Leonia is a relatively small suburb, a study of this kind has national significance because most of America's suburbs began as rural communities, with histories that predated the arrival of commuters and real estate developers. Examining the dynamics of community cultural formation, Mattingly contests the prevailing urban and suburban dichotomy. In doing so, he offers a respite from journalistic cliches and scholarly bias about the American suburb, providing instead an insightful, nuanced look at the integrative history of a region.

Mattingly examines Leonia's politics and culture through three eras of growth and change (1859-94, 1894-1920, and 1920-60). A major part of Leonia's history, Mattingly reveals, was its role as an attractive community for artists and writers, many contributors to national magazines, who created a 'suburban' aesthetic. The work done by generations of Leonias' artists provides an important vantage and a wonderful set of tools for exploring evolving notions of suburban culture and landscape, which have broad implications and applications. Oral histories, census records, and the extensive work of Leonia's many artists and writers come together to trace not only the community's socially diverse history, but to show how residents viewed the growth and transformation of Leonia as well.

Paul H. Mattingly is a professor of history at New York University.

"Paul Mattingly presents a thoroughly researched social history of Leonia that challenges the critique of suburbia as lacking in community... The author's use of artistic images, oral histories, and contemporaneous newspaper accounts are instructive. His frequent focus on personalities is an appealing technique that helps to hold the reader's interest and move the story forward."

"This book makes several important arguments that add complexity to the suburban historiography,... especially in its nuanced exploration of how a suburban imaginary sprang from local soil but planted itself deeply in the national consciousness."

"Presents readers with an alternative way to understand suburbs as communities in which people live and shape their desires, not merely as places under (sub) a city (urban)... The role of cultural memory in a small community's development and of how politics may be conceptualized through that memory, are both interesting and relatively unexplored avenues for understanding community development. It is this approach that makes Suburban Landscapes a valuable contribution."

"The inclusion of suburban imagery, ideology, and informal and formal organizations provides a significant contribution to suburban history and serves as a model for unraveling the suburban experience."

"Mattingly manages the rather neat and absolutely essential trick of keeping broad themes and the richness of local context and detail in view at the same time, shifting effortlessly from one to the other and thus conveying respect for both dimensions."