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Unplanned Suburbs

, 376 pages

84 b&w illus.

April 1996



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Unplanned Suburbs

Toronto's American Tragedy, 1900 to 1950

It is widely believed that only the growth of mass suburbs after World War II brought suburban living within reach of blue-collar workers, immigrants, and racial minorities. But in this original and intensive study of Toronto, Richard Harris shows that even prewar suburbs were socially and ethnically diverse, with a significant number of lower-income North American families making their homes on the urban fringe. In the United States and Canada, lack of planning set the stage for a uniquely North American tragedy. Unplanned Suburbs serves as a reminder of the dangers of unchecked suburban growth.

Richard Harris is a professor of geography at McMaster University, Ontario. He is the author of Democracy in Kingston: A Social Movement in Urban Politics.

"A remarkably informative, exhaustively researched book detailing the growth of Toronto during a formative period."

"The book is remarkable for its breadth, depth, and accuracy. Especially for the early years, statistical data on housing construction, demographics, and infrastructure availability was erratically and inconsistently maintained, if at all. Unplanned Suburbs stands out... impressively as an excellent historical research primer."

"Harris tells a nearly forgotten story... If he is right about Toronto's suburban history being typical of North America, an entire chapter of it—the owner-built blue-collar suburb—has simply dropped out of memory"

"Harris has found plenty of evidence for his argument in municipal documents, newspaper accounts, and company records... But the real strength of his book lies in its human dimension: what it meant to live fairly far out, without much public transportation. Women were isolated and overworked, houses had no piped water, and families were so strapped for cash to buy building materials that many children left school at fourteen to work in the factories. On top of that, new municipalities soon raised taxes to pay for services... Harris's work reminds us that not all suburbanites were affluent. It also raises fascinating theoretical questions about the nature of class, housing, and city planning."

"An important and exciting book."

"This is an outstanding book... What Richard Harris has done is to add a completely new dimension to North American urban history... This is a great step forward for Canadian urban history, and indeed for American history as a whole."

"This book demonstrates great commitment to the subject, impressive research skills, and engaging reporting... Get it and read it."

"Harris's study... is based on first-rate scholarship and should make an impact among urban historians and geographers."

"A superb study of working-class suburbanization."

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