8th Grade New York

Suburbs

This inquiry is focused on the compelling question “Were the suburbs good for America?” and deals with the period of rapid suburbanization immediately following World War II, from 1945 through the 1950s. The question challenges the notion that all economic development is beneficial and considers both the positive and negative outcomes of American suburban growth. Students have an opportunity to learn about economic and social conditions in the United States following World War II, the roles of the federal government and private industry in supporting suburban growth, and the economic and social impact of suburbanization on Americans in the 1950s.

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Compelling Question:

Were Suburbs Good for America?

Staging the Question: Brainstorm characteristics of the local community that are both positive and negative.
1

Supporting Question What were the economic and social conditions in the United States after World War II?

Formative Task List the economic and social conditions in the United States after World War II.

Sources Source A: “Live Births in the United States, 1930–2007”
Source B: “Gross Domestic Product and Unemployment, 1933–1960”
Source C: “30-Year Mortgage Rates”

2

Supporting Question How and why did suburbs grow in the 1950s?

Formative Task Create a T-chart comparing public and private activities that encouraged suburban growth in the 1950s.

Sources Source A: The GI Bill of Rights and How It Works
Source B: Excerpt from “Special Message to the Congress Regarding a National Highway Program”
Source C: Excerpt from “Levittown: The Imperfect Rise of American Suburbs”
Source D: Home Ownership Rates Over Time

3

Supporting Question What were the potential benefits of suburbanization?

Formative Task Make a claim supported by evidence about the positive effects of suburbanization.

Sources Source A: Photographs from the Long Island Memories collection
Source B: Photographs from the Building the Suburban Dream collection

4

Supporting Question What were some of the problems that suburbanization created?

Formative Task Make a claim supported by evidence about the negative effects of suburbanization.

Sources Source A: Lyrics of “Little Boxes”
Source B: Excerpt from The Affluent Society
Source C: Excerpt from The Other America

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Were suburbs good for America? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that evaluates whether the growth of suburbs had a more positive or negative impact on America.
Extension: Write a magazine editorial presenting the argument.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Research census data from a local or regional community (urban, suburb, or rural).
Assess: Determine services people living in this area would need based on census information.
Act: Present ideas to the local council or board for how local officials can meet the needs of the people who live there.