A City Subdivided
Modern day notions of subdivisions derive from a well-known group called the Levitt’s. The Levitt family began and perfected their home construction techniques during World War II with contracts to build housing for the military on the East Coast. Following the war, they began to build subdivisions for returning veterans and their families.
In 1946 the Levitt Company acquired 4,000 acres of potato fields in Hempstead and began to build not just the largest single development by a single builder but what would be the country’s largest housing development ever. The potato fields located 25 miles east of Manhattan on Long Island was named Levittown, and the Levitts began to build a huge suburb. The new development ultimately consisted of 17,400 homes and 82,000 people. Thus began what we know of today as a subdivision.
This however was not the origin of subdivisions in America. The United States was founded on the idea of subdividing large parcels into smaller ones. The creation of a subdivision was often the first step toward the creation of a new city. Most of these subdivisions started in the city center or downtowns. The evolution of a city began when a large parcel usually located near a river or other transportation route were subdivided into grid patterns and given street names even before streets were physically laid out. As cities grew, new subdivisions were created as investors/developers purchased properties, extended utilities and connected properties to the existing grid pattern with little differentiation from one subdivision to another. In the early 1900’s developers began placing markers or decorative columns at the entries to their subdivisions, however, there was a seamless connection between each subdivision with all streets still connecting. Locally we see this in the historic Lenox Park neighborhood. Coquina columns are scattered throughout the neighborhood separating each development from the next.
As mid century came, new development patterns similar to the ones the Levitt family built began to shift the American landscape toward the suburbs. Developments started to look more like Lyon Estates in the movie Back to the Future with large entryways and single source entries and exits. This was a marketable difference to the previous methods of subdividing lands because these developments no longer connected to the existing grid pattern and cut them off from the traditional urban flow. As time went by gates were added to the developments’ ornate entries and access was made even more difficult.
This has been the development pattern since World War II. However, today we are seeing more and more infill and redevelopment occur back in the original subdivided city. These redevelopments serve as a return to the classic style of development that predated World War II America. Our current projects William Square, WC Grand and Tabby House all represent a throwback to the original development patterns. We reconnect to the grid pattern and follow through with the tradition of community development. Our philosophy is that reconnecting to the original city subdivision; we reconnect to the traditional idea of community.
I encourage you the next time you drive through your city to look at the street patterns and see if you can see the transition from pre to post World War II street design.