Inner-Ring Suburb Post-wwII
What is an Inner Ring and how has Yonkers been portrayed as an Inner-Ring since World War II?
In this essay, I will first explain and define the idea of the “inner-ring” suburb, as well as through detailed research, describe Yonkers in the Post World War II era as an inner-ring suburb. I also plan on comparing and contrasting Yonkers to three other inner-ring suburbs in suburban Westchester: Hastings-on-Hudson, Bronxville, and Tuckahoe. These three areas of Westchester have also at some points in time, particularly during the Post World War II era, had traits of what an inner-ring suburb was and still is.
What is an inner-ring suburb? What are the problems with it and how can communities pull themselves back into being a desirable place to live, which they all once were. In Once the American Dream, Hanlon goes into explicit detail in order to describe the different types of suburbs and how an inner-ring is different from them. She also shows how depending on the era and who is clarifying these definitions, the meaning of an inner-ring suburb itself can also have multiple variations in meaning.
Hanlon tells us that “Suburbia has evolved into two realities that include continued growth and prosperity and decline and poverty.” There is a dichotomy with the idea of suburbs because of the conflicting ideas of these two realities. The simultaneous moving forward of the suburban ideal was especially exciting for veterans that just came back from serving in the war. This is the current situation going on with inner-ring suburbs of the present day. It initiated, though, with what is called “suburban elitism.” These essentially were the upper-class white elites that wanted to get away from the industrialized life that was in the city. The environment was quiet, safe, and healthy. These new and charming landscapes were absolutely ideal for wealthy and rising capitalists.
Norman Rockell, “Commuters”, 1946
Painting of Crestwood Train Station in Tuckahoe. Ithaca.edu
The problem was that “suburbs relied on local property, sales, and income taxes to generate revenue,” and when these things started to change, suburbs also underwent serious changes. (Hanlon, 22.) Hanlon goes on to give multiple traits that can best describe inner-ring suburbs. Some of them are as follows: somewhat of a poverty level, income disparities, population variances, multiple levels of fiscal stress, not well taken care of public schools and one of the main factors, housing deterioration (Hanlon, 26.)
Three possible outcomes are the most common for what can happen in a suburb. In the Suburban Persistence model, the social status of the suburb remains consistent, but the population of the new group closely mirrors the residents who are leaving the suburb. In the Suburban Life-Cycle Model, older housing in older suburbs filters to low-income groups simultaneously as high income group’s transition into newer housing in newer suburbs. The neighborhoods then undergo a process of transition, downgrading, and renewal which eventually creates the inner-ring. Lastly, in the suburban stratification model, inequality increases are sharp and noticeable with these different suburbs. The higher-status suburbs try to use politics in order to keep their positions somewhat relative to those of the lower-status suburbs.
In the Post World War II era, the suburban population increases dramatically, and well into the late 20th Century, more people are moving out of these same suburbs and going further out, which in turn lowers the population of the inner-rings. Several other factors led to the increase of inner-ring suburbs and high distinction between the older and newer suburbs. The lack of ability to attract young families also increased the slowing down of populations. The citizens who were already present in these suburbs were aging without having incoming new families to “breathe new life into these areas.” This also led to the number of families that lived in poverty to increase and minorities who were new to the areas or to the country in general were also attracted to this area. The consistency always remains that the Post War Suburbs saw a sharp decline because of the style, size and uniformity of the housing. (Hanlon, 106)
Table 3.1 shows Hanlon’s list of depictions that different authors give to what she herself considers an inner-ring to be. Throughout the late 20th Century, many authors and academics have given different terms to describe inner-rings in their respective relevant works. Interestingly enough, Lucy and Phillips give the same criteria that Hanlon gives to an “inner-ring”, and they call it a “Post World War II suburb”. The differences in these names are usually attributed to styles of housing development, transportation methods, and class sub-divisions. A commonality that can be seen in all the names of these suburbs is that they are all considered to be the oldest suburbs in that a particular area and the closed to a particular urban city.
Table 3.2 shows how these different names for “inner-ring” suburbs can compare and contrast to each other. A little bit of Yonkers can be seen in all of these definitions because of the fluidity of how it is both a city and a suburb, as well as how it is a prosperous, yet simultaneously declining. Yonkers had a consistent dichotomy of having both a growing and poverty-stricken community. The inequality of communities has a lot to do with inner-rings and this can be related to the table in the sense that the subdivisions that are unclear within a suburb create what is known as the inner-ring. The low income in these subdivisions makes the communities appear to the outside world as undesirable.
However, one aspect of suburbia that was unique to the Post World War II era was that of suburban homogeneity. Hanlon also identifies this as being an essential part because of the increase if people who were part of the working class that started to become part of suburban life. At this point, houses were starting to be built by large developers on a scale that created identical homes that portrayed uniformity in the community. It was almost becoming easier for many new families to buy homes because of the recently passed FHA laws that allowed buyers to put a lower down payment and they were given the opportunity to pay off the loan of their houses over a longer period of time. Levitt and Sons were famous for the houses they built on Long Island. They used cheap, pre-cut materials that were assembled in factories which made the jobs quick and easy. This also initiated the “era of domesticity and consumerism” (Hanlon, 14.) The figure below only emphasizes this as it shows the avid consumerism in the 1960’s in suburbs. The wife is fully-dressed and made-up just to show the “touch in styling” of the Frigidaire refrigerator.
Post World War II bedroom suburbs once were heralded as “the future.” (Lucy and Phillips, 2000) this was because of the opportunity they gave to individual households to improve their housing quality. The downfall, however, was that this housing was “small, outmoded and deteriorating.” Almost every aspect of these communities decline slowly but surely made a contribution to the formation of inner-ring suburbs. Educational systems, income variations, population change, race and class dynamics, high crime/drug use, public health problems as well as housing price variances all made a difference towards Yonkers, as well as many other city-suburbs to turn into inner-rings, despite whether or not they were able to pull themselves out of it. “Suburban decline occurs where there are large numbers of small houses with little aesthetic charm, located in inconvenient setting with few public amenities.”
During the Post World War II Era, people started believing that their way to advancement and success was to own a new house, new appliances, and a new car. This idea of bettering oneself and moving forward from city-life to something different worked better in some places than others. Subdivisions within the suburbs were created. These subdivisions, as Bernadette Hanlon calls them are the “inner-ring” and the “outer ring”. Although they were once prosperous and ever-changing into a desirable place to live, inner ring suburbs, because of an exodus of jobs and economic stimulation, quickly became home to low-income housing and thus entered into a downward spiral.
“The Post World War II years were a period of unprecedented residential growth in this country, the development and fulfillment of that growth is typified in the “suburban” areas of Yonkers.” (Petitti,II) In reference to the housing boom of the post World War II era, Petitti questions whether or not it was a continuation of the building boom that occurred during the 1920’s. She brings up how Robert Fishman, in his book Bourgeois Utopia, says that that building boom was merely interrupted by the Great Depression and World War II. She also refers to how it could also in fact be just returning veterans who needed a response in a demand for housing because they “went to war as boys and returned as men.” Many of them had wives and young children waiting for them or to themselves start a new family having just been so close to death. The newly founded Federal Housing Administration was helping to make this possible for young families and newly returned vets by allowing them to give a lower down payment and an extended repayment period, thus reducing foreclosures. However, for the areas that were considered “low risk”, which would usually be the inner-ring suburbs, the FHA was hesitant and in turn wouldn’t usually insure home mortgages there. This is a problem in that it continues to add to the deterioration of inner-rings and is what happened to parts of Yonkers at the time.
Another contribution to the booming and simultaneous deterioration of suburbs was the requirements that the FHA imposed on communities. Aside from having minimum building standards for the construction of these homes, there were also requirements for other things like sidewalks, sewers, storm drains and the streets themselves in order to aid in neighborhood development. The Veterans Administration also made laws similar to those of the FHA; they were just catered to returning vets. This is where the uniformity comes into the picture. Because of the high demands for these homes to be made, contractors mass produced homes that were nearly identical to each other by subcontracting the work and buying huge tracts of land to build on, in turn creating record numbers of homes in short periods of time. The desire people had to own their own home was becoming increasingly popular and was now more easily attainable than ever. What has to be reiterated though, is that while this was going on in many suburbs throughout the US and in Westchester County in particular, because the FHA and the VA avoided the “low risk” areas, the inner-ring was only going faster and faster into ruins.
Yonkers was especially prone to this primarily because of its proximity to the city, which is something that heavily defined inner-rings, as well as the growing number of industry and business in the area. Companies like Anaconda Wire and Cable, Otis Elevator, Refined Syrups and Sugars, and the Alexander Smith Carpet Mills were all stationed in Yonkers. In the Post World War II era, a large part of Yonkers was still undeveloped, despite these companies being here and the closeness of the then-suburb to the Bronx River Parkway. 
Petitti studied particular housing developments in Yonkers and other suburbs in Westchester as well. They were all created Post World War II and practically transformed the entire area. In addition to creating over one thousand single family homes, three new schools were built and two avenues that became central to commercial business. There was a lot of drama and debate surrounding the development of this housing. The land that was to be used for the Sprain Lake Cedar Knolls housing was almost at one point to be reallocated for Garden Apartments because it was deemed that the time more logical and practical to do so. Although the initial construction development halted in 1948, it was restarted two years later in 1950 and by August of that year, permits were issued and the building of the homes was ensued. 
In reference to the Westview housing development project, Petitti mentions the five characteristics of Post World War II suburban development Kennth T. Jackson names in his book Crabgrass Frontier. Being a suburb itself of New York City, Yonkers was an ideal place, at the time, for this type of development, which falls into the first characteristic which is peripheral location. The second being low density, the fact that the new housing developments had space for things like yards for children to play in, trees and gardens for parents to plant things in, also put Yonkers into this category. As we’ve already seen, architectural similarly, which is Jackson’s third characteristic is something that very accurately describes the new development in Yonkers. Easy availability is something that is essentially very clear to be a part of Yonkers and this newly constructed housing and is what Jackson considers the fourth common characteristic of Post World War II housing. “Economic and Racial harmony,” this is number five, and in a place like Westview or Sprain Lake Cedar Knolls, this is true. Petitti does say, however, the following:
Why would she say this? Scenarios like these are ones that lead a person to believe that there was racial discrimination in these new housing developments in Post World War II era. This is perhaps what may have contributed to parts of Yonkers, as well as other areas like Tuckahoe, Hastings-on-Hudson and Bronxville, to resemble inner-rings and not the lively, desirable suburban life that was so “American.”
There is also a sense of sarcasm in Petitti’s writing. She included Census information from the 1960 list and showed that the population of this development at the time was almost entirely white, which clearly contradicts Jackson’s point of economic and racial harmony. This is interesting to note because of the fact that situations like these are what drives a suburb to become part of an inner-ring.
Problems with the new construction also add to this problem of a once flourishing community being pushed towards the inner-ring status. These complaints included things like: ineffective dry wells, soil erosion, poor drainage and basement flooding. Although the housing initially contributed to the attainment of the American Dream, many people could potentially be driven away from these issues and look for something better elsewhere. Education was and is a very important aspect of suburban life that was very negatively affected by the high increase in housing in Yonkers. More quickly than it could be handled, Yonkers school were grossly overcrowded and it was being established that any new schools that could be built would be inadequate for Yonkers and it’s growing generation of children. Yonkers didn’t have enough schools or classrooms for its 18,000 children, and it was quickly becoming a time-sensitive problem that urgently needed fixing.
 Bernadette Hanlon, Once the American Dream: Inner-Ring Suburbs of the Metropolitan United States, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010), 31.
 Ibid, 13.
 Ibid, 40-45.
 Ibid, 15
William H. Lucy, and David L. Phillips, "Suburban Decline: The Next Urban Crisis," Issues in Science and Technology (2005): 55-62, http://www.michigansuburbsalliance.org/downloads/inner-ring_suburbs-metropolitan_regions/Suburban_Decline-The_Next_Urban_Crisis.pdf (accessed April 25, 2012).
 Petitti Emil, Post World War II: Suburban Development in Yonkers. Sprain Lake Knolls Case Study: 1447-1953, (Tarrytown: Marymount College, 1998), Page 3.
 Petitti Emil, Post World War II: Suburban Development in Yonkers. Sprain Lake Knolls Case Study: 1447-1953, (Tarrytown: Marymount College, 1998), Pages 4-7.
 Ibid, 8.
 Ibid, 17.
 Ibid, 52.
 Ibid, 38