The Tangible and Intangible Safety of Suburbs

In his essay Disaster and Decentralization: American cities and the Cold War, Matthew Farish discusses the influences of the Cold War and more specifically atomic weaponry on American society. He argues that the principle of containment was relevant not only in preventing the spread of communism on the global scale but also in the domestic sphere. Focusing on the dispersal of American cities and the formation of suburbs, Farish explains that “suburbs embodied order, safety, and a deeply gendered consumerism”. As areas of relatively low population density suburbs were considered safe from nuclear attacks, which were believed to target centers of high population concentration such as cities. This conception was compounded by post World War II imagery of nuclear mushroom clouds and complete destruction over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Beyond safety from physical threats, Farish explains that suburbs were ideologically unified communities filled with middle class white citizens. The danger of other ethnic and ideological groups prominent throughout cities was non-existent in carefully contained suburban homes. Overall, suburbs embodied containment internal containment, where any threats, tangible or intangible, to the American identity were minimized.

There are direct parallels between how images of nuclear destruction in Hiroshima deepened American anxiety of living in cities and the effects of the imagery of the Twin Towers falling on public ideology after the September 11th attacks. These both highlight cities and urban centers as primary targets of attacks, whether by enemy nations or terrorists, giving the public the impression that cities are unsafe and promoting decentralization of population concentration into the suburbs. However, unlike the imagery of nuclear explosions in Hiroshima, the September 11th attacks specifically targeted symbols of America, rather than cities in general. Despite the notion that imagery from both of these tragic events spread fear in Americans, the terrorist attacks embodied an attack on the American identity, largely acting to unify all American people, the imagery of nuclear warfare was not associated with America itself, and was instead just caused dispersion of Americans away from cities.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s