American romantic suburbs of the 1850s and 1860s have traditionally been considered the progeny of at least four prior phenomena: romantic cemetery planning, picturesquely landscaped urban parks in England, A. J. Downing's efforts to promote a consciously "rural" style of American landscape gardening, and a growing interest in family life and domesticity. But a variety of prototypes for American romantic suburbs already existed in England, not only in parks but also in resorts and metropolitan suburbs. Many of these were known to American travelers since the 1830s. The impetus for adopting such prototypes in America-and for developing indigenous, American suburban types-can be tied to an important development in the history of American ideas. During the 1840s and 1850s the long standing conflict between ideals of "country" and "city"-the conflict between agrarian gentility and mercantile progress, and also between rural independence and cultural sophistication-was at least partly resolved by suggestions that both could flourish together, if only the detrimental aspects of each could be avoided. There followed a variety of proposals for suburbs that, according to their proponents, would become superior residential environments by providing the amenities of both country and city while eliminating the disadvantages of each.
- Copyright 1983 The Society of Architectural Historians