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Suburban living: 'It's perfect'

From the construction of the first bungalow in Don Mills, Ont. in 1953, the debate went one way or the other. Perfectly planned communities were idyllic for some and unliveable for others. Since then, skeptics have weighed in on suburbia's cookie-cutter qualities — strip malls, two-car garages and endless doughnut shops. Nevertheless, Canadian suburbs continue to grow faster than cities, and now even musicians have claimed them a hub of artistic creativity.

With cheap mortgages and country air, three Canadian housewives can't find much wrong with living in the suburbs. In this 1963 CBC Radio clip, few complaints are heard about the row-housed living: "You've got room for the children to play without having to worry about the traffic. And a large backyard." There's just one concern: A mother says she's always having to taxi her children around. But besides the transportation issue, "it's perfect."
. In 1954, John Gray, writing in Maclean's, referred to suburban "strawberry boxes and ranch-style bungalows." He also told an absurd story about a suburbanite repainting a vacationing neighbour's house because he didn't think the nearby residence went well with the rest of the houses on the block.
. Don Mills developer E.P. Taylor enforced his own colour restrictions. For example, he banned the use of blue shingles.
. Other postwar building regulations included the use of drywall, concrete and siding.

. These regulations were employed not because they were better, but because they were cheaper.
. Open-concept houses also became the norm in suburbia. This style of housing led to the birth of the breakfast nook and eat-in kitchen.
. Because suburban husbands often drove the family car to work, suburban women spent more time in the house. As a result, home developers began marketing to women.

. For the first time, builders displayed gussied-up model kitchens because they thought women were accustomed to bright and fancy department stores displays.
. The "Do It Yourself" (DIY) trend, a term coined in 1952 by Time magazine, took root during the suburban boom.

. In his book Creeping Conformity Richard Harris talks about DIY "shell" houses. With this type of housing, just the bare interior was finished. Frugal home buyers purchased cheaper shell houses and finished the interior themselves. Builders also benefited from this trend; according to Harris, shell housing expanded the client base of Canadian builders.
Medium: Radio
Program: Citizens' Forum
Broadcast Date: April 14, 1963
Guest(s): Mrs. Boyd, Mrs. Lord, Mrs. Muddyman
Reporter: Neil Harris
Duration: 3:12
Photo: National Archives of Canada Collection

Last updated: March 15, 2012

Page consulted on February 13, 2014

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