As Levittown and other suburbs grew in the 1950s, a backlash against them grew as well. Intellectuals like Lewis Mumford and Richard Yates wrote articles and books trashing suburbs as places that bred conformity, where people were venal and bland.
For Steve Bergsman, who spent his childhood in Levittown, this perception was a misrepresentation.
"I don't think any of the people who wrote books on Levittown lived there," he said. "It's [supposed to be] my life, but it's spotlighting other people.
Bergsman, a real estate writer and journalist, recently completed his book Growing Up Levittown: In a Time of Conformity, Controversy and Cultural Crisis. In the book, Bergsman uses his firsthand experience to paint a picture of Levittown that sharply contrasts with the portraits of these authors.
Bergsman lived in Levittown from when he started kindergarten in 1954 to when he graduated from Island Trees High School in 1967. Growing up during that time, he was most impressed about the comfort and the freedom that Levittown provided.
"The great thing about growing up in Levittown was that I could walk out my door, and I didn't need any parental supervision, even as a five or six-year-old," he said. "All your friends were out on the street. If I'd grown up in the city, I'd need some sort of supervision.”
Bergsman spent many of his younger years hanging out in front of Geneva N. Gallow Elementary School. "Everyone went there to hang out," he said. "That was right next to my home. The basketball courts were a spitting distance away from me. You'd scratch a square on the side of the school and play stickball."
The town's pools at the Village Greens were a popular destination for young families during the 1950s, but Bergsman and his friends eventually outgrew them. They made a comeback, though, before Bergsman's senior year of high school.
"For some reason, that's where you went during the summer of '66 and '67," he said. "The girls would talk or listen to transistor radios, while boys played penny-nickel blackjack. There were no jobs for kids, but you hung out there. Most people who grew up in my years would have warm memories of there."
Around that time, the hippie culture started to take off out west. It didn't catch on too deeply in conservative Levittown, but there was a small minority of residents who got swept up in it. Bergsman was one; he grew his hair long and got involved in anti-war protests. As a result, he suffered a culture shock when he left to attend the University of Florida after graduating from Island Trees.
"I arrived in Florida with blue jeans and a sweatshirt or two," he said. "When I hit Florida, it looked like the 1950s. Boys wore collared shirts and girls wore skirts. I was like a Martian."
As a result, Bergsman frequently spent time back in Levittown when he could, returning to the town's comfort before he was able to make a clean break.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Patch's interview with Steve Bergsman, where he discusses his motivations for his book and the misconceptions that outsiders had about surburbia. Part 2 will run tomorrow.