Editor's Note: Yesterday, we ran the first part of a two-part feature on author Steve Bergsman's book "Growing Up Levittown," which focused on his time spent living in Levittown. Today, in Part 2, we discuss how that childhood painted a contrasting picture of suburbia to the ones described in books by certain authors of the times.
Bergsman loved his childhood in Levittown, but there were many others who despised what it stood for. The most vocal critics of suburbia were ones on the left like Mumford and Whyte, who claimed that suburbia bred conformity, that keeping people in cities would keep people from growing into identical adults. This was something that Bergsman didn't understand.
"They felt for some reason that since everyone was raised in the same type of home, they'd be the same type of people," he said. "If they were in apartments that looked identical, they apparently would be different."
Levittown was also able to produce numerous talented individuals despite this supposed "conformity," argues Bergsman. "Everyone was writing about how awful the suburbs were," he said, "but you had a whole host of people like Ellie Greenwich, Billy Joel, Eddie Money [that] came out of Levittown, as did Bill O'Reilly and two members of the the Velvet Underground. All of these people came out of here."
The argument wasn't simply limited to anti-conformists, though. "The weird thing was that it was attacked from left and right," said Bergsman. "The right hated it because of inherent snobbery. They said it lowered the aesthetic standard. It also got in the way of their country homes on Long Island."
Part of the issue with the intellectuals who wrote articles and novels trashing suburbia was that they wrote about suburbias that housed higher classes. "The prevailing thought was that the suburbs weren't as stimulating as Manhattan, and if you went out there, you had this philandering, booze-infected lifestyle," said Bergsman. "But those people in Revolutionary Road were from the Westchester upper-class suburbs. Levittown was a very conservative blue-collar suburb. These were second-generation Americans that grew up in city, were in WWII, got married, and [raised] their kids in the suburbs."
Bergsman's four previous books are about real estate, so he's trying something new with this book. But he knew he had to write Growing Up Levittown using his expereinces to prove his point.
"I could've written a book about history and figures and William Levitt," he said. "But I thought a better way to tell a story would be about my experience growing up there. The focus of the book is about my experience growing up there as opposed to what everyone was writing about Levittown at the time. I was having a great childhood experience, but so many people were putting it down."
The e-book Growing Up Levittown: In A Time of Controversy, Conformity and Cultural Crisis is available on Amazon and Smashwords.