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Company suburbs: how pastoral ideals and real estate investment extended corporate hierarchies into neighborhoods that continue to define North American Cities

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12:00 PM, Tuesday 30 Aug 2022 (20 minutes)

The influence of twentieth-century industrial companies on city and town planning can be traced beyond the creation of isolated company towns and into the domestic landscapes of industrial cities across North America. This paper introduces the concept of “company suburbs,” neighborhoods developed by industrial companies around the turn of the twentieth century to separate officers and white-collar employees from laborers. Domestic architecture in these enclaves embraced the suburban ideal being marketed nationally through patternbooks and building guides. They tried to prescribe social hierarchies through service entrances and “maid’s rooms,” which attempted to create barriers even while relying on domestic labor of immigrant women. They also featured nostalgic symbols including castle-like turrets, diamond pane windows, seemingly-hand-made fish-scale shingles, and colonial and classical-revival ornament that all used industrial production processes to evoke pre-modern times. Even where discreet company towns were not supportable, company suburbs allowed industrial power brokers to engage with real estate instruments, building and loan associations, and utility companies to extend workplace hierarchies into domestic landscapes of countless industrial cities—the very neighborhoods valued today by gentrifiers for their walkability, access to transportation, hardwood floors, and decorative built-in cabinets. Through a case study in Michigan’s “Copper Country” and comparisons with neighborhoods in Milwaukee, New Haven, and Montréal, this paper argues that the architecture of early twentieth century industrialists continues to exclude working-class and racially marginalized communities today.

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