Emily Liu

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In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, America experienced tremendous development and growth as the industrial revolution spurred on the national economy and transformed the social landscape. An important change was the shift of the population from a dispersed agrarian base towards concentrations in urban centers. The growth of cities marked not only a significant shift of population, but also the development of an entire culture and system around the concept of large-scale proximate living. While there is much literature on the factors leading up to the inward spiral, as well as the process of urban sprawl,[1] but much less is known about how American cities grew during this formative period and the housing that supported the population boom. Very little attention has been paid to the development of apartment housing, a novel architectural form that housed middle- to upper-class urban dwellers in the central city. This is the first study outside of New York City that traces the rise of the American apartment that came hand in hand with the rise of modern cities.[2] These new urban homes achieved great strides during this time period. As early as 1926, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the construction of apartments exceeded that of single-family dwellings in a representative group of 257 cities.[3]

[1] See, e.g., Sam Bass Warner Jr., Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 (1962) (seminal study of the division of cities into a central region of commerce and slums surrounded by commuter suburbs); Doug W. Rae, City: Urbanism and its End (2003) (analyzing why New Haven rose in the first half of the 20th century, and fell in the second half).

[2] The example of New York City provides an interesting, but incomplete picture of the development of American urban housing. While it was the first American city to embrace apartments, the uniqueness of the city makes its story less comparable to other urban histories. See, e.g., Elizabeth Hawes, New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City (1869-1930) (1993); Elizabeth Collins Cromley, Alone Together: a History of New York’s Early Apartments (1990).

[3] From 1921 to 1927, the percentage of families residing in apartments in the United States nearly doubled. Joseph H. Abel & Fred N. Severud, Apartment Houses 2 (1947).


Emily Liu
For Professor Robert Ellickson
Urban Legal History
Fall 2006