The creation of the suburbs has always been fueled by economic factors. In order for suburbs to emerge, their must first be a class which is capable of traveling from the suburbs to the city. Because of the substantial cost of using public transportation over a considerable distance, this commute required a level of economic flexibility that was only created through a strong economy.
In Los Angeles, the proliferation of the suburbs corresponded with the end of the second World War. Wartime industry had strengthened the United States economy, with the war torn countries of Europe becoming increasingly reliant on US goods. Additionally, the G.I. Bill allowed returning soldiers to attend college for free. This allowed a much greater group of people to receive higher education and pursue more lucrative careers. Careers in burgeoning fields such as engineering began to be attainable for larger segments of the population. As these newly qualified people entered the workforce, businesses were forced to compete for their services, which ultimately expanded the middle class.
The growing middle class led to an increase in the demand for suburban housing. Young men with families and disposable income wanted desperately to be able to raise their children outside of the confines of the city. Those who were well-off enough moved to established upper-class suburbs, while the rest of the middle class became reliant on the newer housing developments. As demand for housing rose, so did the demand for material goods of all kinds.
Along with the growth of the suburbs came the growth of the consumer culture. With a strong economy and newly minted professionals, companies found themselves with an unprecedented amount of demand for goods of all kinds. Entertianment of all kinds came to be considered a necessity for those living in the placid monotony of the suburbs. Physical possessions became symbols of a person’s status within society, and the means of acquiring these possessions grew in importance. Shopping malls became icons of the suburbs, sometimes even driving the development of new centers of population.
However, not all suburbs became centers of the economically liberated middle-class. As redlining dictated where minorities were able to live, these districts also became weapons of economic manipulation. Forced into areas with weaker housing markets and fewer opportunities, many people fell victim to these vindictive policies. As new generations grew up in the districts created by redlining, many found themselves trapped in poverty.
Economic concerns also contributed to reinforcing the racial divisions of suburbia. Even those without inherent racial bias were forced to be concerned about the influx of minorities into their neighborhood due to concerns regarding the price of property. Areas with higher percentages of minorities would quickly become seen as less desirable, which could threaten those living there with financial ruin.
While cultural and racial issues played an important role in the formation of the Los Angeles suburbs, economic issues cannot be overlooked. When action is taken, it is typically safe to assume that monetary gain is at least part of the motivation behind it.