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Greenbelt Ponders A Suburban Experiment, 75 Years On

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This year is the 75th anniversary of Greenbelt, Md., a town built by the Federal Resettlement Administration, as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal.
Emily Friedman
This year is the 75th anniversary of Greenbelt, Md., a town built by the Federal Resettlement Administration, as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal.

A big suburban house on a rolling green lawn holds a special place in the American psyche. But big homes aren't always synonymous with suburbia. In Greenbelt, Md. many of the homes here are much different from what we've come to expect of the 'burbs.

The town--now city--was established 75 years ago as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal. The plan was to design and build a model suburb. It would be affordable, neighborly, and importantly, building it would create thousands of jobs.

"Unlike most small towns, Greenbelt did not evolve from a town square," says Megan Searing Young, curator of the Greenbelt museum. "Every bit of it was preconceived."

The homes are arranged so that the front of the house faces other houses, rather than the street. There were dozens of playgrounds, tennis courts, a pool, which, for the 1930s, was pretty fancy, and a system of sidewalks that made it possible to walk just about anywhere, without crossing the street.

There was an intensive selection process to narrow down who would be allowed to rent these homes from the federal government. There were 880 homes built, and approximately 5,000 applications.

The selection committee was looking for young families, and the size of home people could rent, was determined by the number of people in the family. No one had more or less than they needed; in fact, if a family had another kid, they were required to upgrade.

The houses, apart from a few with additions, remain exactly the same size today as when they were built. Young says they remain popular because many people know the history, and enjoy being part of "this experiment in a new way of living".

[Music: "The Green Leaves of Summer (Karaoke Version)" by Karaoke Star Explosion from Twin Karaoke: 60s Country Vol. 5]

Photos: Greenbelt, MD


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