High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban Century. Matthew Lasner. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012. 336 pp. $40.00 cloth.by Hannah Bennett

J Pop Cult

About

Year
2013
DOI
10.1111/jpcu.12094
Subject
Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous) / History / Literature and Literary Theory

Text

Mark Wolf synthesizes theory and numerous examples of constructed worlds within a convincing analytical framework in order to identify the elusive “more and less” quality of imaginary worlds and world-building. Though at times a little crowded with detail this approach is effective in introducing students and scholars to an emerging area of media studies (along stimulating ideas about distributed authorship and intertextuality). For the reader who is unfamiliar with the history and lingo of world-building the book includes a “world-based” timeline appendix and an interesting glossary featuring entries like absorption, diegetic braiding, immersion, and participatory world. Thus, we learn that even though imaginary worlds have been around for a long time—Margaret Cavendish’s book Blazing-World (1666) being a noteworthy example—the advent of the contemporary super franchise really begins with J.R.R. Tolkien and the confluence of mass media and the culture industry, computer-generated imagery (CGI) and interactive video, and the emergence of niche communities within social media.

Works Cited

Barnes, Brooks. “Paramount Hopes New ‘Star Trek’ is a Global

Crowd-Pleaser.” New York Times, (3 May 2013): B1. Print.

Miller, Laura. “‘Just Write It!’” New Yorker 87.8 (2011): 32–37.

Print.

Robert N. Matuozzi

Washington State University

High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban Century. Matthew

Lasner. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012. 336 pp. $40.00 cloth.

The condominium or the condominio ownership structure can be traced back to the Roman Empire with references found in medieval sources and, more recently, the 1804 Napoleonic Code of France when the structure was first regulated and put into law. In the United States however, the condo did not become a commonplace housing type or ownership structure until the adoption of the Housing

Book Reviews 1353

Act of 1961, an odd fact given how mainstream the housing type is today. Over the years, numerous surveys have documented collective home ownership in the United States and its relation to demographics, market demands, population growth, and the built environment.

Yet, few scholars have addressed the history of home ownership in relation to the apartment house or condo. While government agencies, real estate publishers, population researchers, and advocacy groups explore owner-occupied multifamily housing from different perspectives and for different reasons, very little scholarship has brought these perspectives together in order to understand the historic rationale or motivation behind wanting to own a condo.

Elizabeth Crowley’s Alone Together: A History of New York’s Early

Apartments (Cornell UP, 1990) or perhaps Richard Plunz’s A History of Housing in New York City: Dwelling Type and Social Change in the

American Metropolis (Columbia UP, 1990) may be credited with starting the current conversation. More recently, Diana James’ Shared

Walls: Seattle Apartment Buildings, 1900–1939 (McFarland, 2012) or

Tower and Slab: Histories of Global Mass Housing by Florian Urban (Routledge, 2012) examine the housing type through an architectural lens. Yet one would be hard-pressed to find a holistic history of this housing type and for this reason, readers will welcome Matthew Lasner’s High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban Century which is guaranteed to impact how we think about urban form.

The book is divided into three well-illustrated historical periods, characterized by specific housing trends or models: the Civil War period through the Great Depression, during which time housing co-ops evolved from a novel experiment to a feasible housing alternative in

New York, Chicago, Washington DC, and Philadelphia; the pre-WWI period through the 1960s, when the limited equity co-op emerged as an alternative to the existing models of collective home ownership; and finally what Lasner calls the “era of mass suburbanization” in the late 1940s through the 1970s, when cities were growing quickly, creating a housing demand that necessitated many experiments with co-ownership. Within this timeframe, the central question explored is what compelled people to buy apartments when, during the height of suburban sprawl, they could have easily afforded a single-family home. And as Lasner shows, this was not an insignificant counter-trend.

The result is a fascinating study of collective housing in the United States, and Lasner’s well-synthesized analysis will make anyone 1354 Book Reviews wonder why this area has not been given such attention before. At times, it feels, rightfully, like a social and urban history of New

York or Miami, given that the housing developments there have been central to the shape of those cities and populations over time.

And yet the collective housing scheme has a surprisingly checkered history. Initially it was disparaged for the type of people it attracted (working mothers as well as the haute bourgeois) but also, conversely, for its exclusionary practices based on race, political leanings, and religious beliefs. The real strength in Lasner’s argument is how the notion of ownership proved instrumental in the shift from a unit in which one owns shares in a company whose asset is the building, that is, the co-op, to a unit which is owned outright, as in the condo structure. He notes that the limited equity co-op, in particular, failed in cultivating “requisite feelings of proprietorship.” And it is this unique feeling of proprietorship which constituted the condominium’s popularity over the co-op in many metropolitan areas of the United States. Where the co-ops failed in terms of exclusionary practice, resale restrictions, and financing schemes, the condominium thrived because of its open and flexible owning schemes, freeing people from the exclusionary practices of co-op boards, resale approvals, and property restrictions.

Lasner’s history is an intriguing and timely book, rich in insights and observations about collective housing ownership patterns and practices within the suburban century, particularly how one collective housing form adapted into another or, in some cases, revived a once failed model. Historians of American housing, of real estate, of architecture and urban studies will benefit from his multidisciplinary survey, which sheds new light on this housing type and its subsequent impact on urban form and city resident. He makes clear the more complicated matters of federal and state housing acts along with the numerous developers’ strategies, while never veering from his central question at hand, which is why this housing type appealed to so many people. At the same time, Lasner brings to life the residents’ experiences in complexes like Leisure World (Florida),