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Disillusioned: Exposing the Changing Landscape of America’s Suburbs

A Deep Dive into Benjamin Herold’s New Book

In his latest work, “Disillusioned: Five Families and the Unraveling of America’s Suburbs,” Benjamin Herold, a seasoned Philadelphia journalist, delves into the evolving realities of America’s suburban communities. Inspired by his hometown of Penn Hills, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Herold paints a vivid picture of the challenges and disillusionment faced by families of color in these once-thriving areas.

Uncovering Penn Hills’ Transformation

Herold’s journey began with a series of alarming headlines about Penn Hills. The news of the school district’s staggering $172 million debt, leading to teacher layoffs, coupled with rising property taxes and stagnant home values, caught him off guard. A grand jury investigation further revealed the dire state of affairs, describing the situation as “catastrophic.”

A Tale of Two Experiences

As Herold delved deeper into the story, he discovered a stark contrast between the opportunities afforded to his white, middle-class family during his youth and the limited prospects available to the families of color who had moved into the area. The public schools, once predominantly white, had transformed into institutions with a predominantly Black student population.

Voices of Disillusionment

To capture the nuances of this transformation, Herold spent four years researching and writing his book, spending time with families in towns across the United States, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Penn Hills. Through their stories, parents shared their experiences of racial hostility, harassment, bullying, and limited access to opportunities for their children.

Navigating Racial Barriers

The book highlights the struggles faced by families of color as they navigate the education system. Parents recounted difficulties enrolling their children in gifted programs, encountered segregation within schools, and witnessed teachers displaying bias against students of color.

A Changing Sense of Place

One family from Compton, California, expressed their disillusionment with the transformation of their community. Once a quintessential suburb, Compton now felt like an extension of Los Angeles, lacking the distinct identity and sense of place that had drawn them there in the first place.

The American Dream Under Scrutiny

Herold’s book explores the disillusionment experienced by families who have invested their hopes and dreams in suburbia, only to find a reality that falls short of their expectations. The promise of better lives and opportunities for their children is often overshadowed by hostility, financial burdens, and a lack of opportunities.

Philadelphia’s Echoes of Disillusionment

Herold believes that towns like Cheltenham, Pennridge, Quakertown, and Neshaminy in Philadelphia will resonate with the experiences depicted in his book. Families in these areas have benefited from subsidized opportunities, such as tax breaks and low taxes, which new families are no longer privy to. Instead, they face the burden of costly infrastructure issues.

A Call for Recognition and Change

Through “Disillusioned,” Herold aims to bring awareness to the changing world of America’s suburbs. He hopes to shed light on the challenges faced by families of color and encourage readers to recognize the crumbling dreams that have brought many Americans to suburbia.

A Reflection on Suburban Dreams

Herold emphasizes the significance of addressing these issues, as the disillusionment experienced in suburbs represents a profound loss of the hopes and dreams that have long driven families to seek a better life in these communities. The book serves as a call to action, urging readers to confront the realities of suburbia and work towards creating more inclusive and equitable communities.