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How did we wind up here? Museum exhibit turns historian's eye to 'Suburbia'

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This weekend, Twin Citians from across the metro area can go downtown to visit the suburbs.

The exhibit that opens at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul on Saturday – called "Suburbia" – looks at what led to the rise of suburbs in the mid-Twentieth Century and the impact they've had on Minnesota and the rest of the country.

While Suburbia may feel like either a trip down memory lane or a tour of a Mad Men set, depending upon your age, it's designed to get visitors thinking.

Exhibit developer Kate Robers

" target="_blank">tells KARE 11 the exhibit is about how we live and how we want to live. She hopes that showing young people the dreams and values of an earlier generation may get them thinking about their own.

The History Center's web page on the exhibit explains that it includes three settings that explore different themes:

  • Building suburbia takes visitors into a home under construction and explores the role of suburban homes in helping many in the mid-century U.S. toward the "American dream."
  • Living in suburbia lets you enter a ranch-style home and meet Betty Bach, Mrs. Minnesota of 1958, who typified the ideal housewife of the time.
  • Shopping in suburbia takes you to Southdale in 1956. The enclosed shopping mall was revolutionary when it debuted in Edina but was quickly copies all over the country.

Some of the criticism of suburbia's conformity and consumerism also shows up, the Pioneer Press reports. In particular, the use of "redlining" to keep racial minorities from buying homes in some suburbs is explained and discrimination is explored through the story of a black family that moved from St. Paul to Maplewood in the 1950s.

As for how they found the exhibit's assorted martini mixers, bridge accessories, and hi-fi sets, the Historical Society's art director tells the newspaper some were in their collections but others were acquired at garage sales and through Craigslist.

Suburbia is at the Minnesota History Center in downtown St. Paul through March 20.

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