Defining Orthodox Jewish Suburbs

Authors: Joseph Huennekens*, Columbia University
Topics: Ethnic Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, United States
Keywords: ethnoburbs, suburbs, Orthodox Jews, built environment
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the late 1990s, the geographer Wei Li coined the term “ethnoburb” to describe the growing concentration of prosperous, transnational, Asian immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley of southern California (Li, 1998). The concept was subsequently applied to other communities across the Anglosphere (Fittante, 2018; Kye, 2020; Xue et al., 2011). In this paper, I analyze and clarify the shifting definition of an “ethnoburb” by asking: are Orthodox Jewish suburbs ethnoburbs? After cataloging the definitions found in the literature, I assess Orthodox Jewish suburbs in the New York region against the various criteria. I find that a key (and undertheorized) criterion differentiating ethnoburbs from other types of suburban enclaves is built environment change. By this dimension, Orthodox Jewish suburbs often have more in common with contemporary Asian-American ethnoburbs than with previous models of assimilationist “white ethnic” suburbs. Ultimately, I find that combining the ethnoburb literature with the geography of Orthodox Jewish suburbs contributes to both areas of scholarship: it clarifies the importance of the built landscape in ethnoburbs and it contextualizes the land use conflicts that tend to follow Orthodox Jewish migration to the suburbs.

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