A challenge of studying history, especially when looking at a certain cross-section of history (ie, certain issues, certain places, etc)  is remembering that everything happened all at the same time and affected all kinds of stuff. This is especially important to remember during the Cold War, when the US-USSR conflict and the specter of nuclear annihilation was a layer of terrifying slathered over the world, seeping into every nook and cranny.

So when we think about questions like “why did white and/or wealthy people flee urban centers in the postwar era?” we come across very reasonable theories like the carification and freewayification of America, and the intersection between race and crime (though its worth noting that black middle classes also fled urban cores for suburban enclaves where they could, such as Prince George’s County, MD).

And then you listen to Robert Farley’s lecture about nuclear weapons and you go check out the Nukemap:


That’s the Hiroshima bomb, dropped on the White House. That doesn’t even kill me (instantly) and I live 40 blocks from the Capitol Dome.


That’s more like it, 150 kilotons, vaporizing me and most of downtown DC and Arlington. But DC Brau and Atlas Brew Works are mercifully spared, though drinking their stuff after this might give you superpowers and/or all kinds of cancer.


That’s a megaton, and now we’ve vaporized everything inside the Beltway, meaning America’s favorite disparaging metonym is in dire need of revision.

Now bombs large enough to wipe out nearby burbs came around pretty quickly. But note this map of net migration by white people in the 1950s, before so many of the factors that would really pus gas into pale-skinned tanks crystalized:

 peace out

It’s a little hard to see, but basically as white people were moving in droves to the DC-area, they were leaving DC itself. Even in the 1950s.

Did the bomb have something to do with why middle-class (and ergo mostly white) people fled urban cores in the early postwar era? Hard to know. But hard not to consider.

And while it happened just around the same time the deleadification of gasoline kicked in and crime started plummeting in central cities, did the end of the specter of nuclear holocaust help catalyze the recent trend of younger upper-middle-class populations, especially millennials who had little-to-no lived memory of the specter of nuclear terror, moving back into downtowns and urban cores? Hard to know. But hard not to consider.