After World War II, American veterans came home, married, and had children, creating the "Baby Boom" in the United States. Lots and lots of houses were needed to accommodate the rising population, and entire suburban neighborhoods were built where the houses varied only slightly from each other. Even minor variations in detail only accentuated these similarities and made each neighborhood look hopelessly dull. The yards were also uniform, and one common tactic to make them look different was flipping the blueprint, as if having the garage on the left instead of the right would create visual interest.
In fiction, especially animation and comics, the similarity will get ramped up: The houses, gardens, and cars will be identical. The lives of the residents may also be identical, or the point may be that their lives are different, even if their houses are the same.
Such neighborhoods are sometimes called "Levittowns", named after William Levitt, who made several innovations and improvements in planned communities. To this day there are many American cities named (officially or unofficially) Levittown, and the presence of one in Puerto Rico shows how far Levitt's influence extended.
Wikipedia uses the term "tract housing" because a whole line of houses are built at once, while recognizing the American and Canadian slang term "cookie-cutter housing". "Development" is a more general term, used when things beyond just the houses are planned out at the start. Often this includes more complicated street patterns, gated communities, and usually a little bit more variety in house design (but not by much).
Similar communities exist throughout Great Britain and the rest of Europe, but the degree of conformity may differ.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The apartment block where Rei lives is an urban variant, one of a long row of utterly identical buildings.
- The 1973 print "The Individualist" by Mordillo shows an endless terrace of identical grey houses disappearing into the distance. In the foreground is a house with a vivid pink striped roof ... whose owner is being hauled into a police van.
- Lampshaded in Asterix. When in Britain, Asterix and Obelix walk down an endless row of absolutely identical houses, and Asterix says, "Good thing we have the house number. Its description might not have been enough."
- ORPHANIMO!!: In the third album, we get to see the neighborhood where all the people that sold their house to Vallalkozo already ended up as part of the deal; every single house looks exactly the same without even the slightest difference. Hans, who is forced to accept a house here due to being fired (for this story at least), remarks what a poor quality the houses are.
- Richard Thompson's Cul-de-sac takes place in such a neighborhood in a Washington DC suburb.
- The abandoned house in the "Valse Triste" segment of Allegro non Troppo is surrounded by featureless pre-fab houses.
- Over the Hedge: The homeowner association (of which Gladys Sharp is president) makes sure that nobody is different.
- The Incredibles: Similar cars in the driveways as well.
- Gru's lair in Despicable Me is located under a spooky-looking manor house incongruously located in the middle of one of these. With its dark colors, looming architecture, and dead lawn, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
- The town of Perfection in UglyDolls has the citizens living in identical white houses with grey roofing. The symmetry nearly causes Babo, one of the Uglydolls, to have a panic attack. The visiting Uglydolls themselves are given a lopsided storage shed to stay in instead, something they find pleasant.
- In the opening action sequence of Minority Report, John Anderton is chagrined to find that he can't identify the house the murder will take place in because of the identical look to everything in the housing complex. (It's only because of the open door he is able to find it.)
- Harry Potter: Harry's relatives the Dursleys also live in one of these neighborhoods in the movies. Identical cars are present as well. Product Placement or trope emphasis?
- Edward Scissorhands also contains one of these, in a bright, sunlit neighborhood where everything is pastel-colored — and where asymmetrical, midnight-and-candlewax colored Edward sticks out like a sore thumb.
- The Russian film The Irony of Fate involves a man, having been put on a plane while drunk, ending up in an apartment in Leningrad all but identical to his Moscow apartment, even down to having the same lock on the door. As entire standardized districts of USSR show, the phenomenon of copy-and-paste housing is not limited to suburbs.
- Pleasantville. No difference and no color.
- A Serious Man is largely set in such a suburb in the 1960s.
- The Big Hit features a uniform suburb where all of the inhabitants go about the same chores in unison.
- Vivarium: The neighborhood of "Yonder" is copy-pasted everything, including clouds in the sky.
- Animorphs: An early book has an alien getting confused at the sight of two identical houses. His human companions must explain the concept to him.
- Dave Barry once joked that one should build a house by taking the prefabricated unit out of a big (no kidding!) box and just drop it onto a big hole.
- Discworld: The spin-off Mrs Bradshaw's Guidebook to the Ankh-Morpork and Sto Plains Hygienic Railway illustrates the Morporkian suburb of Suffink with a row of identical houses, from which a row of identical men with briefcases are emerging to catch the train into the city.
- Erma Bombeck wrote of moving to such a neighborhood in the early postwar years in The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank:
-"...every time we leave the house, we'll have to leave a child on the front lawn as a landmark..."
- Homer Price: In the story "Wheels of Progress" by Robert McCloskey, the local millionaire decides on a whim to build a new suburb for Centersburg. One hundred identical houses, with her mansion in the center. Hilarity Ensues when said mansion is moved away accidentally, and the hundred-and-first house put in its place. And it turns out the guy hired to put up the road signs got into the hooch buried under said mansion and has yet to start putting up the signs, leading to some serious confusion.
- InCryptid: Lampshaded, as many humanoid cryptids support this by design, so they can stay Hidden in Plain Sight.
Alex (narrating): A lot of homeowner's associations have cryptids on their boards helping to set standardized rules that will make individual homes more difficult to target from a distance. "The monsters live in the beige house" isn't a very helpful description when half the houses in the neighborhood are beige.
- Invisible Cities: Trude is a Cut and Paste city which is implied to have covered the Earth. You can't leave.
- The Lost Fleet: In the novel Invincible, they find such a planet, inhabited by sentient herbivores that have annihilated the entire ecology except for what they need and built undifferentiated homes, like a vast planet-covering herd.
- The Lost Thing: Where Pete lives, right down to the oddly-shaped chimneys.
- MAD: Once had an article about road signs they'd like to see, and one of them was "Ugly Tract Housing Development Ahead." It showed a picture of a driver asleep at the wheel driving past identical houses.
- The Magician's Nephew: Downplayed. Diggory Kirke and Polly Plummer each live in houses which are part of a long connected row, and all houses in the row are the same structure and width.
- Ready Player One: Being mostly set in a VR multiplayer game, there are entire planets that contain hundreds of copies of a single area, repeated over every inch of them. One example being "Middletown", which has 256 identical copies of James Halliday's hometown, complete with NPC citizens and a flawless mock-up of Halliday's family house.
- Ultra Fuckers: Eagle Hills is the epitome of this trope, with every house and street looking exactly the same with minor variations that just drive home how soulless it all is.
- Weslandia: This children's book is set in a suburb in which the only variation between the houses is whether the garage is on the right or the left.
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond: This roughly describes Katherine Tyler's first glimpse of Saybrook, a small port in Connecticut Colony.
"The earthen wall of the fortification that faced the river was bare and ugly, and the houses beyond were no more than plain wooden boxes."
- A Wrinkle in Time: The chillingly homogenous neighborhood in Camazotz. All the houses are the same, as are the yards, everyone does everything exactly the same or else they are penalized...
- One episode of Angel uses a dimension full of this sort of housing as a holding area.
- Weeds - even uses "Little Boxes" as its theme song (see Music)
- The Disney Channel movie Stuck in the Suburbs takes place in a town where every house looks the same... to the point where the main character has to tell her ride home that they were outside the wrong house, and the driver insisted that it was definitely the right one (until the subtle differences were pointed out).
- Vera: Vera gets lost while trying to navigate her way through a maze-like suburb of identical houses to a crime scene at the start of "Home".
- Malvina Reynolds' song "Little Boxes."
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same
- The song "Pleasant Valley Sunday" by The Monkees.
Another Pleasant Valley Sunday (Sunday)
Charcoal burning everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care
- The Rush (Band) song "Subdivisions" deals with the conformity of suburban life.
Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order, an insulated border
In between the bright lights and the far unlit unknown
Growing up, it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided, the future predecided
Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone
- The storyline in the Rays' song "Silhouettes", later covered by Herman's Hermits, depends on this trope. The song begins with the narrator seeing the titular silhouettes inside what he initially thinks is his girlfriend's house. Upset at the sight of his girlfriend kissing somebody else, he knocks on the door, only to be met by two strangers telling him he's on the wrong block. The song ends with the narrator running to his girlfriend's (presumably identical) real house, happy to know she was faithful after all.
- "400 Lux" by Lorde:
And I like you
I love these roads where the houses don't change
And I like you
Where we can talk like there's something to say
- "Shangri-La" by The Kinks:
And all the houses in the street have got a name
'Cause all the houses in the street all look the same
- The cover of "Guilty till proven insane" by Skyhooks depicts a street of identical houses going through different but ultimately identical routines, suggesting that rigid conformity is the real insanity of modern life.
- The music video for the Barenaked Ladies song Call and Answer was filmed in a suburban development in the Valencia section of Santa Clarita, California. To top it off, all the cars were identical - white Volkswagen Beetles.
- An almost literal example in The Magnus Archives when a man gets stuck in an endless suburb where all the houses are exactly the same, and the streets are completely deserted. He eventually expresses his suspicion that there was only ever one house.
- Used in Little Shop of Horrors to highlight how little Audrey wants.
It's just a daydream of mine. A little development I dream of. Just off the interstate. Not fancy like Levittown. Just a little street in a little suburb. Far, far from urban Skid Row. The sweetest, greenest place where everybody has the same little lawn out front and the same little flagstone patio out back. And all the houses are so neat and pretty, 'cause they all look just alike.
- Inevitably the case in the City-Building Series, since housing has one or two models per level of evolution and they all have the same requirements to evolve. Having an area of housing all at the same level is actually beneficial since higher-level housing provides more space and taxes, and too strong a housing disparity affects your citizen's happiness.
- Destroy All Humans! lampshades this as much of the missions take place in 1950s suburbs and one male resident has trouble identifying which house is his.
- The "Eco Living" expansion pack for The Sims 4 led to a lot of this, as there are very few "Eco Footprint 2" wall coverings, while getting the best environmental effects essentially require all housing to be built with them.
- Parodied in The Onion's Our Dumb Century, with an article about post-war housing headlined "Ant-like Conformity Now Affordable".
- In the Schoolhouse Rock! short "Energy Blues", the sameness of the houses even extends to the identical puffs of smoke coming out of the chimneys.
- Classic Disney Shorts are full of these neighborhoods. Donald Duck and Goofy in particular enjoy the lifestyle.
- Oggy and the Cockroaches - Oggy and company live in such a suburb. Oggy's house is the only one with a tiny bit of creativity: it has its roof in a different color.
- Particularly in earlier seasons of The Simpsons, most of the houses in Springfield looked largely the same.
- In Recess, Menlo lives in a neighborhood like this.
- The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Squidville", where Squidward moves to a squid-only closed community called Tentacle Acres, where everyone lives in an Easter Island head, which is identical to his old home.
- Dexter's Laboratory is set in one such suburb. Dexter's home is identical to the others on the outside since his laboratory is underground, but his neighbor and archnemesis Mandark has a massive above-ground lab that looms over his house.
- In the Netherlands local government usually appoints an independent body called the "welstandscomissie" that reviews any proposals with regards to new housing developments and remodeling existing housing. They then give advice based on the local "Welstandsnota" that amongst other things describes the "character" of the neighborhoods, oftentimes leading to a very samey looking neighborhood.
- Exceptions are the local governments have set up "welstandsvrije" areas, where you are free to build whatever you like, and the ones that did away completely with the "Welstandsnota".
- Homeowners societies can frequently enforce this trope in the real world by putting restrictions on what can be done to the outside of a home. This is usually done with the intent of keeping property values up, but in especially high-end neighborhoods, the rules can seem quite draconian.
- There are some housing projects that will have anywhere from 4 to 30 of the same style house, apartment complex, or townhouse in the same area. This is because the landowners had sold the rights to one contractor, and the contractor can get the materials pre-cut in bulk at a cheaper cost for one floor plan as opposed to three or four various plans. This also means they can do things in "waves": They can pour all the foundations at once, then put in the foundation timbers, etc.
- An Enforced Trope in Britain from the immediate aftermath of the Second World War until well into the 1960s; faced with a desperate shortage of housing courtesy of the Luftwaffe and an equally desperate shortage of money after half a decade of all-out war, aesthetics had to take a back seat to getting houses built as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
- Subverted with terraced housing, e.g. in London. Each house is identical (often in symmetrical pairs), yet as part of a greater whole, they are very beautiful. Also each terrace is different with infinite variety in the details.
- Downplayed in Jerusalem. While there are dozens of architectural styles and buildings dating back centuries or even millennia, municipal laws state that all new buildings must be faced with Jerusalem stone, to preserve the aesthetic of the city.
- While William Levitt's houses were the Trope Maker for this in the United States, the Ur-Example was Doelger City in the western neighborhoods of San Francisco, which Henry Doelger started building at the end of the 1920s. One of Doelger's later projects, the Westlake community in suburban Daly City, was the inspiration for the song "Little Boxes" (mentioned above).
- The concept of tract housing is actually much older than even the 1920s example listed above, dating back at least to the Gilded Era of industrialists and robber-barons. As industrial cities exploded in population and wealth, new houses were needed in large numbers. With mass production and standardization just coming into their own, the obvious solution was standardized housing. Tracts of housing from the mid-to-late 1800s can be found in many places across the North-Eastern United States.
- North Korea is currently (Dec 2020) boasting of a massive investment program designed to provide all its citizens with a decent home, with priority given to those rendered homeless after natural disasters such as typhoons. It has released impressive-looking pictures of the new housing estates, with identical not-bad-looking homes set out in regimented ranks. The NK government claims these are actual photographs of the new towns and that these have already been built. Its supporters and friends outside the PRNK have redistributed these pictures — without looking closely at them, and without realising they only exist as CGI cut-and-paste virtual imagesnote . As far as is known no new homes have (yet) been built to this pattern in NK. Take a close look at some of these pictures released to the West on an NK-sympathetic website.