Suburban Urbanites

“Saturday night in the suburbs, that’s when you really want blow your brains out,” reflects Don Draper in the Mad Men TV series. Ouch! The future development of our cities ('downtown') is currently getting plenty of attention, partly stimulated by the interest of large technology companies in smart cities, big data and ubiquitous computing. But the ‘suburban’ as an academic subject and as a place, as far as city dwellers are concerned, feels less glamorous.

Yet the just released Suburban Urbanities Suburbs and the Life of the High Street, from UCL Press, reminds us that in fact those of us obsessing over the urban, are missing out on the accelerating development of suburban studies. Editor of the collection Laura Vaughan explains the enigmatic title of the book in her introduction: “rather than taking the city out of the suburb or the suburb out of the city, the intention of Suburban Urbanities is to consider the two together: the suburb as a continuum of the city’s spatial–social complexity. It is therefore intended to make the case for the suburbs’ (however defined) urbanity.”

While there have been good arguments for the density of the urban against the unsustainable car-focused scale of the suburbs, the declaration by the International Congress of Modern Architecture would surely have even Don Draper spluttering into his Old Fashioned – the suburb is “a kind of scum churning against the walls of the city.”

The 11 chapters include a broad range of essays including: ‘The Suburb and the City’, by Laura Vaughan, Sam Griffiths and Muki Haklay, (Haklay featured in our Drawn to the Future events); ‘Suburban Continuity and Change’, by Ashley Dhanani; ‘High Streets and the Pedestrian Realm’, by Yodan Rofè, Galit Yerushalmi, Moshe Margalith and Ahuva Windsor.

A fascinating body of work, and if you’ve never heard of the South Norwood Tourist Board (in ‘Being Suburban’, by David Jeevendrampillai), you really should pick up a copy of this book. 

Suburban Urbanities: Suburbs and the Life of the High Street is available in Hardback, Paperback, and as a free downloadable PDF from here

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