Announcing the publication of ‘Suburban Urbanities’ with UCL Press

November 16, 2015

The edited collection, Suburban Urbanities: Suburbs and the Life of the High Street was published last week with UCL Press.

The main impetus for publishing this edited collection, was to bring together the core findings of seven years’ worth of research into London’s suburbs, funded by two UK Research Council grants: Towards Successful Suburban Town Centres and Adaptable Suburbs. In doing this, we sought out a comparative set of examples from outside of the UK, which were first presented at our closing conference last year. The intention of Suburban Urbanities is to consider the suburb as an aspect of urban spatial-social complexity, rather than subordinate part of the city. We argue that attempting to define an urban particularity entirely without reference to the suburban is almost certain to fail. Instead, using spatial analysis, historical and ethnographic perspectives the book counteracts the binary opposition between city and suburb and challenges the perception that urbanity only exists in the city. Urbanity is shown to be an issue of degree rather than a binary choice between suburb and city, or suburban versus urbane.

In considering suburbs as a continuum of the city, this book focuses on metropolitan suburban centres. Taking the suburban built environment as a subject of enquiry in its own right and as a distinctive aspect of the spatio-temporal process growth of cities, Suburban Urbanities presents the high street, the core of suburban non-domestic activity, as a special kind of space with demonstrable potential for creating the living heart of the suburb. Local suburban centres can provide a rich diversity of experience for an area’s inhabitants, in many ways offering a more sustainable lifestyle than in the inner city.

Cities are routinely acknowledged as complex and dynamic built environments but this description is rarely extended to the suburbs, which are generally regarded as epiphenomena of the urbs and therefore of little intrinsic theoretical interest in themselves. The book’s first section contains a theoretical critique of suburban conceptions and high street perceptions, in turn. Whilst research broadly recognises the complex interrelatedness across scales that is the essence of urban systems, the particularities and similarities between the spatial structure of the suburb and that of its host city are rarely examined in any great detail. The second – ‘Suburban Centralities’ – section of the book takes the reader from London to Limassol, Toledo and Tripoli, showing that local places are shaped and formed over time according to their accessibility to long-term patterns of human, social and economic networks of activity across scales.

The ‘High Street Diversity’ collection of chapters goes down a scale to focus on the high street, the active centre of urban and suburban centres. The ‘high street’ (broadly equivalent to the US ‘main street’) has many cultural resonances that flow from its functioning as a complex and dynamic entity within both the urban and the suburban streetscape. The last section of the book is called ‘Everyday Sociability’. Here the trio of chapters moves the focus onto the people inhabiting suburban space, with the first two chapters introducing an ethnic dimension to the analysis Reinforcing the points made in the preceding sections of the book, the last chapter illustrates how social productivity in the suburban centre has generated new forms of economic productivity. Just as the suburbs are as old as the city itself, there is no reason to suppose that cities will not continue to grow and adapt to change in similar ways to those which have occurred in the past. The suburbs are an important part of that story.

Suburban Urbanities: Suburbs and the Life of the High Street. is edited by Laura Vaughan. It was published in London on 12th November 2015 by UCL Press. doi:10.14324/111.9781910634134


One Response to “Announcing the publication of ‘Suburban Urbanities’ with UCL Press”

  1. Reblogged this on Talking Southern Auckland and commented:
    The Metropolitan Centres as we know as in Auckland or Metropolitan Suburban Centres as this post and new book calls them.

    What are the roles of these Centres and are we as both citizens and planners underestimating the potential of these Metropolitan Centres that have been there as long as the modern city has been?

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