Suburbanization

Suburban cities and towns

The word suburb mostly refers to a residential area, either existing as part of a city (as in Australia and New Zealand, and generally in the United Kingdom) or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city (as in the United States and Canada). Some suburbs have a degree of administrative autonomy, and most have lower population density than inner city neighborhoods. Suburbs first emerged on a large scale in the 19th and 20th century as a result of improved rail and road transport, leading to an increase in commuting. Suburbs tend to proliferate around cities that have an abundance of adjacent flat land. Any particular suburban area is referred to as a suburb, while suburban areas on the whole are referred to as the suburbs or suburbia, with the demonym for a suburb-dweller being suburbanite. Colloquial usage sometimes shortens the term to burb.

Etymology and usage

The word is derived from the Old French subburbe, which is in turn derived from the Latin suburbium, formed from sub (meaning "under") and urbs ("city"). In Ancient Rome, wealthy and important people tended to live on the hills of the city, while poorer citizens lived at lower elevations – hence "under the city". The first recorded usage of the term in English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was made by John Wycliffe in 1380, where the form subarbis was used.

United States and Canada

In the United States and Canada, suburb can refer either to an outlying residential area of a city or town or to a separate municipality, borough, or unincorporated area outside a town or city. The latter definition is evident in the title of David Rusk's book Cities Without Suburbs (ISBN 0-943875-73-0), which promotes metropolitan government. Note, however, that this definition is not universal. In fact, many of the classic streetcar suburbs are within the political boundaries of their respective cities, such as West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a part of which has is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb Historic District. American journalist and social commentator Joel Garreau criticized the common use of the term solely to areas outside the political boundaries of major cities in his 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier when he discussed the phenomenon of edge cities in Atlanta (emphasis added):

Meanwhile, "suburban" is usually defined for statistical purposes as any place in a metropolitan area outside the central city. That definition is less than ideal in both directions. There are beautiful, affluent, quiet, black and white neighborhoods within the political boundaries of the city of Atlanta that feature trees, lawns, and single-family detached homes. For all practical purposes, they look and function like suburbs even though they are usually counted as urban. Similarly, there are downtrodden neighborhoods in outlying "suburban" jurisdictions that are nothing but extensions of either urban or rural poverty. Suppose, therefore, a neighborhood is functionally suburban, regardless of its location within a metro area, if it is predominantly residential, well off, and marked by single-family homes.

For its part, the Canadian national statistical agency, Statistics Canada, uses a variety of definitions of "suburban" and "urban" depending of the context:

The central municipality can be differentiated from the suburbs in a number of ways. We will try to impose some order on these ideas by presenting four ways of categorizing them, based on four criteria for delineation: 1) administrative or political boundaries; 2) the boundaries of the city’s central core... 3) distance from the city centre; and 4) neighbourhood density. As we will see, each one has its strengths and weaknesses...

In the series of articles on life in metropolitan areas, we will rely on... three major distinctions: central and peripheral neighbourhoods, high-density and low-density neighbourhoods, and central and suburban municipalities. – Statistics Canada

United Kingdom and Ireland

In Ireland and the United Kingdom, suburb merely refers to a residential area outside the city centre, regardless of administrative boundaries. Suburbs in this sense can be separated by open countryside from the city centre. In large cities such as London, suburbs include formerly separate towns and villages that have been gradually absorbed during a city's growth and expansion.

Australia and New Zealand

In Australia and New Zealand, suburbs have become formalised as geographic subdivisions of a city and are used by postal services in addressing. In rural areas of Australia their equivalents are called localities (see suburbs and localities). In Australia, the terms inner suburb and outer suburb are used to differentiate between the higher-density suburbs in proximity to the city center, and the lower-density suburbs on the outskirts of the urban area. Inner suburbs, such as Te Aro in Wellington, Prahran in Melbourne and Ultimo in Sydney, are usually characterised by higher density apartment housing and greater integration between commercial and residential areas.

History

While the suburbs had originated far earlier; the suburban population in North America exploded during the post-World War II economic expansion. Returning veterans wishing to start a settled life moved en masse to the suburbs. Levittown developed as a major prototype of mass-produced housing. At the same time, African Americans were rapidly moving north for better jobs and educational opportunities than were available to them in the segregated South. Their arrival in Northern cities en masse, in addition to being followed by race riots in several large cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia, further stimulated white suburban migration.

De-investment in American cities was rampant during the time of mass suburbanization. Aging cities were left to fall apart, during a time when the country was experiencing tremendous prosperity. Industrial factories that were once the heart of the city were now being abandoned and jobs were shifting to the service sector.

In the U.S., 1950 was the first year that more people lived in suburbs than elsewhere. In the U.S, the development of the skyscraper and the sharp inflation of downtown real estate prices also led to downtowns being more fully dedicated to businesses, thus pushing residents outside the city center.

The history of suburbia is a subfield of urban history and enlists scholars across the world. Most published work looks at the origins, growth, diverse typologies, culture, and politics of suburbs, as well as to the gendered and family-oriented nature of suburban space. Many people have assumed that early-20th-century suburbs were enclaves for middle-class whites, a concept that carries tremendous cultural influence yet is actually stereotypical. Many suburbs are based on a heterogeneous society of working-class and minority residents, many of whom share the American Dream regarding home ownership as defined by developers and the power of advertising. Sies (2001) argues that it is necessary to examine how "suburb" is defined as well as the distinction made between cities and suburbs, geography, economic circumstances, and the interaction of numerous factors that move research beyond acceptance of stereotyping and its influence on scholarly assumptions.

Suburbia worldwide

United States

In the United States, suburbs have a prevalence of usually detached single-family homes.

 

Many post-World War II American suburbs are characterized by:

  • Lower densities than central cities, dominated by single-family homes on small plots of land, surrounded at close quarters by very similar dwellings.
  • Zoning patterns that separate residential and commercial development, as well as different intensities and densities of development. Daily needs are not within walking distance of most homes.
  • Subdivisions carved from previously rural land into multiple-home developments built by a single real estate company. These subdivisions are often segregated by minute differences in home value, creating entire communities where family incomes and demographics are almost completely homogeneous.
  • Shopping malls and strip malls behind large parking lots instead of a classic downtown shopping district.
  • A road network designed to conform to a hierarchy, including culs-de-sac, leading to larger residential streets, in turn leading to large collector roads, in place of the grid pattern common to most central cities and pre-World War II suburbs.
  • A greater percentage of one-story administrative buildings than in urban areas.
  • A greater percentage of whites and lesser percentage of citizens of other ethnic groups than in urban areas. Black suburbanization grew between 1970 and 1980 by 2.6% as a result of central city neighborhoods expanding into older neighborhoods vacated by whites.
  • Compared to rural areas, suburbs usually have greater population density, higher standards of living, more complex road systems, more franchised stores and restaurants, and less farmland and wildlife.

By 2010 suburbs increasingly gained people in racial minority groups, as many members of minority groups became better educated, more affluent, and sought more favorable living conditions compared to inner city areas; many white Americans also moved back to city centers. Many major city downtowns (such as Downtown Miami, Downtown Detroit, or Downtown Los Angeles) are experiencing a renewal, with large population growth, residential apartment construction, and increased social, cultural, and infrastructural investments. Better public transit, proximity to work and cultural attractions, and frustration with suburban life and gridlock have attracted young Americans to the city centers.

History

Prior to the 19th century, suburb often referred to the outlying areas of cities where work was most inaccessible—implicitly, where the poorest people had to live. The modern American usage of the term came about during the course of the 19th century, as improvements in transportation and sanitation made it possible for wealthy developments to exist on the outskirts of cities, for example in Brooklyn Heights.

The growth of suburbs was facilitated by the development of zoning laws, redlining and numerous innovations in transport. After World War II availability of FHA loans stimulated a housing boom in American suburbs. In the older cities of the northeast U.S., streetcar suburbs originally developed along train or trolley lines that could shuttle workers into and out of city centers where the jobs were located. This practice gave rise to the term bedroom community, meaning that most daytime business activity took place in the city, with the working population leaving the city at night for the purpose of going home to sleep.

Economic growth in the United States encouraged the suburbanization of American cities that required massive investments for the new infrastructure and homes. Consumer patterns were also shifting at this time, as purchasing power was becoming stronger and more accessible to a wider range of families. Suburban houses also brought about needs for products that were not needed in urban neighborhoods, such as lawnmowers and automobiles. During this time commercial shopping malls were being developed near suburbs to satisfy consumers' needs and their car–dependent lifestyle..

Long Island, New York in the United States became the first large–scale suburban area in the world to develop, thanks to William Levitt's Levittown, New York, which is widely considered to be the archetype of Post-World War II suburbia. Long Island's significance as a suburb derived mostly from the upper-middle-class development of entire communities in the late nineteenth century, and the rapid population growth that occurred as a result.

As car ownership rose and wider roads were built, the commuting trend accelerated in North America. This trend towards living away from towns and cities has been termed the urban exodus.

Zoning laws also contributed to the location of residential areas outside of the city center by creating wide areas or "zones" where only residential buildings were permitted. These suburban residences are built on larger lots of land than in the central city. For example, the lot size for a residence in Chicago is usually 125 feet (38 m) deep, while the width can vary from 14 feet (4.3 m) wide for a row house to 45 feet (14 m) wide for a large stand–alone house. In the suburbs, where stand–alone houses are the rule, lots may be 85 feet (26 m) wide by 115 feet (35 m) deep, as in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. Manufacturing and commercial buildings were segregated in other areas of the city.

Increasingly, more people moved out to the suburbs, in a trend known as suburbanization. Moving along with the population, many companies also located their offices and other facilities in the outer areas of the cities. This has resulted in increased density in older suburbs and, often, the growth of lower density suburbs even further from city centers. An alternative strategy is the deliberate design of "new towns" and the protection of green belts around cities. Some social reformers attempted to combine the best of both concepts in the garden city movement.

In the United States, since the 18th century urban areas have often grown faster than city boundaries. Until the 1900s, new neighborhoods usually sought or accepted annexation to the central city to obtain city services. In the 20th century, however, many suburban areas began to see independence from the central city as an asset. In some cases, white suburbanites saw self-government as a means to keep out people who could not afford the added suburban property maintenance costs not needed in city living. Federal subsidies for suburban development accelerated this process as did the practice of redlining by banks and other lending institutions. In some cities such as Miami and San Francisco, the main city is much smaller than the surrounding suburban areas, leaving the city proper with a small portion of the metro area's population and land area. Cleveland, Ohio is typical of many American central cities; its municipal borders have changed little since 1922, even though the Cleveland urbanized area has grown many times over. Several layers of suburban municipalities now surround cities like Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver, Fort Worth, Houston, San Francisco, Sacramento, Atlanta, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.

Canada

Compared to the United States, Canadian suburbs are considerably more dense, and land use patterns are often more mixed-use. There are often high- or mid-rise developments interspersed with low-rise housing tracts. The concept of the McMansion, prevalent in the USA, is not common in Canadian suburbs.In Canada, densities are generally slightly higher than in Australia, but below typical European values. Oftentimes, Canadian suburbs are less automobile-centred and transit use is more prevalent. Throughout Canada, especially in Toronto and Vancouver, there are comprehensive plans in place to curb sprawl, such as Ontario's Places to Grow act.

In determining which areas are considered "urban" and which are "suburban", the national statistical agency, Statistics Canada, has examined a number of potential methods for drawing the distinction, including municipal boundaries, age of the housing stock, distance from city hall or the central business district, and housing (but not population) density. It considers the last two, distance from center and housing density, the best measures of suburban or urban identity. Suburbs are defined as primarily single-family housing located at distance from the center of the city, while urban areas are primarily multi-family buildings near the center.

Canada is an urbanized nation where over 80% of the population live in urban areas (loosely defined), and roughly two-thirds live in one of Canada's 33 census metropolitan areas (CMAs) with a population of over 100,000. However, of this metropolitan population, in 2001 nearly half lived in low-density neighborhoods, with only one in five living in a typical "urban" neighborhood. The percentage living in low-density neighborhoods varied from a high of nearly two-thirds of Calgary CMA residents (67%), to a low of about one-third of Montreal CMA residents (34%).

The history of urban development in Canada is comparable to that in the United States: after World War II, large bedroom communities of single-family homes and shopping malls sprouted on the outskirts of Canadian cities. However, there are a number of differences. A major difference between the suburban / urban divides in Canada and the United States is the greater relevance of the concept of white flight in explaining demographic patterns in the United States. Furthermore, compared to the United States, since 1971 Canadian core cities have not experienced as much population decline, have been allowed to annex more outlying areas, and have enacted zoning policies that are more tolerant of density.

Despite these caveats, the trend in Canada has been of steady suburbanization. Population and income growth in Canadian suburbs has tended to outpace growth in core urban or rural areas. The suburban population increased 87% between 1981 and 2001, well ahead of urban growth. The majority of recent population growth in Canada's three largest metropolitan areas (Greater Toronto, Greater Montreal, and Greater Vancouver) has occurred in non-core municipalities, although this trend has already reversed itself in Toronto, where a building boom has begun to take place. This trend is also beginning to take effect in Vancouver, and to a lesser extent, Montreal. In certain cities, particularly Edmonton and Calgary, suburban growth takes place withing the city boundaries as opposed to in bedroom communities. This is due to annexation and large geographic footprint within the city borders.

Transportation in Canadian suburbs is dominated by private automobiles. Between 1992 and 2005, automobile dependence rose in Canadian suburbs, while bicycle usage declined.

The political independence of suburban municipalities from the nearby city is a sensitive political issue, since provincial governments have the power to rewrite municipal boundaries at will, and they have often dictated mergers without input from residents (recently in Nova Scotia in 1996, Ontario in 1997 and Quebec in 2002). The percentage of a CMA's population located in the core municipality varies substantially.

According to 2006 Census data, Calgary's seven suburban municipalities accounted for only 8% of the CMA’s total population. The same was true for the CMA of Winnipeg, where the suburban municipalities also made up only 9% of the CMA’s total population. The situation was completely different in the CMA of Vancouver, where 73% of the total population lived in the suburban municipalities.
—Statistics Canada,

For this reason, Statistics Canada does not use municipal boundaries to delineate "suburbs" from "cities".

Canada's largest administratively independent suburban municipalities are those surrounding the four largest cities. Montreal is neighbored both by municipalities that lie on the same island in the St. Lawrence River, as well as "off-island suburbs" including the two largest, Laval (located on a neighboring island) and Longueuil (on the mainland), as well as a "ring" of smaller municipalities on the South and North shores of the river. From 2002 to 2006 the entire Island of Montreal was merged into one city, but this policy was partly reversed when a different party captured the provincial government. Ottawa and its large neighbor of Gatineau—both expanded greatly by city-suburb mergers in the early 2000s—face one another on the Ottawa River; the two, together with neighboring suburban towns in both Ontario and Quebec, form the National Capital Region. Toronto annexed many of the outlying suburbs in 1998. The Greater Toronto Area has many large suburban cities with its two largest being Mississauga and Brampton. Greater Vancouver has seven suburban municipalities with at least 100,000 people, with the largest being Surrey and Vancouver's direct neighbors Burnaby and Richmond. Edmonton is neighboured by St. Albert and Sherwood Park among others.

History

In the 1890–1930 era part of Toronto' east-end district now known as "the Beach" changed from a "cottage colony" of summer second-homes into a metropolitan suburb dominated by the middle classes. The Beach is a representative type of pre-World War II suburban growth since it emerged slowly and piecemeal, and was inconsistent in pattern and form with a mix of housing types. The Beach exemplifies how social classes sorted themselves by income level and neighborhood. The Beach was dominated by the middle classes, with some working-class areas.

In sharp contrast to the haphazard development of "the Beach" stands the elaborately designed Montréal suburb of Mount Royal. The Canadian Northern Railway built Mount Royal northwest of Montréal in 1910 to 1925. It was a corporate suburb that was planned, designed, and developed as a real estate venture to help offset the costs of building a railway tunnel into the center of Montreal. Its main designer was Frederick Todd, a protégé of the junior Olmsted and Canada's most prominent landscape architect of the early 20th century. His design was influenced by the City Beautiful ideals of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and the garden city movement principles of Henry Vivian.

After the Second World War, a serious housing shortage and the return of large numbers of veterans led the national government, through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), to promote suburbs by offering very low cost mortgages, with small down payments and easy terms.

Other countries

In many parts of the developed world, suburbs are different from the American suburb, both in terms of population and in terms of what they represent. In some cases suburbs of cities outside of North America are economically distressed areas, inhabited by higher proportions of recent immigrants, with higher delinquency rates and social problems. Sometimes the notion of suburb may even refer to people in real misery, who are kept at the limit of the city borders for economic, social, and sometimes ethnic reasons. An example in the developed world would be the banlieues of France, or the concrete suburbs of Sweden, even if the suburbs of these countries also include middle-class and upper-class neighborhoods that often consist of single-family houses. Thus some of the suburbs of most of the developed world are comparable to several inner cities of the U.S. and Canada.

The growth in the use of trains, and later automobiles and highways, increased the ease with which workers could have a job in the city while commuting in from the suburbs. In the United Kingdom, railways stimulated the first mass exodus to the suburbs. The Metropolitan Railway, for example, was active in building and promoting its own housing estates in the north-west of London, consisting mostly of detached houses on large plots, which it then marketed as "Metro-land". The Australian and New Zealand usage came about as outer areas were quickly surrounded in fast-growing cities, but retained the appellation suburb; the term was eventually applied to the original core as well.

In Mexico, suburbs are generally similar to their United States counterparts. Houses are made in many different architectural styles which may be of European, American and International architecture and which vary in size, although the main difference with the US and Canada is that houses are mainly constructed with bricks and concrete instead of wood; thus houses tend to last much longer, approximately 50 years. Suburbs can be found in Guadalajara, Mexico City, Monterrey, and most major cities. Lomas de Chapultepec is an example of an affluent suburb, although it is located inside the city and by no means is today a suburb in the strict sense of the word. In Mexico's City Spanish the word "suburbio" is mainly used to denote the slums and urban sprawl in the outskirts of the city—mainly those found at the eastern/northeastern part of the city. In the rest of Latin America, the situation is similar to that of Mexico, with many suburbs being built, most notably in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, which have experienced a boom in the construction of suburbs since the late 70s and early 80s. As the growth of middle-class and upper-class suburbs increased, low-class squatter areas have increased, most notably "lost cities" in Mexico, barriadas in Peru, villa miserias in Argentina, asentamientos in Guatemala and favelas of Brazil.

In Africa, since the beginning of the 1990s, the development of middle-class suburbs boomed. Due to the industrialization of many African countries, particularly in cities such as Cairo, Johannesburg and Lagos, the middle class has grown. In an illustrative case of South Africa, RDP housing has been built. In much of Soweto, many houses are American in appearance, but are smaller, and often consist of a kitchen and living room, two or three bedrooms, and a bathroom. However, there are more affluent neighborhoods, more comparable to American suburbs, particularly east of the FNB Stadium. In Cape Town there is a distinct European style which is due to the European influence during the mid-1600s when the Dutch conquered the area. Houses like these are called Cape Dutch Houses and can be found in the affluent suburbs of Constantia and Bishopscourt.

In the UK, the government is seeking to impose minimum densities on newly approved housing schemes in parts of South East England. The goal is to "build sustainable communities" rather than housing estates. However, commercial concerns tend to delay the opening of services until a large number of residents have occupied the new neighbourhood.

In the illustrative case of Rome, Italy, in the 1920s and 1930s, suburbs were intentionally created ex novo in order to give lower classes a destination, in consideration of the actual and foreseen massive arrival of poor people from other areas of the country. Many critics have seen in this development pattern (which was circularly distributed in every direction) also a quick solution to a problem of public order (keeping the unwelcome poorest classes together with the criminals, in this way better controlled, comfortably remote from the elegant "official" town). On the other hand, the expected huge expansion of the town soon effectively covered the distance from the central town, and now those suburbs are completely engulfed by the main territory of the town. Other newer suburbs (called exurbs) were created at a further distance from them.

In Russia, the term suburb differs from the American term, but also differs from the Western European term. In North America, suburbs often refer to residential areas that house the middle and high class and are made up of single-family homes. In Russia however, a suburb refers to high-rise residential apartments which usually consist of two bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a living room. These suburbs, however are usually not in poor neighborhoods, unlike the banlieues of France.

In China, the term suburb is new, although suburbs are already being constructed rapidly. Many new suburban homes are similar to their equivalents in the United States, primarily outside Beijing and Shanghai, which also mimic Spanish and Italian architecture. In Hong Kong, however, suburbs are mostly government-planned new towns containing numerous public housing estates. New Towns such as Tin Shui Wai may gain notoriety as a slum. However, other new towns also contain private housing estates and low density developments for the upper classes.

In Japan, the construction of suburbs has boomed since the end of World War II. They are very similar to their US counterparts, and many cities are experiencing the urban sprawl effect.

In Malaysia, suburbs are common, especially in areas surrounding the Klang Valley, which is the largest conurbation in the country. These suburbs also serve as major housing areas and commuter towns. Terraced houses, semi-detached houses and shophouses are common concepts in suburbs. In certain areas such as Klang, Subang Jaya and Petaling Jaya, suburbs form the core of these places. The latter one has been turned into a satellite city of Kuala Lumpur. Suburbs are also evident in other smaller conurbations including Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Penang.

Traffic flows

Suburbs typically have longer travel times to work than traditional neighborhoods. Only the traffic within the short streets themselves is less. This is due to three factors: almost-mandatory automobile ownership due to poor suburban bus systems, longer travel distances and the hierarchy system, which is less efficient at distributing traffic than the traditional grid of streets.

In the suburban system, most trips from one component to another component requires that cars enter a collector road, no matter how short or long the distance is. This is compounded by the hierarchy of streets, where entire neighborhoods and subdivisions are dependent on one or two collector roads. Because all traffic is forced onto these roads, they are often heavy with traffic all day. If a traffic accident occurs on a collector road, or if road construction inhibits the flow, then the entire road system may be rendered useless until the blockage is cleared. The traditional "grown" grid, in turn, allows for a larger number of choices and alternate routes.

Suburban systems of the sprawl type are also quite inefficient for cyclists or pedestrians, as the direct route is usually not available for them either. This encourages car trips even for distances as low as several hundreds of yards or meters (which may have become up to several miles or kilometers due to the road network). Improved sprawl systems, though retaining the car detours, possess cycle paths and footpaths connecting across the arms of the sprawl system, allowing a more direct route while still keeping the cars out of the residential and side streets.

Cultural depictions

Suburbs and suburban living have been the subject for a wide variety of films, books, television shows and songs. The American photojournalist Bill Owens documented the culture of suburbia in the 1970s, most notably in his book Suburbia. The 1962 song "Little Boxes" by Malvina Reynolds lampoons the development of suburbia and its perceived bourgeois and conformist values, while the 1982 song Subdivisions by the Canadian band Rush also discusses suburbia.

British television series such as The Good Life, Butterflies and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin have depicted suburbia as well-manicured but relentlessly boring, and its residents as either overly conforming or prone to going stir crazy. Contrastingly, U.S. shows – such as Desperate Housewives or Weeds – portray the suburbs as concealing darker secrets behind a façade of perfectly manicured lawns, friendly people, and beautifully up-kept houses. Films such as Disturbia, have brought this theme to the cinema.

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