Do the suburbs exist? discovering complexity and specificity in suburban built form

L. Vaughan, S. Griffiths, M. Haklay, Kate Jones

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In human geography cities are routinely acknowledged as complex and dynamic built environments. 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. This article presents a detailed critique of this widely held assumption by showing how the idea of ‘the suburban’ as an essentially non-problematic domain has been perpetuated from a range of contrasting disciplinary perspectives, including those which directly address suburban subject matter. The result has been that attempts to articulate the complex social possibilities of suburban space are easily caught between theories of urbanisation that are insensitive to suburban specificity and competing representations of the suburb that rarely move beyond the culturally specific to consider their generic significance. This article proposes that the development of a distinctively suburban theory would help to undermine one-dimensional approaches to the built environment, by focusing on the relationship between social organisation and the dynamics of emergent built form.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)475-488
    Number of pages14
    JournalTransactions of The Institute of British Geographers
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


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