Changing Suburbs: Foundation, Form, and Function

Changing Suburbs: Foundation, Form, and Function

Changing Suburbs: Foundation, Form, and Function

Changing Suburbs: Foundation, Form, and Function


The subject of suburbanization is attracting growing interest across several disciplines. This unique survey has been drawn together by a multi-disciplinary team of specialists. The book lists historical and contemporary research with particular emphasis on the UK, North America, Australia and South Africa. It provides a broad overview that is both comparative and international in scope.


The Preface has, traditionally, been the place where the author provides a personal context to his or her work. Lately, it has become fashionable to introduce such elements into the text itself, as a way of making explicit the author’s own biases or, in the current jargon, ‘positionalities’. To retain their more personal character, prefaces have then become increasingly confessional—one example being the preface to a recent collection on suburbs (Silverstone, 1997). Taken too far, this practice ceases to add anything useful to the reader’s appreciation of the text, and becomes mere display. Readers need to know something about authors, but only in so far as it adds to their understanding of the text before them.

We are both children of English suburbs, and in different ways this has shaped our interest in, and perspective on, the subject. In this context, we offer the following comments on how each of us came to be interested in suburbs and, more particularly, on how we came to assemble the papers that are published here.

Peter Larkham writes

I have a long-standing interest in urban form, and suburban form has become a focus of concern for we urban morphologists only very recently (cf Whitehand and Carr, this volume, reporting a project which I helped to set up but did not participate in because of a career change). But some of this interest was spurred from youth; from the location and histories of my parents’ and grandparents’ houses. My paternal grandparents lived in a standard speculative semi from its construction in 1937 until the early 1990s. It was built on a spoil heap of a local colliery, which had closed: the garden soil was poor and stony, and the house raised from the street. The chimney was crooked and had been from construction, but (until the house was sold) no one minded. My parents bought a new version of the semi, differing largely in its integral garage, on a new estate in the late 1950s. Here was a sense of new community, newly-married couples starting new families. We were at the very edge of the town, with the administrative boundary running along our back fence, and rough fields beyond (in which we children spent much time). And this estate—as its name showed—was built on the ‘park farm’ of a large Georgian estate, the house surviving as a hotel. So, for me, the suburbs did mean the edge of town—but also community, with others of my age; history, with the evidence of the previous landscape; and familiarity, with my grandparents’ house.

Searching for a way to express these ideas—what Hayden (1995) memorably calls ‘the power of place’, but which is more the ‘sense of place’—led me to historical geography, urban geography, and finally urban morphology. It is in this academic sub-discipline that I have freedom to bring together ideas of history, form, culture, production, consumption and so on. And, perhaps inevitably, I have returned to my suburban roots—living now in a 1937 semi, close to the country’s first conservation area of such houses, and only a few yards away from a row of listed post-war prefabs.

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