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02  Sstc Theory

02 Sstc Theory






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  • Although cities are routinely acknowledged as complex built environments, suburbs tend to be overlooked as places with definable characteristics. This paper critically reviews the theoretical assumptions that underpin suburban literature and suggests some new perspectives on suburbs as distinctive social-spatial forms. Two schools of thought are identified as having formed approaches to suburban studies: the ‘idealist’ and ‘realist’. The review shows that the character of suburban built form is part of a historical process of urban growth and change, which enables it to generate movement at a variety of scales. The review suggests that a greater understanding of the relation between suburban society and suburban built form would lead to a fuller appreciation of suburbs as distinctive and multi-faceted environments for living and working. Based on the EPSRC funded 'Towards Successful Suburban Town Centres' project, the paper adopts the approach that suburban adaptability over time holds within it the best potential for diversity of use and thus, social and economic sustainability and even, success. An important theoretical tension that is created between planned and laissez-faire approaches need to be navigated in a way that will allow suburbs to be successful, while not opening the urban environment to strong destructive forces that can be unleashed by market forces. This is a major challenge that new policies for successful suburbs need to deal with.

02  Sstc Theory 02 Sstc Theory Presentation Transcript

  • Mordechai (Muki) Haklay, Laura Vaughan, Kate Jones & Sam Griffiths (University College London) www.sstc.ucl.ac.uk Towards an historical-geographical theory of suburban space
  • Making the case for a theory of suburban space
    • Why a theory of suburban space?
    • Suburban space is under-theorised and over-represented
    • The suburban as potential for adaptability over time: the example of Surbiton
    • Next steps
  • 1. Why a theory of suburban space?
  • The suburbs tend to be defined in a single dimension
  • The suburbs tend to be defined in a single dimension
  • 2. Suburban space is under-theorised and over represented
  • Urbanisation teleologies Greater London Development Plan 1969 © GLC0
  • Normative and culturally specific representations
  • Otherness 1 Hayden, D. (2004) A Field Guide to Sprawl. New York; London W.W. Norton & Co: 118-119. The image of Sun City. Arizona was selected for the presentation on the basis of its similarity to a photograph by Jim Wark in this book that was also featured in the New York Times on June 16 th , 2004. Sun City, Arizona: “A place growing even faster than a boomburb”. 1
  • Difficulties of suburban representation
    • Presented as passive, homogenised, undifferentiated space waiting to be ‘devoured’ by the city or erased as it become unsustainable.
    • Judged normatively in terms of culturally specific projections rather than taken seriously as a particularly successful (i.e. persistent and ubiquitous) kind of inhabited space.
    • Mythologised in terms of futurity or imagined (sometimes fetishised) as the mysterious ‘other’ (where other people live)
  • Some paradoxes of suburban space
    • Newness yet historical
    • Ephemeral yet persistent
    • Peripheral but centred
    • Static yet dynamic
    • Uniform yet diverse
    • ‘ Other’ yet familiar
    A more diachronic approach to suburban space is required which can articulate the multi-dimensional and differentiated nature of the suburban experience
  • 3. The suburban as persistence of activity over time: the example of Surbiton
  • Persistence of socio-economic and community activity
  • Relating areas of activity to phases of suburban development Choice r-400m Buildings: 1820s
  • 4. Next steps
  • Thinking about suburban space diachronically…
    • Multi-dimensional - do we tend to ‘deproblematise’ the suburbs?
    • Persistent - are suburbs key to the adaptability (sustainability) of built form?
    • Embedded - how is suburban space embedded in the pre-built-up topography?
    • Scaled - how is extended built environment scaled in terms of social practice?
    • Emergent - how do local scales of activity relate to larger ones?
    • Orientated - how is suburban space orientated in relation to large scale urban and rural structures (walls, ring-roads, super-grid, estates, field systems, small settlements)?
    • Differentiated - does the suburban articulate the possibility for the differentiation of built form and the persistence of different places over time?
  • The suburban as potential for adaptability in built form