City Suburbs: Placing suburbia in a post-suburban world

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City Suburbs considers contemporary Anglo-American suburbia, drawing on research in outer London it looks at life on the edge of a world city from the perspective of residents. From this perspective suburbia is better seen as a process, an on-going practice of the suburban which is influenced but not determined by the history of suburban development. How residents engage with the city and the legacy of particular places combine powerfully to produce very different experiences across outer London.

In some cases suburban residents are able to combine the benefits of the city and their residential location to their advantage but in marginal middle-class areas the relationship with the city is more circumspect as the city represents more threat than opportunity. The importance of this relational experience with the city informs a call to integrate more fully the suburbs into studies of the city. He is a qualified planner with considerable experience of community involvement in major planning applications and policy development.

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In Canada, municipalities do not have an autonomous status as they have, for example, in US federalism. Their autonomy is directly circumscribed by provincial legislation and authority. Taking into account regional differences and the presence of two distinct cultures at the root of the Canadian political compromise, a separation of powers has been established between the provincial and federal levels. Thus, provinces are responsible for ensuring that local land management and planning meet the needs of Canadians.

However, despite the establishment of a clear separation of powers between the provincial and federal levels, grey areas of litigation did not take long to occur between the two tiers. We lack the space here to revisit the history of these conflicts, but one must emphasize that the spending power and specific prerogatives of the federal government allowed Ottawa to influence the development of municipalities and urban areas. The federal government has not hesitated to take the initiative and support the financing of households for home ownership towards the creation of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation CMHC or the construction of transport infrastructures.

We will look at these central avenues for suburban governance in detail below. Today Canadian suburbs are changing rapidly. The rather stereotypical view that saw the suburbs as categorically different from the inner city has been widely challenged. Canadian suburbanization has traditionally been influenced by the American and the European models.

Working class suburbanization has been another distinctive feature of suburbanization in Canada historically Harris, ; Fiedler and Addie, , p. Notably, the state has had a visible role in structuring the suburban landscape and in ordering the space of the periphery Keil and Young, As a result of the specific interaction of state, market and authoritarian governance public and private in Canada, we find both the single-family home subdivisions typical for the US and the highrise-dominated peripheral ensembles associated with suburbanization in Europe.

Uniquely, though, suburban Canada has now become a remarkable new model of development that is largely defined by the immigrant experience and the diversity of new suburban populations. While Australian and American suburbs have also become havens of new immigration and increasing demographic diversification including a tendency to see rising poverty levels in urban peripheries , the Canadian case seems to be most advanced in showing cracks in the classic Anglo-Saxon model of white middle class suburbanization.

Three things have changed in recent years in Canada:. Suburbanization has become more diverse in every respect. The white middle class suburbs of the post-war years are largely gone. More significant perhaps are the concentrations of immigrant populations in some newer sub- and exurbs such as Brampton, Mississauga and Markham.

The phenomenon of the diverse suburb needs to be understood in relation to the continued formation of the global city region and the emergence of postcolonial and postmetropolitan forms of urbanization Keil, a , b. In fact, most suburban development now takes place in a newly defined in-between city that neither resembles the old inner city and the glamorous cookie-cutter suburbs.

Clearly, both these spaces still exist both in their gentrified and sometimes gated reality and they attract much attention and investment particularly in an era that defines urban development as creative, young and driven by the knowledge economy. Yet, many Canadians now live, work and play in quite undefined and nondescript middle landscapes where everything seems to happen at once: The political equation of regionalization and redistribution has been severed as aggressive suburban regimes have come to power regionally or even federally in Canada to use their political base to fundamentally shift the meaning of metropolitan politics.

At the same time, suburban regimes in communities around Toronto as well as in Montreal and Vancouver are developing a decidedly autonomous set of strategies to make their mark in an increasingly competitive global city environment. At first glance, this suburban resurgence in metropolitan politics seems to represent a throw-back to earlier periods of regional regulation but closer inspection reveals a new set of political circumstances that have to do with the maturing of a largely suburbanized Canadian urban region and new modes of multilevel governance.

As suburban local administrations ostensibly gain more autonomy and influence at a metropolitan scale, some of them have become hotbeds of political and fiscal impropriety. This was expressed recently through conflicts of interests, graft and corruption in peripheral localities as Laval Quebec , Mississauga and Vaughan Ontario as well as Surrey British Columbia. The causes are numerous, but the relatively limited media coverage of suburban politics may account for the apparent lack of accountability of some political leaders in suburban localities.

Canadian suburbs have been shaped by a multiplicity of factors. The absence of state regulation, the role of federal and provincial governments in supporting access to direct and indirect homeownership, the availability of inexpensive land for suburban expansion and the irrepressible desire of workers for access to homeownership were all elements supporting suburban expansion and its diversified landscape.

After the Second World War, with a new wave of suburbanization, suburban municipalities had to contribute to metropolitan governance. As urban issues were increasingly defined at a metropolitan scale, suburbs were involved in decisions regarding transportation, housing and economic development concerning whole city-regions.

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Thus, the representation of conformity used to define suburbia is necessarily outdated. Within the new context of suburban governance, the priority given to economic and financial concerns raises new challenges for public authorities. What is distinctive about Canadian suburban governance may be its regional character and its increasing difference from both the European and American models from where it developed its character in the past. The importance of this population concentration and the rising power of metropolitan regions throughout the country are certainly important features of the new urban landscape of Canada.

Cities, regions and their suburbs are now recognized as central to the governance of the vast territory of Canada, which is beginning to understand itself as a primarily urban country. The current push in Canada for regional forms of regulation can be understood as a form of state rescaling Boudreau et al.

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In the context of neoliberalization and globalization of Canadian territorial government, local and regional modes of governance are assuming new responsibilities. This has to do with interurban and interregional competition for investment and labour Florida, , with infrastructure provision Young et al. While the debate on rescaling looks at broader dimensions of social institutions in a changing global geography Keil and Mahon, , the literature on multi-level governance Piattoni, has specifically dealt with the ways in which government distributes responsibilities in federal states.

Suburbanization plays a major part in the rescaling and shifting of responsibilities across a multi-level governance structure. In this context, it is ever more questionable whether Canadian municipalities and regional institutions have the capacity to deal with challenges of immigration, poverty, exclusion and environmental issues wrapped up in the continued push for suburban expansion. This article talks about suburban governance both as a conceptual terrain and as an object of empirical study.

What lessons can we learn from the geographic spread of suburbs? Through Hamel and Keil , we set up governance in two important ways: In the first instance, it asked how suburbs are planned and designed, conceived and materialized through self-built, state-led and private-led development. But it further proposed to understand governance through three intertwined modalities involving the state, capital and emergent forms of authoritarian governance. In a second move, we put forward to extend governance to processes of suburban life suburbanisms and post-suburbanization which go beyond the actual original making of the suburbs suburbanization and extend towards the governmentalities of sub urban life in the 21st century overall.

In many ways, the term and the phenomenon of suburbanization — and its derivative terms suburbanism, suburb — have been associated most directly with a history of decentralized urbanization that springs in ideal-typical form from the combination of liberal capitalist democracy and centrality of property rights. With an original impetus from the British experience — which has been discussed in relation to its Western European neighbors see Phelps and Vento, —, suburbanization as it is commonly understood has had its clearest manifestation in the formerly British colonies and settler societies in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Two assumptions can be made. First, in these countries, the dream of the detached house at the suburban fringe was not just a figment of the imagination as it appeared to be in many societies around the globe throughout the 20th century, even those that housed their population mostly in apartments but it was a built reality as large percentages, in some regions and time periods even the majority of housing units constructed, were single family homes on previously undeveloped land in the outskirts of towns and cities.

The centrality of the notion of property ownership coincided with institutional and cultural conditions under which the suburban way of life could thrive in a particular built environment. With it came political form fragmentation , economic structure a virtuous cycle of mass production and consumption triggered by Fordist economies of scale , financial institutions a mortgage system geared towards single family home ownership usually underwritten by central governments and administered by lower level governments, a cultural disposition towards living on and near the land arcadian and homesteading ideals co-generative of settler societies more generally , and an optimistic belief in the limitlessness of resources energy, water, land.

The second assumption was that the Anglo-Saxon ideal case is most prototypically expressed in the United States which has been examined by Nijman and Clery as well as Peck In the US, more than anywhere else, a stereotypical image of suburban form and life was developed during the 20th century in such a way that, even today, the term suburb itself evokes images of s and s sitcoms or their nostalgic remakes in the form of the successful current TV series MadMen.

While the project on Global Suburbanisms 3 overall attempts to debunk the American predominance of the notions of suburbanization, suburbanisms and suburban, the American case is a good and necessary place to start not just because the majority of the extant literatures on the matter refer mostly and often exclusively to the American case. The study of Canada Keil et al. Having considered the ideal case of suburban governance in Anglo Saxon settler societies, it is necessary to consider existing alternatives as we find in other countries, either in Eastern and Western Europe or in Latin America.

City suburbs : placing suburbia in a post-suburban world

Some of those cases worldwide have demonstrated significant variation from the time of the onset of industrial era sub urbanization. The English greenbelt and garden city ideas, for example, had an influence beyond their original town planning context in the UK. The epochal significance of the Charter of Athens that prescribed functional separation since the s as well as the modern planning ideals that followed were both universal in intent and specific in form of built environment and governance.

The largely state-driven highrise suburbanization in Western European and Canadian welfare states has had similarities in intent, process and outcome with the peripheral housing estates in Eastern Europe after the Second World War. Phelps and Vento and Hirt and Kovachev respectively explored both common ground and divergent developments in Western and Eastern Europe during the past few decades. What was perhaps different in particular, and subject of examination, is the notion of shrinkage that has now become a dominant feature of sub urban governance in peripheries of Eastern European cities Kabisch and Rink, But it has not just been in Europe that we have seen original and alternative suburban development with longstanding histories.

The Latin American situation as it has been scrutinized by Heinrichs and Nuissl provides insight into an interesting and distinctive tradition of suburbanism which, perhaps in absence of the welfare statist version of Europe, has lately been heavy on authoritarian privatism as the main modality of suburban governance. What is emergent here is not just a mere addition to existing — classical or alternative — forms of suburbanization and governance but an entirely new mode of urbanization altogether, one that defies simple categorization, typology and especially subordination to existing western models of understanding.

Returning to our proposition of three competing and colluding modalities of suburban governance, we can conclude that all three, to varying degree, are present in the different cases we referred to.


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The state has classically enabled and limited certain types of developments in suburban environments through economic incentives, direct intervention e. Governments at all scales remain particularly present as actors in those places where the state has been known traditionally to shape the urban reality: The most pervasive form of suburbanization through state-led governance is certainly present in China where local state entrepreneurialism plays an increasing role in the development of suburban land.

State activity, however, is coupled with one of the fiercest forms of capital accumulation and productive of some of the most authoritarian forms of privatism ever seen on this planet. The traditional Anglo-Saxon cases, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Canada to a degree, continue on a trajectory, which sees suburban governance mostly aligned with waxing and waning powers of the market. Even after the meltdown of , the accumulation through the production of suburban space continues almost unabated.

What are the emerging processes of suburban governance? There is a continued tension between the urge for regional governance see also Keil et al. In many parts of the world, suburbanization and post-suburbanization processes present a mixture of formal and informal, institutionalized and spontaneous, state, market and private forms of governance. New political interests are being shaped by political economies of land that are newly invented and articulated with arcane land use practices, along with novel if often mannerist and derivative built forms, gross social, spatial and service inequities and new in-between proximities whose political potential are just beginning to unfold.

What are the emerging themes of suburban governance? Shelter and jobs are important, especially in developing nations where suburbanization is still produced by majority rural-to-urban migration. Mobility infrastructures, primary and secondary schooling, taxes remain high on the agendas of suburban politics.


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  • The environment, economic especially commercial development, and community safety are always big issues. The experiences of suburban shrinkage and poverty, post-suburban in-betweenness, and increasing diversity have now become major subjects of suburban governance. Informality in suburban development — be it in squatter settlements or corporate edge cities and research parks — continues to be part and parcel of all regional trajectories and necessitates more inclusive forms of suburban governance.

    In many parts of the world, though, informality continues to be met with strong interventionist measures by the local state to create order on an urban fringe that is seen as out of control. It is also the main site for the formulation of a new meaning of a postcolonial suburban politics which redefines political society, as Roy phrased it. Are there new actors in suburban governance? Suburban governance everywhere is firmly linked to the development and sustainability of financing institutions, be this through savings and loan institutions, regular bank credit, mortgages.

    In Africa, India and China, as well as in the countries of Eastern Europe, mortgage markets had to be developed in order to carry the task of financializing land and financing construction. Institutional innovation and individual entrepreneurship are part and parcel of this fundamentally capitalist set of practices that are now pervasive in suburbanization processes around the world.

    Furthermore, in the past, we could surmise that suburban governance was firmly entrenched in the logics of the political economy of urban growth. Growth coalitions, growth machines, urban regimes, while often focused on mostly with regards to central municipalities in the Global North, also regulated and facilitated suburban governance beyond the conventional city limits elsewhere. Lately, this terrain has been extended to include the in-between areas of urban regions Young and Keil, ; Dear and Dahman, The consequences are profound.

    Depending on the circumstances, the effects of state-led suburban governance could lead to more spatial justice Soja, as it ostensibly did in Toronto during the formative years of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto or to gross inequalities as happened in the racialized and classed situation in many US cities or as it turned out to be the case in the recent past in Toronto Hulchanski, The accumulation of capital continues to act as a second modality of suburban governance.

    Property capital in collaboration with growth-oriented municipal governments goes on to push residential frontiers of urban areas outward in an aggressive manner Logan and Molotch, Global firms usually get their way in locating their headquarters, back offices and branch plants close to the suburban infrastructures that are ostensibly, yet deceptively, sold to or rather paid for by local voters and taxpayers as serving their interests primarily. Universities, colleges and school boards play a major role in structuring suburban spaces and investments in their infrastructures Addie, Keil and Olds, The roles of capital and of the state are intertwined.

    Private development capital and developers have played a significant role in suburban growth as well as suburban governance.

    The third modality of suburban governance is authoritarian and private. Far from naturally increasing the likelihood of democratization in contrast to government , current forms of governance are often built on through authoritarian, if not coercive technologies of power. We can view the three modalities of suburban governance as somewhat compatible arenas in which various instruments and technologies of suburban governmentality are being produced.

    Remarkably, the state has mostly acted in symbiosis with the property industry in pushing suburbanization as a self-propelling outcome of governance which, in turn, produces expectations about different models of suburban life. Lately, suburbia has occasionally shed its image of an open and liberated domain close to nature and has assumed the look and feel of a camp: In large parts of the world, this continues to mean primary urbanization of rural populations on the outskirts of major centres. Indisputably, China where the government has plans to create settlements for at least another quarter billion peasants in suburban mega-cities , India and Africa, lead the way with an unprecedented wave of primary rural-to-urban migration which will transform not just these countries and continents forever but will shift the balance of populations, economies and powers further from the North and West to the South and East of the planet.

    Yet in an equally breathtaking simultaneity, those first-time urbanites will be neighbours to established, yet rapidly changing post-suburban landscapes that are revolutionized under the dictates of a neoliberalized, globalized, flexible regime of accumulation. While the cities of the global South still expand at the margins and require provision of first and fundamental collective consumption services, infrastructure and institutional innovation, they already folding in on themselves and demanding immediate attention as urban quarters, internationalized business districts and mature neighbourhoods.

    City Suburbs: Placing suburbia in a post-suburban world - CRC Press Book

    The solid difference between original suburbanization and post-suburban realities as explored in this article melts into air. Governance of these spaces remains one of the leading task of the 21st century. The Region between Talk, Territory and Technology. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research , v. Beyond town and gown: Territory, Politics, Governance , v.

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    You already recently rated this item. Your rating has been recorded. Write a review Rate this item: Preview this item Preview this item. London ; New York: English View all editions and formats Rating: Subjects Suburbs -- England -- London. Suburbs -- United States.