Suburban Urbanities: 5 years on

Posted on November 13, 2020 by Alison Fox

This blog post, by Professor Laura Vaughan, originally appeared on the Mapping Urban Form and Society blog on 12th November 2020.

Today is the 5th anniversary since the publication of Suburban Urbanities: Suburbs and the Life of the High Street with UCL Press. The book is an edited collection which offered a comprehensive understanding of urban change, touching on the history of the suburb as well as its current development challenges, with a particular focus on suburban centres. Contributors from the architecture, urban design, geography, history and anthropology disciplines examine cases spanning Europe and around the Mediterranean. My intention in putting together the collection was to propose that – rather than taking the city out of the suburb or the suburb out of the city – to consider the two together: the suburb as a continuum of the city’s spatial-social complexity. It therefore intended to make the case for the suburbs’ (however defined) urbanity.

Since publication our work on suburban high streets has continued to evolve:

  1. Continuing to develop the conception of diversity beyond a matter of land use mix to taking account of their spatial patterning, we undertook a study of minority ethnic business ownership in 10 of London’s outer suburban high streets, finding a strong relationship between urban form, commercial diversity, and a presence of minority ethnic businesses. [L. Vaughan, S. Sultan Khan, L. Tarkhanyan, and A. Dhanani, ‘The Impact of Minority Ethnic Businesses on the Spatial Character of London’s High Streets‘, Urban Design International, 23 (2018), 249-63.
  2. We also published work on local high street adaptability and resilience, finding that such streets tend to facilitate incremental building modifications and cyclical redevelopment on wide fronted plots. [I. Törmä, S. Griffiths, and L. Vaughan, ‘High Street Changeability: The Effect of Urban Form on Demolition, Modification and Use Change in Two South London Suburbs ‘, Urban Morphology, 21 (2017), 5-28. .]
  3. We also continue to engage with the historical evolution of London’s suburbs, for which we have just finished writing a paper on Chipping Barnet (currently under review).
  4. And lastly, the importance of local high streets for health and wellbeing continues to a topic of interest, with ongoing research into how the built environment shapes patterns of loneliness and social isolation, and continuing efforts to debunk zombie research concepts such as ‘suburban neurosis’.

Suburban Urbanities has had to date over 34,000 chapter or book copies either downloaded or accessed online; and 185 copies sold. Its agenda seems more timely than ever, with a refocus on the centrality of the local high street (see for example the UK Government’s new Suburban Taskforce).

The top ten downloads are both from expected, but also less expected countries: UK, USA, Mexico, India, Philippines, Australia, Canada, Germany, China, and Indonesia; just as fascinating is to look at the bottom 20, which are equally varied in their location: Bahamas, Cape Verde, Djibouti, El Salvador, Grenada, Guinea, Kosovo, Liberia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Yemen, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Cuba, Curaçao, Moldova, and Somalia.

And some excerpts from reviews:

It is clear that attempts to pinpoint a suburban culture are going to arrive at a dead end (if you will forgive the pun), if suburban culture is seen to be as shallow-rooted as its grassy lawns. A deeper understanding of suburban culture, if we are willing to agree that there is such a thing, will take as its starting point that its inhabitants have had a past life elsewhere. 

Alexandrine Press

Jane Jacobs’ pioneering work on the death and life of the city continues to engage, with UCL Professor Laura Vaughan’s collection of essays analysing the morphology of the UK high street through time and via the likes of Spain’s Toledo, Limassol in Cyprus and urban Tripoli. 


Suburban Urbanities is a hugely important contribution to understanding our suburban world.

-Thinking Cities

Figure 9.4: Hand sketch illustrating high street urban blocks on Roman Road (A1818) Redbridge, London: Seven Kings parade of shops including mosque, nightclub and other uses. © Gort Scott Ltd
Previous Next
Scroll to top