A house in the suburbs

Changing binary views of suburbia

Suburbs have often been studied in isolation from their urban neighbours. A new book titled Suburban Urbanites: Suburbs and the Life of the High Street, however, questions conventional views of suburbs by challenging our binary understanding of urban vs. suburban spaces.

Suburban Urbanites suggests that suburbs are extensions of cities. The authors and  editor, Laura Vaughan, build a case that the traditional understanding of suburban development – the concentration of research on social engagement and built form – ignores the differences of suburban environments, as well as the ever-changing nature of modern life (e.g. travel between urban and suburban spaces). While the traditional belief is that suburban developments represent an inefficient use of land and resources, the book argues that suburban areas are shaped by different variables and adapt to changing social economic conditions.

Other supporters of this idea can be found in a recent Newmark Grubb Knight Frank report, Suburban Office Obsolescence: Quantifying Challenges and Opportunities, which notes that suburban office parks are transforming to better fit the needs of clients. While the office park concept has decreased in popularity, there are areas where they continue to thrive. The authors highlight Edina, Minnesota, as a model to follow, pointing to the office park’s connection to bicycle infrastructure, big-box retail, and green space.

Other suburban office parks have established farmers markets, hotels, or housing. Developers are using office parks to establish a new vision for the suburbs. As traditional suburban office parks and suburban main streets transform into an urban-like environment, it becomes harder to distinguish between the two. The binary view becomes blurred, and a new understanding of ‘suburbia’ and vision of community development emerges.

This post first appeared in TINAN 70. Subscribe to TINAN for the latest economic development news and resources.