Read all about it

July 17, 2009

Photograph by Alexandra Wolkowicz

New book chapter alert …

During the 2006 Liverpool Biennial, light and sound artist Hans Peter Kuhn projected a gigantic question mark over the Wirral suburbs (above). Everybody hated it. But in fact it’s an (accidental) artistic masterstroke asking the big questions about suburbia. What is it? What is it for? And if there are problems in suburban areas – and parts of Wirral are pretty deprived – how can we fix them?

The Smith Institute, the  Homes and Communities Agency and CABE have just published a new collection of essays that aims to answer these questions. Housing and Growth in Suburbia is edited by Peter Hall and includes contributions by Nick Falk, Vesna Goldsworthy, Yolande Barnes, Will McKee, Sarah Ganventa, Jim Bennett and Ben Kochan, as well as yours truly.

My chapter, ‘Fixing Broken Suburbs’, looks at suburban deprivation and the prospects for renewal through the downturn and beyond. It’s worth reading this alongside Jim’s essay on ‘suburban renaissance’, which sets out some of the HCA’s early strategic thinking.

For the moment you can download the whole collection here.

Update: Tristram Hunt – who chaired the launch event last week – has done a nice piece on suburbia in today’s Observer.

7 Responses to “Read all about it”

  1. Will Davies Says:

    Do we have to ask the question ‘what is suburbia for?’ Maybe it’s not for anything. Perhaps ‘who is it for?’ might be a better question, but even then.

    I know wonks and planners are basically functionalists, but I thought the idea was to make endless references to Jane Jacobs in order to create some illusion of organicism?

  2. max Says:

    Fair point. But as Robert Putnam would say: ‘have you read my chapter?’

    Since 75-80% of people live in suburban neighbourhoods, the obvious answer to your question is: it’s for almost all of us. At which point, the question about how to make deprived suburbs better place to live becomes highly relevant …

    • Dermot Finch Says:

      I thought 58% of us lived in cities. And now I discover that 75-80% of us actually live in suburbs. Which leaves me thinking…

      (1) Where does city end, and suburb begin?
      (2) Do I live in a suburb?
      (3) Should I rename the Centre for Cities, the Centre for Cities & Suburbs?

      Tristram is joining the CfC Board this autumn, so better get this one sorted.

      • squareglasses Says:

        Both numbers are true, if you think of cities as built-up areas and suburbs as neighbourhoods that fit inside them. If you remember that outside London and a few other places, hardly anyone lives in city centres, most city-dwellers are suburbanites by default. Some suburbs play several roles – somewhere like Formby is both a suburb of Liverpool and a small town in its own right. My bit of Hackney falls into a similar category, as does your bit of S London. The chapter has more to say about all of this.

        Judging by his article Tristram seems to have converted to suburbs, so perhaps a name change is in order …

  3. David Says:

    I’d suggest that whatever you do to “to make deprived suburbs [a] better place to live” will simply result in a rebalancing of the local populace to suit its better (or worse!) position as a result, within a generation. Its simply market economics.
    Max you need to think social engineering, or perhaps you already were….

  4. max Says:

    Yes, up to a point. As you say, the evidence we have suggests that most people will move out of deprived neighbourhoods if they can. But not everyone can or will want to. That’s why the chapter suggests a) focusing public spending on improving people’s skills, and infrastructure connections to less poor neighbourhoods b) after that, setting aside some money for physical improvements and neighbourhood management – which we also know are effective in a limited way.

  5. David Says:

    I probably should read the book.


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