The Diminishing Meaning of "Urban" and "Suburban"

To some, "the suburbs" mean bland neighborhoods outside of a vibrant city life. But demographic and land-use changes are making Lakis Polycarpou and others rethink the definitions of "urban" and "suburban."

Jumping off of Emily Badger's article for The Atlantic Cities, Lakis Polycarpou reflects on her question about what is urban and what is suburban. He reasons that this is an important question because defining a city must come before fixing problems ranging "from resource depletion and sustainability, to the nature and shape of our economy, to our physical and emotional health."

After assessing opinions from writers and critics Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford, Polycarpou finds that Tarrytown, NY, where he resides, fits an urban description: history, charm, good restaurants, and walkability. However, he still feels that Tarrytown is suburban, reasoning that "No one would confuse this place with New York City," an unequivocally urban area.

To add to the confusion, suburbs are gaining characteristics of urban settings, including ethnic and racial diversity, rising poverty levels, and a growing number of multifamily housing units.

Ultimately, Polycarpou decides that "Maybe it's time to stop worrying so much about the symbolic meaning of general urban categories and to start looking more closely at the specific characteristics of particular places, how they function, and what makes them work the way they do."

Full Story: Is it Time to Transcend the 'Urban-Suburban' Divide?

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