The Life and Death of the Suburban Paradigm

A new article by city historian Graeme Davison traces the rise and fall of the suburban paradigm from its ideological roots in Victorian England to its current backlash.

Eric Jaffe provides a synopsis of Davison's "brief though rather complete" history of the rise and fall of the suburban lifestyle that appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Urban History. "Concentrating on England, but drawing support from the United States and Australia, Davison tracks suburbia from its ideological roots in the Victorian era to its harsh detractors in the present."

He begins his history with the outward expansion of England's industrial cities in the 19th century. "Davison argues that it wasn't just 'sheer pressure of population' that encouraged this early form of sprawl. Many factors played a role in the change, including improved rail transit that facilitated movement inside and outside town centers. Davison also points to four major ideologies—one each in the realms of religion, science, the arts, and social life—as critical sources of the shift." These include Evangelicalism, Sanitarianism, Romanticism, and Class Segregation.

"With the rise of suburbia came the rise of its enemies," says Jaffe. "Libertarians rejected Evangelical morality. Socialists rejected class segregation. Artistic realism led to a rejection of Romanticism. Improvements in medicine assuaged many health fears. Suburbia became an emblem of social snobbery in the hands of Thackery and Dickens: a place full of wealth but devoid of taste."

"The suburb was simply too spacious, too clean, too safe, too conventionally virtuous, too sanctimonious," writes Davison.

Full Story: A Brief History of Suburbia's Rise and Fall


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