Suburban special: what is a suburb?

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    Susanna Edwards

    Artist and designer

    If we look back at the origin of the word ‘suburb’, it’s from the Latin ‘sub’ meaning under and ‘urbis’ meaning wall. So anything outside of the wall was not in the city. How do we relate that to now? I think collisions is a great starting point. It’s the reason that I am attracted to the city. Rich with cultural diversity, history and opportunity. Access to culture and work, a sense of anonymity and a sense of reinvention. Ironically, I stay in London for these reasons, but my main job involves me commuting to the suburbs to teach. I’m now employed in the suburbs to bring a slice of London out there!

    On my journey – from Stoke Newington to Waterloo and from Waterloo to Farnham – I’m fighting my way down the Waterloo & City Line, past all the suits going in the opposite direction, getting on an empty train and watching the city sort of ebb away. Along that journey I pass Surbiton, where ‘The Good Life’ was set. I am reminded of Tony Hancock in ‘The Rebel’, where he is defiant on the other side of the platform and then jumps through to work his way to a job that he doesn’t really want to go to. Also, there’s ‘Abigail’s Party’, the nouveaux riches and the idea of public privateness – the exodus to the suburbs to create an insular life. I’ve found community in [central] London, but I can choose to dip into different communities and go back into my own inner space – you’re more ambiguous if you’re in the city, which for me is the great attraction.

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