Suburban special: what is a suburb?
Author and authority on LondonThe basic question [of the city versus the suburb] is totally and utterly redundant. Suburbia doesn’t exist. Hackney was once a very desirable suburb; Samuel Pepys was sent to Dalston to be on a farm and to get milk and good clean air. But now it has been resuburbanised. One of the grimmest estates in London, Holly Street, replaced the original Victorian terraces with a series of tower blocks. The new housing that has been put in place looks as if it belongs in St Albans or wherever. But that kind of suburbanisation can’t be imported. What’s replaced the suburbs are ‘Edgelands’.
The grand projects, such as the Olympics, are hovering over a toxic desert. Instead of there being suburbs, there are future cities the size of Leeds growing out of the ground. There’s a gradual retreat from the city centre, linked up by railways. The tipping point was 1986. When the GLC was abolished, the idea of civic government of the city centre was removed. At the same time, the Big Bang deregulated the financial markets, so the City could become whatever it wanted to be, and also the M25 opened. London at that point became a traffic island. The whole topographical structure changes, and there’s a decision to build on brownfield land rather than nicking bits of greenbelt. You actually choose the bits that are most corrupted because nobody wants them, even though it’s not safe because you’re doing it too quickly. It makes for a more interesting and dangerous city, but no longer a stratified one of suburb, half-suburb, inner city. It’s the kind of future we have now.
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