The notion of suburbia is often heard in the contemporary environment, being characteristic of 21st-century life. According to the general understanding, a suburb implies a city’s remote areas, which are usually adjacent to its borders and remains mostly residential. Suburbs tend to be low-story, convenient areas with a calmer atmosphere than central parts of a city. The related term suburbia evokes particular associations of a certain lifestyle, according to which people move closer to the city borders to escape the hustle. Most of all, this concept creates images of people who live in their private residences with families, doing daily commutes to work in central districts.
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On the other hand, suburbs have only acquired their positive image recently on the scale of history. Kenneth Jackson explores the period during which these districts could be described by the term “slums.” In the middle ages, suburbs implied outlying parts outside of a town’s walls, which can signify a lack of protection in case of an attack. Affluent people preferred short-term stays in rural areas, and all wealthier, prestigious areas remained in city centers. In addition, citizens preferred to reside near their workplaces, which were non-existent in the suburbs. Without developed means of public transportation, outlying districts could only be populated by poorer social groups. Consequently, they remained in slums until the 19th century, when industrial development allowed people to reimagine suburbs.
As Fishman explains, the modern concept of suburbia appeared because wealthy citizens decided to establish permanent residences outside of central districts. Industrial advances and growing economic demands allowed for large-scale production and transportation development, while downtown areas became excessively crowded. Simultaneously, the idea of a close-knit, nuclear family became the new value for affluent people, who wanted to live in calm and enclosed areas with their loved ones. The described tendencies continued into the 20th century, leading to the rapid development of suburbs in densely populated towns, stemming from the process known as the suburban revolution.
The evolution of suburban life has been an area of intense interest for researchers. Robert Fishman presents an interesting perspective on the factors, which have enabled this process in the introduction to his work titled Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia. According to the author, “every civilization gets the monuments it deserves.” This powerful statement is used in the context of suburbs, which can be considered a reflection of contemporary society’s spirit. Fishman states that suburbia serves to represent the elite’s values, as the entire process of its evolution has been based on the principle of exclusion. Indeed, wealthy people are often eager to separate themselves from the rest of society, and their views determine the nature of urban planning. Living in private, isolated residences, affluent citizens sought to ensure privacy and isolation. Fishman writes that suburbia “reflects the alienation of the middle classes from the urban-industrial world they were creating.”
As established by Kenneth Jackson, until the beginning of the 19th century, outlying city areas were reserved for poor classes, while central districts remained populated by the privileged ones. However, at that point in history, the Industrial Revolution helped the elite realize the vast potential of what they had previously seen as “cheap, undeveloped” land. Following their self-segregation desires, affluent citizens occupied suburban areas to pursue serenity and peace, which were disappearing in crowded, densely populated centers. As the evolution continued, suburbs transformed into comfortable areas with a variety of available services as they are known today. Fishman’s writing provides insight into the discriminatory nature of classic suburbia. Indeed, the entire course of its development appears to be conditioned by the views of affluent people. They showed limited interest in outer areas when it was comfortable enough for them to reside in central districts. However, once they acknowledge the benefits of suburbs in the industrial world, the rich classes were quick to reserve these parts to themselves. As a result, less fortunate citizens have been assigned to the remaining areas, which were considered unappealing by the elite.