Australians love the suburbs

Few countries in the world embrace the suburbs in the same way as Americans. One close contender is Australia: an Australian professor describes their enthusiasm for the suburbs:

Historian Graeme Davison asked if Australia was the first suburban nation. He knew the scientific answer didn’t matter. We were, whatever the carbon date, among the most enthusiastic of peoples to embrace the suburban promise. Despite the mythic outback imagery that Australia has vigorously exported and exploited, the record shows we like suburbs more than any other way of living. We enjoy living together more than we care to admit – but not too closely. The suburb struck the perfect balance between collective security and individual possibility. The great quilt of this human accord hugs the continental coastline. Sea change and tree change means no change, really – more suburbia, only in new places.

This has some interesting parallels to the American case: Americans liked their frontier imagery (though the mass urbanization of the 1900s weakened this). Americans like community (see the oft-quoted passages from de Toqueville about voluntary participation) but have always held this in tension with individualism. Americans like the balance between being close to urban amenities and yet having some yard in a smaller community. I’ve wondered before how much the fact that both the US and Australia are British settler nations factors into this embrace of the suburbs.

A reminder: just a few years ago, Australia passed the United States in having the largest average new houses in the world. However, I suspect since the average American new home has once again gotten larger, the US is back at the top of this list.

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