Unlike the usual presumption of suburbs as quiet, featureless places “where nothing ever happens”, recent years have seen dramatic happenings in suburbs, not least the riots of 2011 in places like Ealing and Croydon in London.
In many ways the 21st Century suburb faces some thoroughly modern problems. There is crumbling infrastructure, with hollowed out High Streets. There is pressure on public services prompted by population increases, as witnessed in the annual scramble for school places…
But far from being cultural deserts, suburbs have been a fertile breeding ground for artistic movements. It is from the nation’s Acacia Avenues that almost all post-war pop has emerged, even if its artists would rather make out that they hailed from high-rise hell and so be more “edgy”…
Suburbia has shifted to become a place of dynamism housing ethnically mixed populations, as illustrated by the 2011 Census figures, in contrast to the assumptions of uniformity.
This description could also fit some of the changes in American suburbs in recent decades. Inner-ring suburbs, adjacent to big cities, face big city problems. A number of suburbs are looking for revenue due to cuts in federal and state aid. Suburbs are often marked by single-family homes. More suburbs are seeking out cultural and entertainment opportunities, at least to provide increased tax revenues. Increasing numbers of non-whites and poorer residents now live in suburbs. In fact, the final paragraph of the op-ed seems to suggest American and British suburbs are not so different:
We should smash the stereotypes of nondescript suburbia and rather than being embarrassed by them, celebrate those places on the edges of our cities that give our nation its essential character.
The essential character of Britain is in its suburbs?
With these changes afoot, it then is interesting to consider why suburbs consider to have this image as boring. As the op-ed says, some of this is due to media portrayals of banal suburban life, whether through television sitcoms or songs by musicians railing against their suburban upbringings. It is also due to academics and other socially influential people arguing against suburbs. When I think about it, I don’t know if I would say these portrayals suggest suburbs are boring; these critiques are often more negative. Boring implies there isn’t much going on but the criticisms of suburbs range from invoking individualism, racism, materialism, classism, and other social ills.