Look at the picture above. What do you see? A residential street, right? We've got a question for you. Would you consider the picture above to be of 'the suburbs'?
A while back we put a picture up on our Instagram, of a hedge in Crouch Hill. In said post we made the naïve move to call the area 'suburban'. Things kicked off a little in the comments. Mortally offended people took serious umbrage with the idea of their neighbourhood being suburban. Now, just because we described a street as suburban doesn't mean we consider it to be in the suburbs, although there's clearly a link there.
However, that got us thinking... where exactly are London's suburbs?
What are the suburbs?
The dictionary defines a suburb as:
An area on the edge of a large town or city where people who work in the town or city often live.
That definition doesn't quite do it for us, especially not in London. Take Hampstead Garden Suburb for example. It's got suburb in the name so has an immediate place in this conversation. It is noticeably suburban, with quiet leafy streets, where people live and then usually commute to other parts of London to work. However, it's in zone 3, hardly the edge of the city. And it's surrounded by areas like Golders Green, East Finchley and Hampstead. Areas that — and this is purely our gut feeling — don't feel like the suburbs.
They're certainly not at the heart of London either. They're caught in a suburban limbo, like much of zone 2/3 — too quick into central London on the tube to be a suburb. Perhaps these places all have too many amenities to be part of the suburbs. That's certainly what the somewhat snobbish anti-suburbanite would argue — they have too much culture, too many niche restaurants and things to do. There's an excitement in the air that the suburbs lack.
However, this no-man's land of suburbia was once different.
Have the suburbs moved?
No not literally — for all you imagining visions of an airlifted Orpington — but has our understanding of where the suburbs are changed?
If so, then why? One word: gentrification. Now we don't mean to bring up every journo's tired whipping boy just for the sake of it, but understanding gentrification in London, is key to understanding why suburbia has shifted — and is still in the process of shifting.
Gentrification is a chain reaction. Ultra wealthy buy property in central London, pushing everyone further out to the fringes. The upper classes move out to where the young professionals used to live. The young professionals infringe on working class areas and also places that were once the suburbs. So the suburbanites create a new suburbia, one more geographically distant from London. Obviously that's a simplification, but there's truth at the heart of it.
This is why former suburbs, despite now escaping that definition — can still feel suburban on their backstreets.
So where are the suburbs now?
Well we made a map to try and clear that up. Our rough sketch shows the parts of London we consider not to be the suburbs shaded in red. Everything outside that, well, that's good old fashioned suburbia. Those boroughs on the edge of London are still suburbia. The Home Counties are obviously suburbia. Where does it end you ask? Well...
Perhaps this is the more interesting question than where do London's suburbs start. We live in a country that's becoming increasingly London-centric from an economic standpoint, for better or worse. People regularly commute into London from areas as distant as Cornwall. It's not impossible to imagine a future in which the majority of the UK is suburbia, as grim as that sounds.
Still, as discussed above, just because people commute from an area, that alone doesn't make it part of the suburbs. It's an energy in the area, a mood on the streets. However, moods can always change.