A ‘Substantial’ Diversity. Approaches to the Concept of Suburbia in the Global North

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Maik Kiesler


Suburbia is considered the globally ubiquitous borderland of every major urban settlement. While the debate about specific suburban characteristics has been exten­sive, it is primarily held under North American assumptions: (slowly diversifying) white middle  – class settlements with low – density detached housing. 

Harris criticized this Anglo  – American  – centric approach to the concept of suburbia as mostly self – referential, instead advocating for “a typology to organize […] the diversity of suburban meanings, worldwide” (2010: 16). Developing a general fra­mework he illustrated differences and commonalities between the Global North and the Global South but forwent a deeper differentiation. 

For the case of suburban Germany Burdack and Hesse emphasized its highly discrete characteristics (2006); the suburban France is often described as periurban instead; and the suburban Asia (i.e. Japan and South Korea) seems altogether neglected in international academia. In other words: There is a spectrum of concepts of suburbia in the Global North that is uncharted. 

With urbanization as a global phenomenon also came globally understandable aspects of what is considered urban. In a reaction to the debate about ‘planetary ur­banization’ as an overly generalizing concept Brenner proposed an engaged pluralism (2018): Incorporating local specifics into a nevertheless ubiquitous phenomenon. 

Following Brenner under a dedicated intercultural hermeneutically perspective I will in my contribution use the term suburbia as a basic container. In a comparative meta  – analysis of academic literature I will explore how this container is filled with a ‘substantial’ diversity of concept of suburbia in the Global North. 

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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Urban Borderlands – Comparative Perspectives