Towards a Suburban Renaissance. The Suburban Task Force. An Inquiry into the Future of the Suburbs

Additional Team Members - Dr Lucy Natarajan

In March 2020, a ‘Suburban Taskforce’ was established by Members of Parliament in the UK. The Taskforce argued that experiences of suburbs in England were poorly understood by policy-makers and developers, practitioners and the general public. Over the two years of research and engagement that followed, one of the key concerns to emerge was around the management of change and particularly in the context of ‘growth pressures’ in Outer London. Research has moved away from ideas of suburbs as simply settlements at the edge of the metropolis, ‘in between’ urban and rural activity, and is increasingly focused on the idea that they have the own cultural dynamic. Drawing on political ecology (Connolly, 2019), we explore suburbs as dynamic landscapes, natural and built elements of the environment are shaped by socio-cultural activities. We offer a study of evidence and views presented to the Taskforce, through an examination of the urban-nature landscape elements and development rationalities in the London Boroughs of Sutton and Waltham Forest. In each situation, responses to growth pressures, as expressed to the Taskforce, demonstrate the politics of landscapes in outer London, and the ways in which the wider context of governance shapes choices. This gives insights into the state-market-public tensions that arise from intense demand for new housing in London. Our findings suggest that, while not discounting the significance of growth pressures and limits to local control, suburban landscapes are heavily influenced by responses to local socio-economic concerns, historic urban form, and the politics of local development.