Many residents of towns and cities no longer live and work within the central urban area, choosing instead to live in suburbs and commute to work by car or public transport. Others have taken advantage of technological advances to work from their homes, in an environment they consider more pleasant that the city centre. This process of suburbanisation is the most common in more economically develop countries. The US is believed to be the first country in which the majority of the population lives in suburbs, rather than in central cities or in rural areas. In the UK the process is very advanced here.
Suburbanisation can be linked to a number of different push and pull factors. Push factors include:
the congestion and population density of city centres
pollution caused by industry and high levels of traffic
a general perception of a lower quality of life in city centres
Pull factors include:
more open spaces and a perception of being closer to ‘nature’
lower price of land and housing in comparison to the city centre
a general perception of better opportunities for education than in central city areas
Race is also documented as playing a role in American suburbanisation. During the First World War, African Americans from the rural southern states migrated heavily to the cities of the north in search of work. Many settled in inner-city areas, while white families moved to the suburbs, which they perceived as safer places to love and raise a family. This movement was known as ‘white flight’.
A similar trend has been observed in some cities in the UK from the 1960s onwards. This is partly a result of white flight and partly a result of the desire for member of immigrant communities to live closely together for social and economic support.
Suburbanisation could not have happened without the improvements in transport infrastructure which allowed the development of commuting to the nearby town ior city centre to work. Developments in railways, bus routes and roads are the main improvements that make suburbanisation more practical. The development of the London Underground and other such mass-transit systems have been crucial in this respect.
Recent developments in communication technology, such as the spread of broadband services, the growth o e-mail and the advent of practical home video conferencing, have enabled more people to work from home rather than commuting. Although this can occur either in the city centre or in the suburbs, the effect is generally decentralising. Similarly, the rise of efficient package express delivery systems, such as Federal Express an UPS which take advantage of computerisation and integrated transport also eliminates some of the advantages of working in the city centre. The overall effect of these developments is that some people and small businesses now see an advantage to locating further from the city centre, where the coast of buying land, renting space and running their operations is cheaper than in central areas.
This has led to another recent phenomenon: the advent of ‘edge cities’ in suburban areas, with clusters of office buildings built around suburban business districts and shopping malls. With more and more jobs for suburbanites being located in these areas than in the main city, core traffic patterns – which for decades centred on people commuting between the city centres and the suburbs – have become more complex, with the volume of intra-suburban traffic increasing tremendously.
Suburbanisation clearly offers many lifestyle improvements. However, it also causes problems. Many planners consider that it is important to reduce or even reverse the process of urban sprawl which, they argue, leads to inner-urban decay and a concentration of lower-income residents in the inner city.
In effect, suburbanisation means the transfer of the middle-class population out of the inner cities and into the suburbs, sometimes with devastating effects on the viability of city centres. Many urban areas in the UK and some in the UK, have adopted ‘green belt’ policies that limit growth in the fringe of a city, in order to encourage more growth in the urban core. It is now generally accepted that certain level of population density in the centre of a city creates a good, working urban environment.
It is also apparent that suburbanisation and the growth of commuting can lead to a huge increase in the use of cars, with increased emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Commuting by car has also caused pressure to design cities to cope with cars, sometimes at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists.
Counter-urbanisation is people moving from the urban areas in to the rural areas. The UK has been undergoing counter-urbanisation. There are age-related and social group-related elements in these changes:
Some people retire and move to the countryside, the seaside or to a small town
Young people go to universities which are usually in the bigger towns and cities
Many people seek their early jobs in cities and live as close to work as possible
When people start families they often move outwards, towards suburbs, small towns or rural areas
Some successful urban dwellers buy second homes in the country and this may distort the census figures
Immigrants often settle in inner urban areas because of access to jobs, available in neighbourhoods based on the group’s origin
Whitley Bay is a town in North Tyneside, part of the Tyneside conurbation. It is on the North Sea coast with a fine stretch of golden sand beach, forming a bay stretching from the rocky St Mary’s Island in the north to Cullercoates and Tynemouth in the south. The town, which has a population of about 35,000, became a holiday destination for the people of north-east England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and remained popular until the 1980s. The town is now widely seen as a dormitory town for Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In 1904 the electric suburban railway linked Whitley Bay to Newcastle and first allowed it to become a commuter town, providing housing for people who worked in the city but wanted more spacious, less polluted conditions in which to live and bring up their families. When the electric railway became the basis for the development of the Metro light railway in 1980, the town became even more popular with commuters, encouraging further counter-urbanisation from the city.
Quite clearly there I a complex pattern in the UK today. Some towns and cities are growing while others are declining; rural areas in general are increasing their populations, but some more remote or less attractive rural areas are losing population. The processes of urbanisation and counter-urbanisation seem to be taking place at the same time in different parts of the country for different reasons. Still other areas show signs of re-urbanisation taking place.
Since the 1970s there have been many initiatives aimed at regenerating the inner areas of tows and cities in the UK. These are the areas where the growth linked with industrialisation took place. Industry, housing, transport and other services became concentrated here in the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries.
From the 1950s the urban infrastructure became outdated and deteriorated rapidly. both housing and industry were considered to be no longer fit for purpose and large areas were abandoned or allowed to deteriorate, attracting a variety of economic, environmental and social problems.
Since the 1980s there has been a general view that these areas could best be improved by encouraging housing, jobs ad services back into the centres – to produce mixed-use development.
In the past 30 years many different initiatives have aimed to:
bring derelict land and buildings back into use
improve housing conditions
bring new jobs
improve the chances of local residents to apply for these jobs, through education and training
encourage private-sector investment in these areas
encourage self-help to improve the social fabric of the area
improve the quality of the environment
All these initiatives are designed to improve conditions for residents to encourage them to stay in inner cities and also to encourage people to move back to the cities.
Initiatives to encourage re-urbanisation
Initiatives have included:
Urban Development Corporations (UDCs) were set up to regenerate areas that contained large amounts of derelict land. London Docklands and the Merseyside Development Corporation were set up in 1981, and a further 11 followed between 1986 an 1993. The UDCs had the power to acquire land, clear it and provide infrastructure then they were to encourage the private sector to develop the area. It is generally greed that they brought economic development to these areas, but local needs were often ignored in the interests of outside investors. Subsequent developments (such as the UDCs involved with planning the Thames Gateway) have tried to take local needs into account.
Enterprise zones (EZs) were also created in 1981 to try to stimulate development in area of high unemployment by reducing taxes on businesses and easing planning restrictions. They had some success in attracting businesses into areas, but many of them were not new start-ups but just moved location to take advantage of the tax breaks.
Inner-City Task Force (1987) was a temporary scheme to provide training opportunities. It was credited with creating 50,000 new jobs.
Single Generation Budgets (SGB – 1997) were set up after a change of government. Local authorities (LAs) had to bid for regeneration budgets for run-down housing areas. It was felt that the LA involvement would give local people a bigger say in how the money was spent.
English Partnerships is now the national regeneration agency in England. It is based in the government department of Communities and Local Government (CLG). They work with a wide range of partners including local authorities, the Housing Corporation, regional development agencies and the Commission for the Built Environment (CABE).