Suburbs and New Towns

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Alexander Cowan


No single definition of the suburb fits all circumstances. Suburbs have existed for as long as humans have lived in urban centers, but their sizes, forms, and demographic and social importance changed almost out of recognition between the sixteenth century and the twenty-first century, outstripping the changes to the urban core around which they are located. Traditionally the medieval suburb was an area of housing beyond the physical boundaries, usually fortifications of some kind, that marked out the limits of an urban center. Its location gave it a number of characteristics. It was unprotected, and it was neither urban nor rural but contained elements of both. Its legal status and that of its inhabitants was ambiguous. Its population consisted of recent arrivals from elsewhere and former residents of the urban center. The latter included some who chose to leave the urban center in search of a better quality of life, who tended to be well off, and some who were forced to leave it because their presence was unacceptable, who were generally poor.

Even at this comparatively early stage of urbanization, the diversity of suburban form and organization underlined the fact that the only feature shared by all suburbs was a negative characteristic. Suburbs were agglomerations of housing not perceived as part of the urban core. Definitions of the urban core changed from the area within a fortified enclosure to an area of dense housing on a street plan inherited from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, containing centers of commerce, government, religious practice; public buildings; and a mixture of housing for the rich and the poor and to the twentieth-century central business district. Along with those definitions the nature of the suburbs surrounding the core also changed.

The distinction between urban core and suburb altered over time. The core expanded, and new suburban growth took over many of the functions of older suburbs, which in turn took on new roles. The construction of new fortifications for fiscal and defense purposes enclosed areas that once were suburbs and incorporated them within the urban core. Similarly the outer expansion of suburbs incorporated existing villages and settlements within the suburban area, changing their status but providing new nodes for commerce and sociability. The introduction of mass transport, such as the tram, the railway, and eventually the bus, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries facilitated the construction of suburban housing outward along the transport network and further afield as satellites of the towns providing employment.

Until the early twentieth century Europe exhibited a clear distinction between suburbs and new towns. Suburbs were extensions of the urban core, and their development was partly organic and partly the result of planned expansion. New towns, on the other hand, were urban centers developed on entirely new locations to carry out one of a range of specialized functions, commercial, industrial, military, recreational, or administrative. New town construction in the twentieth century also took place as a distinctive exercise. New towns were developed in response to the continuing growth of the urban population, much of which was expected to locate in the suburbs of large cities. To control and direct this demographic and economic growth, national governments and town planners alike proposed to channel it into planned locations away from existing urban areas but connected to them. The alternative was, as one commentator wrote about London in the 1930s, that the extensively decentralized urban area would become a "confluent pox." Ironically, these desired distinctions between suburbs and new towns subsequently eroded to the point that it became scarcely possible in some cases to distinguish the functions of one from the other or even to distinguish a new town from a recent satellite or commuter suburb. For this reason these two forms of urban organization have been combined in a single article that discusses them separately.

The history of suburbs can be studied in terms of urban policies and transportation, while new towns often are examined through the schemes of idealist reformers and urban planners. Social history looks more at the types of people involved in both settings and at the functions the settings served. Not surprisingly nineteenth-century industrialization marks a sharp break in the histories of both types of community and an expansion of their importance.


The biggest physical change to the suburb after the sixteenth century was the ratio between populations of the suburb and the urban core. The population showed considerable diversity even at the end of the Middle Ages. Only one person in four of the population of Tudor York lived in the suburbs, but over a third of the inhabitants of Carmona, Spain, did so in 1528 and half the population of Winchester in 1600. A majority of the population of Ubeda, Spain, lived beyond the walls in 1595. Suburban growth was particularly marked in Europe's largest cities, setting the pattern for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By 1700 London's suburbs contained three times as many people as the population of the City itself. In many towns population growth may have been accommodated within the walls. Suburban expansion was often a sign that an individual urban economy had continued to expand.

The shape of suburban development was closely related in many towns to the construction, modification, and later demolition of fortifications. Medieval suburbs developed in the shadow of city walls because these fortifications were not expected to fulfil a major defensive role. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries many preexisting suburbs were demolished to make way for fortifications of a new design, particularly in areas of endemic warfare, such as the southern Netherlands. New systems of citadels, earthworks, and bastions required much more space than the old curtain walls, and they also depended on the retention of open spaces beyond to allow for an open line of fire against advancing troops. On the one hand, this removed existing suburbs. On the other, the enlarged urban space enclosed by new fortifications enabled construction of new quarters as extensions of the existing urban core. The new fortifications built in Marseilles in 1666 effectively doubled the surface available for urban development and consequently met the demand for houses to accommodate incomers and the wealthy in search of comfortable, well-designed housing. Both of these demands later fueled European suburban expansion.

From the late seventeenth century the decline in siege warfare encouraged towns to remove their fortifications altogether, but this did not in itself facilitate suburban development. In many towns the walls were replaced by promenades, tree-lined areas designed to allow a socially exclusive minority to walk or ride away from the noise, smell, and congestion of the urban core. These in turn became boulevards for wheeled traffic. In Vienna the final removal of the walls permitted the city to construct "The Ring," a broad boulevard flanked by major public buildings imitating the old fortifications, as a way of delimiting the urban core. Similarly the line of fortifications in Milan separated the circondario esterno (outer ring) from the circondario interno (inner ring), although it was not built on in the same way, and marked an important boundary for tax purposes. Suburban growth was often shaped and encouraged by the construction of boulevards. Both Barcelona and Valencia, for example, in the last third of the nineteenth century constructed new quarters that stretched out beyond the line of the old fortifications.

The major impetus to suburban growth came in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century as a result of industrialization and widespread population movements. In parts of Europe other than England the construction of multistory tenement blocks within the urban area prevented decentralization on a large scale. By the mid-nineteenth century, more markedly in England than elsewhere in Europe, the pattern of a small proportion of the urban population inhabiting the core while the large majority lived in some form of suburban housing was already visible. This movement was accompanied by an absolute decline in the populations of the central core in capitals such as London, Paris, and Berlin. Over 1.25 million new houses were built in Greater London between 1921 and 1939, and the population of the metropolitan area rose from 7.5 million to 8.7 million. The population of central Paris fell from 3 million to 289,000 between 1921 and 1931, while the suburban area grew from 1.5 million to 2 million. In other French cities the proportion of suburban inhabitants was around 80 to 90 percent. Living outside the central core had become the norm, but the continuous and often unexpectedly rapid growth of the suburbs meant that this norm was constantly redefined.


The key to all suburban expansion after the beginning of the nineteenth century was the combination of migration and increasingly efficient forms of transport. The development of trams, buses, suburban trains, and the motor car transformed the shapes and sizes of urban centers, making it possible to commute to work over increasing distances and bringing satellite towns within the orbit of urban areas. Transportation also facilitated the zoning of urban areas so schools, hospitals, recreational facilities, and commercial centers were located at points accessible by public or private transport. Above all it created a new kind of urban space, in which entire neighborhoods functioned as dormitories, leaving a small population of the elderly, the very young, unpaid mothers, and the unemployed to inhabit the streets during working hours.

Unrestricted private enterprise in transport in the late nineteenth century led to patchy coverage of the suburbs. High rail and tram fares encouraged the wealthy to move further out but were a disincentive to working people. Where new access was granted the results were striking. The tram reached the Parisian suburb of Bobigny in 1902, and within ten years the population had more than doubled. In the late nineteenth century a circular railway was constructed in Berlin some five kilometres from the center, linking all the lines from outside the city. The construction of the metropolitan line in London encouraged suburban development to the northwest. Railways and developers established close links once they shared an interest in moving a new and affluent population into the suburbs.

The new forms of transport increased the development of satellite communities. As a suburban phenomenon, however, they predated the great population expansion of the late nineteenth century. Vienna's complex fortification system in the late seventeenth century displaced its suburban expansion to separate communities such as St. Ulrich. A number of villages north of London, such as Somerstown and Pentonville, were linked to the capital by ribbon development in the eighteenth century and gradually became integrated into the suburbs. To the south of London the development of the railway and a number of local factors encouraged the growth of existing centers, such as Bexley and Bromley, in the mid-nineteenth century. Their expansion eventually met suburban growth moving out of the city, and they were incorporated into the metropolitan area. Similar developments took place around Berlin. After World War II the development of better road networks and an exponential growth in the use of the motor car brought many other towns into the orbit of major metropolitan areas. Some were centers of considerable age, others were entirely new, and some were a hybrid of the two.


Suburbs and the poor. A long association has existed between poverty and suburbs. The medieval suburb provided an opportunity for subsistence migrants to find work and cheap accommodations in the town free from regulation by the urban authorities. The suburbs were often their first point of contact and offered the most opportunities for unskilled employment, both industrial and agricultural. For the indigent poor, too, the suburbs provided shelter and partial protection from exclusion policies practiced by the urban authorities. By the late twentieth century the suburbs were home to some of the poorest of the urban population, who had been displaced there by changes to the organization and the housing stock of the urban core. In earlier years the same three factors, inward migration, displacement from the core, and employment opportunities, constantly brought the poor to the suburbs.

As social zoning among the suburbs developed in the nineteenth century, the poor lived in two contrasting parts of the suburbs, those areas closest to the core and those on the extreme periphery of the suburbs. In the first case, the poor moved out of the center of towns into suburban housing originally constructed for the wealthy several generations before. These "walking suburbs" had lost their attraction as more modern and comfortable housing became available further out and their proximity to the countryside was removed. Such houses, often lacking the most desirable facilities, were subdivided into rooms and tenements to accommodate a high-density population in search of work nearby. Developments in transport in the late nineteenth century also ensured a heavy concentration of the poor close to the urban core. Railway lines cut off many of the older suburbs from the business center. Their viaducts and marshaling yards left islands of housing that rapidly degenerated into slums. When cheap transport for unskilled workers was introduced in the early twentieth century, more suburban housing further out came within the economic capacities of workers employed in the center.

For the poor employed on the periphery, on the other hand, housing on the edge of the suburbs was essential. This pattern was established in the late Middle Ages, when early economic zoning ensured that certain economic activities took place outside the walls, such as tanning, fulling, washing and dyeing cloth, glassmaking, slaughtering, and activities with a high fire risk. Many industries required water, and most produced unpleasant by-products. Hence tanning and cloth dyeing took place in the Parisian Faubourg St.-Marcel, across the Seine in an area bordered by little housing. Gunpowder factories operated on the outskirts of many Dutch cities in the seventeenth century, and soap was made in Triana, a Sevillian suburb on the right bank of the Guadalquivir. The textile industry in particular moved out from the centers to the suburbs. During the eighteenth century the growth of the silk industry was a major force in suburban expansion in Nîmes and Lyon. In Lyon the physical appearance of the early nineteenth-century suburb of La Croix-Rouge was shaped by the weavers' need for buildings to provide enough daylight and space to operate a Jacquard loom.

Agricultural workers and gardeners experienced the same need to live on the edge of the housing area. Agriculture continued to occupy large proportions of the urban population well into the eighteenth century. In the seventeenth century 15 to 20 percent of the population of Vienne in the Dauphiné worked on the land, mostly in vineyards. The numbers of market gardeners and fishermen in Strasbourg were high enough to justify guilds of their own. Most rural employees chose to live as close as they could to their work.

Industrialization came comparatively late to many urban centres, but once large-scale urban industrial production was established, access to transport for raw materials and for distribution of the finished product, in addition to the need for large sites to accommodate production, dictated sites on the edge of the town. Housing soon followed. The Italian companies of Breda and Pirelli, which had initially chosen to build factories in Milan behind the main railway station, moved out to the Sesto San Giovanni for more space. Fiat did the same in Turin. The attractions of the periphery also drew out many smaller enterprises, hoping to benefit from conditions that paralleled those in the preindustrial suburb, such as lack of unionization, little external regulation, and a cheap labor force.

In a common pattern throughout Europe, many migrant industrial workers moved to the suburbs in search of cheaper housing at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, a development that brought with it uncontrolled suburban growth of the most chaotic nature. Some suburbs, such as the quarter of Campo Fiesa in Brescia, began with municipal housing but were effectively abandoned as factories developed around them. Others, like the Parisian suburb of Bobigny, were initially collections of shacks without proper foundations, paved streets, water supplies, or sewers. By contrast, interwar and post-1945 planning policies organized outer suburbs for the poor. Municipal estates were built to let to the inner-city poor, whose homes were demolished in slum clearance programs. These estates varied among low- and medium-rise blocks, particularly in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and high-density, high-rise blocks set in green spaces on the edge of other continental cities. But all improved the material conditions for their first inhabitants. Toulouse constructed ten thousand buildings between 1948 and 1961, providing more than thirty thousand new homes, each with several bedrooms, its own WC (toilet), and bathroom.

Suburbs and the wealthy. In spite of the heavy concentration of the poor population outside the urban core, the words "suburb" and "suburban" became synonymous with homes for families of medium to high incomes. These suburban quarters were in marked contrast to housing for the poor. In the early modern period they were a hybrid between developments within the urban core and areas of housing beyond the walls, but they shared much with the later suburban developments after industrialization. New quarters were built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries to accommodate wealthy townspeople, members of the elite, merchants, administrators, and professionals. These people generally desired to escape from the difficulties of life in old, cramped housing on narrow streets increasingly choked with wheeled traffic, market stalls, pedestrians, and artisans. Specifically they were motivated by a new sense of the urban lower classes as "dangerous" and by a real drive to find a healthier environment free from the contagion and smoke of urban sectors. Thus wealthier suburbs often located to the west of major cities, so the prevailing winds would protect the residents from urban smoke.

The motives for suburban development were articulated in several ways. New quarters such as the Marais in Paris and Covent Garden in London featured large, regular buildings to reflect the high status of their inhabitants and the sense of order the elite wished to impose on the city. They included frequent squares and other open spaces. London developed the area between the old walled City and the royal palace in Whitehall, and in Paris the Marais originally was a swamp. Elsewhere the new buildings either appeared in open areas within the existing walls or in areas created by the extension of fortifications.

While these buildings represented one element of the flight from the old urban core, a second trend also played a part in early suburban development. The use of the area beyond the walls for semiagricultural activities diversified to meet the recreational needs of wealthy townspeople. Some of the space was used for gardens and promenades, where townspeople could take the air on long summer evenings and Sundays or grow fruit and vegetables for their own use, introducing an element of the rural into their lives. The richest of all divided their lives between the urban and the rural by using summer houses further afield. The wealthy of Amsterdam constructed country houses on the Isle of Walcheren and in the Vechte Valley. Venetians built villas along the Brenta River and much further away. The merchants of Lübeck spent time on farms several hours ride from the city. The semirural aspect of preindustrial suburban development was accentuated by the presence of of ecclesiastical institutions, charitable buildings, and hospitals surrounded by gardens and other green spaces.

From the eighteenth century suburban development for the wealthy followed divergent patterns. While much housing in the urban core in Scotland and in continental Europe was remodeled to meet middle-class demand, considerable suburban development extended English towns, a pattern not followed elsewhere until much later. The earliest were the so-called "walking suburbs" built so their inhabitants could easily access activities in the town center. Many, like Jesmond in Newcastle upon Tyne and Camden in North London, reproduced the urban terraces of the eighteenth century on a smaller and less ornate scale. Gardens were kept to a minimum, but an element of the rural was introduced by planting trees along streets. Elsewhere landlords capitalized on a demand for a protected semirural environment, permitting the wealthy to live away from their work, surrounded by greenery, and far from the pollution of the industrial city. During the middle third of the nineteenth century Manchester, Glasglow, Oldham, Nottingham, Liverpool, and Birmingham built estates of detached and semidetached houses with gates and park keepers.

In succeeding generations the exclusivity of such enclaves was threatened by the introduction of comparatively cheap transport, permitting families of lesser means to move into and beyond these suburbs. The wealthy attempted to distance themselves from their more modest neighbors by moving outward. Increasing numbers of semidetached houses with small gardens along roads, tramways, and railways accommodated a rising demand from the middle classes and the labor aristocracy. Other European urban centers also experienced suburban expansion but with the important difference that the middle classes in areas such as Grünewald, Friedenau, and Lichterfelde near Berlin lived in apartment blocks rather than in semidetached houses. After the 1970s an interesting inversion of trends occurred, in which high-rent luxury accommodations became available in the urban core of many English towns, while demand grew on the Continent for small houses on estates surrounded by lawns and greenery.


The suburbs began as unregulated urban growth, and the social, political, and economic problems of urbanization in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought attempts to regulate housing, public services, and the urban environment. The largest metropolitan areas created new local administrations, such as the London Country Council established in 1888. The new authority of Grossberlin united Berlin with its suburban neighbors in 1920. Together with radical governments in Vienna and elsewhere, these authorities put forward plans to coordinate road and rail transport, develop low-cost housing, and provide water, gas, electricity, and sewers. Many of these plans reached their full potentials in the mid-twentieth century. National legislation increasingly controlled the provision of low to medium cost rented accommodations, such as the French Ribot Law of 1922.


Suburbs always have received a bad press, much of it arising from their ambiguous status. For many in the early modern period the rural world represented an unknown series of threats. Fortifications, whatever their state of repair, reassured those who lived within them that they were protected from such threats. The presence of housing beyond them and its tendency to attract immigrants who took unregulated employment or engaged in activities that threatened the social and moral order made the suburbs a source of anxiety for the more established members of urban society. Miguel de Cervantes referred to Triana, a suburb of Seville, as a rendezvous for dishonesty. John Graunt described the suburbs of seventeenth-century London as places where "many vicious persons get liberty to live as they please." Neither writer was entirely wrong.

As time went on many fears were transferred to urban areas as a whole. The nineteenth century was full of literary warnings about the iniquity of urban life, but few explicitly mentioned the suburbs. Emile Verhaeren's description of a world characterized by the smell of sulfur and naphtha, the rumble of factories, and the sound of the crown owed much to the experience of the industrial suburb. New criticisms of the suburbs largely were written by observers who lived elsewhere. One French senator called the suburbs of nineteenth-century Paris "a great stain of ugliness on the beautiful face of France." A mid-twentieth-century polemic—LeCorbusier's Charte d'Athènes—went even further, saying, "The suburb symbolises the union of urban detritus with urban planning." The suburbs have found few defenders. One was the English poet John Betjeman, whose work celebrated "Metroland," the suburbs on the northwest edge of London along the Metropolitan Line. His images of tennis clubs, fresh-smelling lawns on summer evenings, and amateur dramatics conjure an inimitable picture of middle-class life between the wars.


The sixteenth century through the eighteenth century: military and princely towns. All new towns shared one characteristic that differentiated them from suburbs: they were planned towns. They were created in response to a perceived need and reflected a well-defined set of ideals about what a town should be and how its inhabitants should live. Such ideals were also influential in shaping urban changes in existing towns but were most well developed where everything was planned from the drawing board. Unlike the previous wave of urbanization in the twelfth century, the new towns of sixteenth- to eighteenth-century Europe were not marked by a search for economic prosperity. Commercial and industrial expansion tended to take place in established centers. Instead, the driving force in new-town creation was political, reflecting new forms of warfare in the developing territorial states and new needs of self-expression by princely rulers.

Military new towns, such as Philippeville in the Spanish Netherlands, Venetian Palmanova close to Habsburg territory, and Neuf-Brisach in the Rhineland, were expansions of the citadels built alongside cities close to sensitive borders. These symmetrical, star-shaped urban fortresses were designed to house soldiers, supplies, and support institutions. They were not planned to expand, and the absence of any voluntary civilian population prevented them from adapting to changing political conditions, nor did they take on new economic functions. They survive as relics of their time. Unlike the inland fortresses, towns established to house naval dockyards, such as Rochefort and Brest in France and Portsea on the south coast of England, flourished well into the eighteenth century, but likewise rarely took on new economic functions.

The princely town expressed contemporary concepts of the ideal city more fully. Towns like Karlsruhe, Versailles, and Mannheim were built when a newly powerful ruler chose to move away from his existing urban residence and start afresh on a new site. These princely towns had two overlapping functions. They were concrete expressions of the ruler's power and, unlike the military new towns, they were conceived of as centers of prosperous economic activities, supplying the needs of the prince and his household and functioning of their own accord. To ensure their rapid success, immigrant artisans and merchants, often fleeing from religious persecution, were encouraged to settle on condition that they brought useful skills and injections of capital. Some princely centers flourished, but many did not. Often the original plans were subverted by the unwillingness of new residents to conform to what was expected of them. The three streets in Versailles, designed to meet at the royal palace as a focal point, never fully developed along the monumental lines of their original plans. But the planners' failure was Versailles's success, leading to the organic development of an urban center that resembled its older neighbors.

Nineteenth century: industrial new towns. In each phase of urbanization the sponsorship of new towns reflected the distribution of political and economic power. The predominance of the territorial state in early modern Europe encouraged princely residences and military or naval centers, but as industrial activity grew during the nineteenth century, the impetus passed to industrialists and landowners. Much industrial activity took place in extensions of existing towns, but several new towns took advantage of favorable locations to develop factories and housing close to raw materials and transport routes. Their exponential growth and the dominance of their industrial enterprises soon swept away any attempts at planning or regulation. Middlesborough's tenfold growth between 1841 and 1891 swallowed its original grid plan. The coal-mining town of Le Creusot, France, whose population rose from four thousand in 1841 to twenty-five thousand in 1911, was entirely controlled by industrialists until the latter part of the century, when its size became too big to handle. It had no local administration and no forces to keep order.

Twentieth century: new towns as antidotes to the suburbs. The new towns of the twentieth century were both a new phenomenon and a continuum with their predecessors. They were born out of several influential groups' concerns about the rapid growth of the industrial city. Town planners, municipal authorities, and national governments alike were affected by the prospect that the industrial city would continue to grow at an uncontrolled rate. The experience of the suburbs was particularly instructive. Living conditions in poor suburbs were perceived as even worse than in the remains of the historic urban cores. The pressure of newcomers and the poor quality of housing materials created major sanitation problems. The rapid occupation of all available open spaces by housing, workshops, and factories excluded schools, hospitals, and recreational facilities. The weight of the population also posed potential threats to the political order. The modern new-town movement arose from the belief that urban organization had reached its limits. Further progress was only possible by starting again with planned, controlled constructions that offered space, light, and greenery. In a way, too, the new town offered town dwellers a kind of rural dream.

The early phases of new-town development began in England toward the end of the nineteenth century, under the influence of Ebenezer Howard, whose concept of the "garden city" shaped much suburban development in England and on the Continent, especially in Holland and Scandinavia. The garden city was an attempt to remove housing from a linear, high-density environment. It proposed instead a semirural but still intensely regulated network of curving roads, parks, and gardens, in which houses located on estates were linked to major access routes. Early garden cities provided a new environment for the wealthy, but they were also models for new towns. Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth were built north of London in the interwar years; Le Vésinet, close to Paris, had seventy kilometers of roads; and the Kolonien were built outside Berlin. These new towns experienced similar problems of economic attachment to their preindustrial predecessors. They flourished primarily because they were located close to major urban centers that provided them with their populations, but they also filled a new role as commuter towns. Welwyn grew largely because of its proximity to London.

The postwar period saw a boom in new-town development, particularly in England and France. National legislation encouraged developments that benefited regional and national economies. These new towns were not entirely new in the sense that they incorporated existing urban communities. Although others were located in several regions, including Stevenage and Harlow close to London, Telford in the West Midlands, Corby in the East Midlands, Washington, Peterlee, and Killingworth in the northeast, and Cumbernauld close to Glasgow, Milton Keynes came to characterize the new town in the United Kingdom. The original plan for Milton Keynes incorporated several small towns, but the town generated green spaces, water recreations, and a shopping and business center. For a long time known only for the concrete cows in its fields, an early attempt at public art, Milton Keynes eventually established an art gallery.

The new towns initiated in France in the 1970s are also difficult to distinguish from others linked to existing towns. At the end of World War II the outer suburbs of many French towns were augmented by grands ensembles, high-rise groupings of low-rent accommodations, followed by even more ambitious projects. Toulouse–Le Mirail was planned for 100,000 inhabitants with a university campus and a mixture of public and private housing, schools, green spaces, and shops. It failed to live up to its planners' expectations. Private developers took little part. The shopping center was unable to compete with a nearby hypermarket, and the university had an air of living in exile. Other new towns of the same period, such as Évry, Corbeil, L'Isle d'Abeau, and Le Vandreuil, shared the same objective of creating a social mix as did Le Mirail, and to some extent they achieved it at the expense of slower growth. High-density, low-rent developments were delayed in an attempt to attract wealthier residents, some of whom chose to settle in nearby villages and use their cars to benefit from the new town's extensive facilities.

As time passed the expectations that European new towns would become mature communities came to pass. The age mix eventually resembled that of older towns. The young families who were the original inhabitants grew older and put down roots, and other, younger families moved from the cities to the new towns.


The modern history of suburbs and new towns reflects the burdens, real and imagined, of the industrial city and the new transportation facilities. Both settings, though particularly the suburbs, raise questions about the human impact of commuting and about the relationships among the different social groups spread along the suburban-urban continuum. Suburbanization, for example, decreased the visibility of poverty with obvious implications in terms of policy responses.

On the whole, suburbs and new towns differ in terms of top-down versus bottom-up development. Suburbs arose mainly from changes in the numbers and motivations of suburban residents, reflecting social issues such as evolving attitudes toward the lower classes and toward disease. Although attitudes and conditions changed, major continuities can be found between preindustrial and industrial suburbs. This is not the case with new towns, which depended more on formal planning and expert initiatives. While the needs of armies and princes shaped the work of early modern town planners, industrialization created new problems arising from the scale of the accompanying demographic and urban expansion. Accordingly, the impetus behind the planning of new towns changed. The social history of new towns and suburbs embraces inherent complexities; however, the study of these two developments has often addressed social issues common to both.

See alsoMigration (volume 2);Social Class (volume 3);Housing (volume 5); and other articles in this section.



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New Towns

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