Global Suburbanisms: Concepts, Cases and Connections in Extended Urbanization

Compiled by Cara Chellew

From wealthy gated communities and high-rise dominated suburbs to exploding peripheries and informal settlements, suburbanization now dominates 21st century urban development.

Over the past 8 years, the SSHRC Major Collaborative Research Initiative (MCRI) “Global Suburbanisms: Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century” at York University, Canada has brought together over 50 researchers from around the world to study emerging forms of (sub)urbanisms and suburbanization. Focusing on the themes of governance, land and infrastructure, this MCRI has produced a significant volume of work both conceptual and empirical.

Among its most impressive results have been comprehensive reviews of theoretical and methodological approaches in regions and countries across the globe as well as detailed case studies of suburbanization and suburban ways of life in the growing peripheries of the urban world. Volumes on governance (ed. by Hamel and Keil) land (ed. by Harris and Lehrer) and infrastructure (ed. by Filion and Pulver) provide international overviews that rely on situated analyses of suburban governance, land and infrastructure in particular regions.

Regional overviews (a European overview has been published and volumes on North American and South American suburbanization are forthcoming), innovative new methodological approaches to suburban growth and changes to suburban life (such as Still Detached and Subdivided? by Moos and Walter-Joseph), and synthetic treatises of the subject of extended urbanization such as Keil’s Suburban Planet round out the work done by the MCRI.

Much of the research conducted by MCRI associates has been published in the Global Suburbanisms book series. Edited by Roger Keil and published by the University of Toronto Press, it is the first major scholarly series to systematically examine worldwide developments in suburbanization and suburbanisms today. Titles to date include:

  • Massive Suburbanization: (Re)Building the Global Periphery (Forthcoming) edited by K. Murat Güney, Roger Keil, and Murat Üçoğlu

Providing a systematic overview of large-scale housing projects, Massive Suburbanization investigates the building and rebuilding of urban peripheries on a global scale. The book furthers the discussion pertaining to the problems of the urban periphery, urbanization and the neoliberal production of space. 

  • Critical Perspectives on Suburban Infrastructures: Contemporary International Cases (Forthcoming) edited by Pierre Filion and Nina Pulver

As most new development takes place in suburban areas, tensions emerge stemming from rapid growth. Critical Perspectives on Suburban Infrastructures investigates these tensions, looking at infrastructure issues within different suburban and societal contexts.  From low-density infrastructure-rich global north suburban areas, rapidly developing Chinese suburbs and the deeply socially stratified suburbs of global south countries, the book highlights infrastructure challenges and features common to all suburban areas .

  • The Suburban Land Question: A Global Survey (2018) edited by Richard Harris and Ute Lehrer

Focusing on issues associated with the scale and pace of rapid urbanization, The Suburban Land Question identifies common elements of suburban development. Drawing from a variety of sources from around the world, the book discusses the unique transitional character of suburban land and the many elements that distinguish land development in the urban fringe.

  • Old Europe, New Suburbanization?: Governance, Land, and Infrastructure in European Suburbanization (2017) edited by Nicholas A. Phelps

Exploring Europe’s oldest metropolises, Old Europe, New Suburbanization? highlights how both historical and geographical factors have shaped urban areas in Europe. The book provides evidence for new processes of suburbanization, challenging the dominant perspective in (sub)urban theory that establishes the United States as the norm against which all other contexts are measured.

  • What’s in a Name?: Talking about Urban Peripheries (2017) edited by Richard Harris and Charlotte Vorms

What’s in a Name? is the first book in English to pay serious and sustained attention to the naming of the urban periphery worldwide. By exploring the ways in which local individuals speak about the urban periphery, the book works to bridge the assumed divide between the global North and the global South. 

  • Suburban Governance: A Global View (2015) edited by Pierre Hamel and Roger Keil

As suburban growth becomes the dominant urban process of the twenty-first century, its governance poses an increasingly pressing set of global challenges. Suburban Governance provides a global overview of how governance regulates the creation of the world’s suburban spaces and everyday life within them.

In addition to the UTP book series, the following books have come out of the MCRI:

  • Suburban Planet: Making the World Urban from the Outside In (2018) by Roger Keil (Cambridge: Polity)

Life in the urban century is suburban. While the massive wave of present urbanization is often referred to as an ‘urban revolution’, most of this startling urban growth worldwide is happening at the margins of cities. Suburban Planet examines the processes that create the global urban periphery and the ways of life we encounter there.

  • Still Detached and Subdivided? Suburban Ways of Living in 21st-Century North America (2017) edited by Markus Moos and Robert Walter-Joseph (Berlin: Jovis)

Still Detached and Subdivided? offers an accessible yet rigorous account of ‘suburbanisms’ as particular ways of living. Moving away from treating suburbs as homogenous, the book uses visually stunning maps and data visualizations to demonstrate that aspects of this lifestyle occur simultaneously in urban and suburban places.

  • Suburban Constellations: Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century (2013) edited by Roger Keil (Berlin: Jovis)

In a world of cities, suburbanization is the most visible and pervasive phenomenon. Departing from the single-family home subdivisions of North America, Suburban Constellations provides a first account of this global development with overviews of trends in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia.


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