Enduring Features of the North American Suburb: Built Form, Automobile Orientation, Suburban Culture and Political Mobilization

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

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Enduring Features of the North American Suburb: Built Form, Automobile Orientation, Suburban Culture and Political Mobilization


  • Pierre Filion School of Planning, University of Waterloo, Canada


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Abstract:  As any social phenomenon, the evolution of suburbs can be seen as at the confluence of two contradictory sets of forces. There are first forces of change, which propel suburbs in new directions. Much of the present literature on suburbs highlights suburban transitions in the form of social and economic diversification, and of new forms of development. The article attempts to rebalance the discourse on suburbs by emphasizing forces of durability. It does not deny the importance of observed suburban transitions, but argues that there is, at the heart of North American suburbs, an enduring automobility-induced transportation dynamic, which reverberates on most aspects of suburbs. The article explores the mechanisms undergirding suburban durability by linking the suburban transportation dynamic to the self-reproductive effects of a suburban lifestyle and culture and their political manifestations. These forces impede planning attempts to transform suburbs in ways that make them more environmentally sustainable. To empirically ground its argument, the article draws on two Toronto region case studies illustrating processes assuring the persistence of the durable features of North American suburbs: the layout of large suburban multifunctional centres and the themes raised by Rob Ford during his successful 2010 mayoralty electoral campaign.

Keywords:  automobile dependence; land use; North America; suburb; super grid; Toronto; transportation

Published:   30 October 2018


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/up.v3i4.1684


© Pierre Filion. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.