Urban population is definitely increasing worldwide and what is known as “urban sprawl” in particular has been largely depicted as a problematic and unsustainable form of urban development. Compact city principles have been presented as perfect antidotes and became the flagship of urban policy over the last 15 years in many Western countries. Increasingly, however, it becomes obvious that too simplistic density policies have been trapped in many difficulties, e.g., low level of acceptance, gentrification and segregation, health and pollution exposure impacts, limited impact on the increasingly complex mobility patterns, mismatch of location, buildings and neighbourhood qualities to lifecycles and new family organizations, difficulties to adapt building stocks to innovative energy infrastructure, urban infill with halo effects on biodiversity corridors, etc. Those traps reflect a still limited understanding of the functioning of suburbs and of the complexity of suburbanization processes.
Rather than equating suburbs to sprawl, the selection of papers in this themed issue of Urban Planning considers suburbs as an in-between space—between the city and the countryside, between urban and suburban politics—whose sheer existence and broad distribution across the world calls for transformation towards more sustainable forms of development. More particularly the issue proposes complementary approaches that provide analytical insights into suburban problems and developments. They all challenge the practice of planning for and in suburbia in light of its in-betweenness or of some remoteness from central locations, hence question the necessary ingredients for brewing an antidote, needed perhaps, to counteract the bads of suburbs.
In a starting commentary, Pierre Filion stresses the transitory nature of suburbs as they emerged over the last 70 years in order to remind us of their transformative potential rather than as lock-ins. The article by Hendrik Jansens contributes likewise into showing the continuous transformation of a spatial stock by taking the example of the infill and retrofitting of suburban businesses around Zürich. The other three contributions prolong and bridge the suburban dynamics and configurational aspects with the concept of Garden Cities supposedly allying the goods of cities and countryside. Alexander Wandl depicts the spatial connection between the ‘urban’ and the ‘green’ in suburbs, including gardens, and propose an analytical method to measure fragmentation and accessibility in this particular interface. Nicolas Vernet and Anne Coste contrast the Garden City with sprawl. They highlight the configurational benefits of the Garden city concepts when environmental and energy preoccupations are integrated within a systemic and multi scalar approach. In a second commentary, Samuel Clevenger and David Andrews invite cautiousness. They show how deeply Garden Cities models and its early practice were rooted in elite sanitary views, with little, if any, interest for social inclusion. A dangerous trap one cannot fall again in if garden city configurations are revisited to operationalise today’s revived interest for urban nature and health as important parts of urban sustainability agendas.
Reference: HESSE Markus, CARUSO Geoffrey (Eds.). Garden Cities and the Suburban Antidotes. Éditions Cogitatio Press, 2017, coll. Urban Planning, volume 2, Issue 4, 65 p.