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Suburbs: A Very Short Introduction

Author Carl Abbott

Publication Date - 01 February 2023

ISBN: 9780197599242

160 pages
4 3/8 x 6 7/8 inches

In Stock


We live in the suburban era. Well over half of all Americans and two-thirds of Canadians live in suburbs. Tracts of suburban bungalows ring Sydney and Melbourne. Suburban apartments rise on the outskirts of Paris, Prague, Singapore, and Beijing. Nearly everyone has a strong opinion about suburbs. Folks who love dense cities scorn "suburbia," while people who like big yards dislike bustling sidewalks and subways. Social scientists argue whether contemporary suburbs are losing their luster or if a supposed back-to-the-city trend is a mirage--a debate that has been exacerbated by uncertainty over the effects of COVID-19.

Suburbs: A Very Short Introduction tackles two central questions: What is the history behind a suburbanizing world? What does the suburban trend mean for society, politics, and culture? Two chapters describe the ways that the new technologies of streetcars, trains, automobiles, and internet have allowed the compact cities of Britain and the United States to grow into sprawling metropolitan regions. The following chapters explore the vertical suburbs of Europe and East Asia, improvised or do-it-yourself suburbs in both North America and Latin America, and suburbs as places of employment. The book concludes by exploring criticism and praise of suburbs in popular sociology, fiction, film, and the Americanization of twenty-first century suburbs around the globe. The approach is rooted in history and geography, draws on all the social sciences, and highlights the ways in which suburbs are central to the ways that we understand the present and imagine the future.


  • Presents suburbs as a global phenomenon rather than a narrow Anglo-American development
  • Uses film and fiction to illustrate suburban trends

About the Author(s)

Carl Abbott retired after teaching urban studies and planning at Portland State University over five decades. He has written about the history of cities from Washington to Chicago to Los Angeles to Portland. He is a past president of the Urban History Association and the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association and has served as co-editor of the Journal of the American Planning Association and the Pacific Historical Review. He also writes about the intersections of history, urbanism, and speculative fiction. Recent short essays have appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, Public Books, Washington Post, and Bloomberg CityLab.

Table of Contents

    List of illustrations
    Introduction: What is a suburb?
    1: The first suburban century
    2: Suburbs at flood tide
    3: Vertical suburbs
    4: Improvised suburbs
    5: Suburban work
    6: What's wrong with suburbs
    7: Two hundred years and counting
    Further reading

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