MSc Environmental Systems Engineering, Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, University College of London.
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Whether suburbs are considered as a special and valuable part of the urban landscape or as a feature characterizing urban sprawl, there is a growing awareness that they represent a battleground as our cities face the challenges of the future. After a wide survey of the existing literature, and taking into consideration the policy debate surrounding suburban regeneration and densification, this paper focuses on the importance of considering the true value of suburbs as historical centres that are successful and that carry the aspirations of the many British families who choose to live in them.
The report examines to what extent densification is a sustainable – understood as adaptable and flexible - solution to ensure London’s suburbs a successful future. It suggests their future success will rely on planning authorities achieving adequate and intermediate densities, not as a goal by itself to respond to demographic pressures, but through policies that recognise and value the intrinsic characteristic of suburbs to face and adapt to changing socio-economic and demographic conditions over time. However, the resulting densification policies, advocated as a miracle panacea by authorities to respond to these changes, raises the question of whether it is a trend or a sustainable solution, and whether it is adequate for suburbs or paradoxical. Indeed, the paper made central the conflicting relationship between suburbs and density – the desire to reconcile space and quiet while increasing urban density - and between density and a suburbanite’s expectations of quality of life. It is finally argued that some intrinsic time-based architecture features, as well as the role of the street, are the keys to the success of a place, and a sign of great urban form. A case study, analysed with mapping tools, showed that organic patterns of growth and development were also fundamental to make a place work, adapt and preserve its vitality over time.