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Advantages And Disadvantages Of Suburbanisation Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3421 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Suburbanisation: is it a dream or is it a nightmare? There are many varying opinions and attitudes in relation to this subject matter of suburbanisation across the globe today and this consequently causes difficulty in answering the above question. It is essential however to evaluate and have an understanding of this concept of suburbanisation prior to answering the proposed question. Thus what is suburbanisation? From my research and studies in this subject area of geography I can indeed identify that suburbanisation is fundamentally the term used to describe the physical growth of the city at the urban-rural fringe, or quite simply the outskirts of the city. This indeed represents a very dramatic change in population tendencies with populations moving from the older urban cores to areas outside the core. It is undeniably a global phenomenon and has occurred in the majority of the world’s cities. These areas are primarily residential and are referred to as ‘suburbs’. In essence they represent areas of a lower population density that are situated close to and yet are functionally tied to the urban core. They can also be defined as the distinction between the city and the surrounding built-up areas, within the municipal area (McCafferty 2011). This American led process of creating residential housing at the edge of the city initiated in the nineteenth century and expanded rapidly after World War 2. What were the factors that initiated this process of suburbanisation and caused much of the world’s population to reside on the outskirts of the city? As cited by Latham et al, the extraordinary expansion of suburbia following World War Two in America was fuelled predominantly by racist concerns about inner-city crime and disorder (Latham et al 2009, p.139). The racial minority or the ‘black’ population of this time had no access to employment opportunities or jobs and consequently crime rates were quite high, enticing the ‘white’ community to move to the suburbs or what was more commonly referred to as the ‘White Flight’. In addition, in the United States there was segregated schooling up until 1954. However when legislation against segregated schooling was brought in, it led to prejudiced families who wanted their children educated in all ‘white’ schools moving to the suburbs or once again a ‘White Flight’. According to Latham et al, this process of suburbanisation was structured in all sorts of ways to exclude unwanted minorities (Latham et al 2009, p. 139) and one such example of how this was done was setting a minimum plot size in which the poorer population would be unable to afford and therefore eliminating them from the suburbs. There are also a number of other factors that have contributed to this global phenomenon and that has led to this movement of the urban population outward including:

Demand for low density living with more green space that is located away from the work place.

Transportation services: improvements in bus and rail services and indeed the increase in private car ownership facilitated suburbanisation and the movement outward as people became capable of commuting to near-by towns and cities for work.

Income tax: allowances promoting this idea of suburbanisation and home ownership were given via subsidies. Subsides were given on mortgage interest and mortgage payments were offset against income tax.

Differences in local tax rates of the city and the suburban areas: tax rates in city centres were higher due to the demand for public services and thus acted as a ‘push’ factor encouraging people to move to the suburbs.

The ‘American Dream’: the suburbs were seen as the ideal lifestyle that represented wealth and prosperity. Owning a home in a clean environment, away from the congestion of the city, yet that was close to the functions of the urban core.

Over time as suburbs prosper, attracting retail services and industry, they may become self-sufficient and what is known as an ‘edge city’ begins to emerge, and it particularly did so in the 1990’s. The term ‘edge city’ was identified by J. Garreau in 1991 and is essentially an American term used to describe a concentration of businesses, retail and entertainment facilities outside the initial urban area, typically a suburban neighbourhood, for example Tyson’s Corner in Virginia or perhaps Dooradoyle in Limerick city. Throughout the years the popularity of suburbs has been growing at an increasing rate with a large percentage of the urban population choosing to reside in the suburban neighbourhoods. This large concentration of population within a residential area undoubtedly causes problems, problems which lead me to believe that suburbanisation is indeed a nightmare. In order to portray the adverse impacts of suburbanisation I will be discussing issues such as segregation, social exclusion, polarisation and also delinquent behaviour, whilst making direct references to the suburban neighbourhoods of Moyross and Southill in Limerick city and the suburban neighbourhood of Ballymun in Dublin city.

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Cities are extremely complex areas, defined by their heterogeneity and diversity as they possess a large population of various nationalities and ethnicities. As a result they are frequently seen as ‘networks of segregation and exclusion’ (Latham et al 2009, p.132). Segregation refers to a divide or complete separation of socialite groups and cities may be segregated by means of social aspects such as class, ethnicity and race. Cities comprise of a number of suburban neighbourhoods and residential areas which portray differing levels of residential segregation, dividing the wealthy from the poor and the ‘blacks’ from the ‘whites’ for example. Segregation is not just a residency issue however, but can also hinder the interaction of these socialite groups. This is known as social segregation and may influence what parks and pubs they visit. Suburban neighbourhoods can therefore be viewed as and indeed are viewed as the ‘. . . antithesis of community’ (Knox 1987, p.71) as they tend to be homogenous, both in social and demographic terms (Knox 1987, p.72). Suburban residents may represent a selected group having the same preferences for social activities. We can see evidence of segregation in almost every city worldwide with the poor concentrated in certain areas within the city, for example we see the emergence of ‘ghettos’, ‘dump estates’ and ‘unemployment blackspots’. Polarisation is associated with segregation within society that results in a sharp difference in social classes, or ‘polar’ opposites in fact, that can be present in cities today for example high-income earners and low-income earners. Social exclusion is another downside to the process of suburbanisation and the formation of ‘suburbia’ that occurs when certain social individuals, households or groups within society, including the poor, are excluded from full participation and enjoyment of modern society. This can be caused by not only social aspects but also political and economic aspects. According to Knox, geographers have been long interested in the relationships between the urban environment and certain aspects of people’s behaviour (Knox 1987, p.79) and this is indeed an issue that is prevailing within certain suburbs of cities. He argued that personality and urban settings influences individual group behaviour and in particular the way in which we see that anti-social behaviour is linked to urban settings (ibid). High levels of crime, drug use and other forms of delinquent behaviour can be seen in many suburbs throughout the world today.

Limerick city is indeed an exceptional example of a city that portrays suburbanisation as a nightmare. Supporting a suburban population of 50,000 (Fitzgerald 2007, p.4), Limerick is home to a number of suburban neighbourhoods that are illustrative of polarisation, social exclusion and segregation as well as deviant behaviour. Limerick City is marked by a stark degree of polarisation, in that it portrays areas that are significantly wealthy and areas that are significantly disadvantaged. This polarisation has a strong geographical expression which is defined by a ‘corridor of disadvantage’, extending from Moyross, through King’s Island, to Garryowen and finally Southill (McCafferty 2007, p.7). With particular reference to the social housing suburban estates of Moyross, which is located on the north side of the city and Southill, which is located on the south side, I will discuss how suburbanisation has proven to be a nightmare. Owner occupation became more widely feasible in the 1970’s and 1980’s and as the level of demand for social housing declined amongst middle and upper class families, social landlords were forced to move down market in search of clienteles (Fahey 1999, p.22) and thus these areas are commonly seen and referred to as the ‘. . . housing of the poor’ (Fahey 1999, p.33). Both estates provide evidence of this, with the poorer or the more disadvantaged concentrated there. One of the most damaging features of social housing as seen in Moyross and Southill, is its association with anti-social or delinquent behaviour including such activities as joy-riding, drug use and dealing, stealing and intimidation of neighbours. In addition these areas have high levels of unemployment and according to McCafferty much of the concern of social exclusion is concerned with this unemployment level (McCafferty 2007, p.73). He argued that areas with high levels of unemployment are usually characterised by low levels of educational attainment, high proportions of unskilled and semi skilled social classes and are usually of local authority housing (ibid). Education within these estates is not regarded as important and therefore a high level of truancy can be noted (Fitzgerald 2007, p.6). It is quite common for young children to be seen in these areas during school hours and according to Fitzgerald in 2007, due to a large number of kids being sent to school outside of these areas, the numbers in the primary schools in O’Malley Park and Moyross are approximately 25% of the levels of 10 years ago (p.6).

Moyross is a local authority housing estate situated on the north side of the city. Built in the 1970’s, the estate is home to over 1000 houses and 12 parks. Although the standard of the housing is good, the overall condition of the estate is quite poor, with illegal dumping, burnt-out houses due to criminal activity and furthermore, boarded up housing abundant within the estate (Fig 1). From the 1980’s Moyross experienced extreme levels of poverty and disadvantage and held an unemployment figure of 84% at this time (Community Development Network Moyross, 2009). The community has had a very high dependency on social welfare and according to the 2006 census lone parents made up 63.9% of households in the estate (ibid). In addition to this, in the same year, it was recorded that 29% of the population in Moyross had left school at or before the age of 15 (ibid). Due to the low level of education attainment, the high level of unemployment and dependency on the social welfare, poverty is a serious issue and consequently provides the basis for social problems. Burglaries, intimidation and other forms of delinquent behaviour are abundant within Moyross. One such example that highlighted Moyross as a nightmare suburban area was the incident of 2006, when there was a violent arson attack on a young brother and sister. Gavin and Millie Murray were severely burnt when a petrol bomb was thrown at the car in which they were occupying. This highlights and indeed accentuates the degree of anti-social behaviour that can be linked to suburban neighbourhoods and this undeniably reveals suburbanisation as a nightmare.

Fig 1. Picture illustrating the dilapidated housing present in Moyross that shows evidence of abandonment and neglect.

Source: Independent.ie, 2008.

Southill is located on the south side of the city and in order to illustrate suburbanisation as a nightmare I will discuss the estate of O’Malley Park in particular. O’Malley Park is one of four estates that make up the suburban neighbourhood of Southill. Built in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s at a time when there was a housing crisis, it is based on the Radburn layout where the ‘. . relationship between houses and access roads is limited’ (McCafferty 1999, p.215). Houses are facing an open green area and vehicle access is via ‘cul-de-sacs’ at the rear side of the houses (McCafferty 2011, ‘Limerick Fieldtrip’). The estate predominantly consists of a younger population and more specifically lone parent households. The process of maturation which you would expect to see is virtually absent due to the high levels of teen pregnancy and consequently the provision of housing for them here. In the 1970’s and 1980’s problems began with unemployment and given the low level of educational attainment it is hardly surprising that this leads to social problems. As we have seen in Moyross, anti-social or deviant behaviour is a common outcome. The

estate is occupied with a high number of burnt-out houses and dilapidated buildings (Fig 2), which makes housing in the area difficult to re-let. The anti-social behaviour has resulted in a large number of people leaving the estate, some forced to do so, and these are replaced by people even more desperate for housing. One Limerick Leader reader recalled her experience of living in O’ Malley Park:

“I am old now, old beyond my years.  Exposure to violence, beatings, abandonment and abuse has scrawled lines on my heart and face that will never be removed.  I am facing the end of my life with the most terrible memories suffered in the city during our “Tiger” years.” (Anonymous) 

(Southill Children’s Fund, 2009)

Fig 2. Burnt out housing in O’Malley Park, Southill, which is indicative of the social problems that are present in the suburb.

Source: Southill Children’s Fund, 2009.

The scale of the criminal, social, and economic problems in these suburban areas and their vicinity, is not only a catastrophe for the communities that have to live there but could pose a real threat to commercial and social life in Limerick city as a whole (Fitzgerald 2007, p. 7).

Limerick is not the only city that highlights the problems of suburbanisation however. Dublin too is another example of a city which reveals suburbanisation as a nightmare, with particular reference to the suburban region of Ballymun. Ballymun is a public housing or local authority housing suburb located on the north side of Dublin city. Originally comprising of approximately 4,800 dwellings, it was made up of four, eight and fifteen storey blocks. In the 1980’s the Ballymun towers (Fig 3) experienced a drop in resident numbers and as flats became vacant it was the most deprived people of the inner city that were housed there, including lone parent families and welfare dependant people. With very little amenities within the suburb, the area began to submerge into social exclusion and indeed surfaced as a ‘ghetto’ or ‘blackspot’ with the population here experiencing a feeling of alienation and neglect. Due to the high dependency on social welfare in the Ballymun Flats, and the high unemployment rates in which it experienced, the suburb was poverty stricken and in the 1980’s and 1990’s Ballymun hit a downward spiral with major social problems continuously coming to the fore. This is still the case today and according to interviewees on Primetime, those that are still living in the remaining block, the vacant apartments are ‘homes to gangs’ (Primetime 2011) and are common places for youths to abuse illegal substances and engage in deviant activities including ‘. . .smashing windows . . .breaking lights . . .and starting fires’ (ibid). According to one interviewee the vacant flats are even used as ‘lavatories’ (ibid).

Fig 3. A picture showing the tower blocks in Ballymun which became a national symbol of poverty and drugs.

Source: DublinObserver.com, 2009.

The process of creating residential areas on the out-skirts of the city can indeed represent a nightmare. Social problems deriving from high levels of unemployment and welfare dependency are abundant within the estates I have discussed. Crime within these suburbs is a vicious circle and can indeed be seen as hereditary with generations of the same family often engaging in such criminal activity. Major action has been taken in order to combat this. There are plans for the regeneration of Moyross and O’Malley Park, with complete demolition and provision of facilities in mind, in order to combat and address this issue of social exclusion. Ballymun’s regeneration has already begun with the majority of the tower blocks already demolished. The regeneration programmes are indicative of the cost of the negative impacts suburbanisation can have and highlights this process as a nightmare.

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Before I conclude this essay, it is essential to note that not all suburban areas represent a nightmare and suburbanisation in fact, can also be a dream. There are many estates throughout the world that are representative of a suburban community. Dooradoyle, a suburban neighbourhood in Limerick City, is an excellent example. It is predominantly an owner occupied suburb and in contrast to the case studies I have already mentioned, unemployment is not as serious an issue. As the community became more involved we see lower levels of crime and deviant behaviour, better availability of goods and services and in addition the presence of better educational facilities. Dooradoyle has expanded significantly in recent years and is home to such facilities as a cinema, one of Munster’s largest shopping centres, four primary schools, a secondary school and two rugby clubs. From my own knowledge and experience there is no clear signs of segregation with various social and ethnic groups living and socialising within the suburban area. In relation to this suburb I must disagree with Knox and state that suburbia in Dooradoyle is not the ‘. . . antithesis of community’ (Knox 1987, p.71).

To conclude with, and to answer the proposed question, suburbanisation can indeed be viewed as a nightmare. The examples which I have discussed, O’ Malley Park in Southill, Moyross and Ballymun all indicate the negative impacts that this process can have, socially in terms of segregation, social exclusion and deviant behaviour yet environmentally and also economically. Each of the estates discussed within this essay illustrate, to some extent, the degree of exclusion and neglect in which they are experiencing and consequently these estates hold dilapidated or ‘run-down’ housing, which as mentioned earlier maybe as a result of anti-social behaviour. In addition to this, it is essential to note now that there are plans for these estates to undergo a regeneration programme, with Ballymun’s regeneration already in place. These regeneration programmes are undoubtedly a drive to reverse the negative impacts mentioned that are associated with suburbanisation but also highlight the cost this process can have. It is also important to note however that people are still choosing to live in suburban regions all over the world and I pose the question why? Not all suburban neighbourhoods are a nightmare and there are some suburban neighbourhoods that represent a dream. Dooradoyle, which I have discussed briefly within the essay, indeed represents what I can understand by the term ‘suburban dream’. It is therefore evident from the evidence illustrated within this essay, that suburbanisation can indeed be a nightmare yet can also represent a dream.


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