Episode 2: Home Displacements

Ana Baeza, MoDA's curator, discusses with Dr Magali Peyrefitte (Brunel University) what popular meanings we attach to the suburbs and how these have been transformed over time. Most recently, the impact of gentrification is profoundly affecting London's suburbs, and we consider how this affects definitions of home and belonging.

Home Displacements Podcast: Transcript

Ana: And today we are going to be talking about Colindale, which is part of Barnet, and this is where our museum is located, in north-west London, and this is one of the 32 boroughs that make up Greater London. And today we’re going to be talking about how this area has changed, in some cases quite dramatically over the past twenty or so years. And joining us today to talk about this is Dr Magali Peyrefitte, who researches this area. Welcome Magali, it’s a great pleasure to have you here.

Magali: Thanks for having me, a pleasure to be here.

Ana: So in MoDA we are interested in this because we hold a large number of archival material like pamphlets and photographs about this part of London in the early 20th century. This is not just of historical interest: instead it also serves as a reference point to think about how this outer part of London is seeing, as other suburban areas in London and elsewhere, fast changes…and how this might be having a very significant impact on how people live and on their sense of belonging. And here it’s useful to give some figures: Barnet’s population has seen a steep rise in numbers, from figures in 1992 of over 297,000 to 387,000 in 2017.

And I’d like to start thinking of the very site of the museum, Beaufort Park, in Colindale. This is a multi-phase development, it is built on what was once the Hendon Aerodrome, and indeed some of its streets still take aviation names, such as Aerodrome Road and Propellor Way. And one estate agency describes the area in their website in this way, and I quote: they say “Tree-lined avenues connect leafy squares and grassy courtyards, while the very large central Beaufort Square offers beautifully landscaped parkland for residents to enjoy.” The estates agency also emphasizes “the Mediterranean-style boulevard at the heart of the development”, and its “cafes, bars, restaurants and supermarkets.”

Now this image of high-rise flats and café culture also contrasts with some of the things we’ll be talking today with Magali, which is the suburbs in the 1920s and 30s, and the pastoral fantasy of the suburbs at that time. Many Londoners moved from the city to outer London – they were seeking a more rural environment and higher living standards. And these suburbs were attractive because they were near the countryside but still within the reach of shops and work in central London. And we’ve tended to associate this image of suburbia with a white, middle-class nuclear family.

But as we’ll be talking about all this, because it’s also worth reflecting that this vision of the middle class suburbs was perhaps never the only reality. The importance of suburban ‘council estates’ for example has been increasingly recognized. And these were usually built after WWII and marked a growth of social housing. One example that we’ll be touching on is an estate near us, Grahame Park Estate, built in the 1970s, as this a council development that is currently being talked about because there are regeneration plans underway which could substantially affect its residents.

So… what is the interest of all this? It connects to the wider theme of suburbanization, this is a word that we’ll mentioning this word a lot in the programme, quite a difficult word to pronounce, so bear with us if we swallow our words. Recent research suggests that there is a lot of scope to do more studies in this, and to help us decode all this Magali Peyrefitte.

And just before we start, I’m going to introduce Magali, she is Senior lecturer in Criminology and Deviance at Brunel University, and until recently she was a colleague here at Middlesex University. Her research looks at identity, home and belonging, and she examines the under-researched area of suburban displacement as well as gentrification with the view to promoting social justice

Defining the suburbs

So let’s get started, and I want to begin by talking about the origins of the word suburb. The scholar Ruth McManus has established that in earlier times this term the suburb was used in a negative way. These negative associations probably hark back to the Latin origin of the term, which is composed of the prefix ‘sub-’ which means ‘under, [or] close to, up to, towards’ and then ‘urbs’ which means city.

Early suburbs were those parts of urban areas that lay beyond the physical limits of the city, beyond the city walls. They were often places that were considered unpleasant because there were polluting trades, industry, and also it was often the place for those who could not afford the privilege of living within the city itself. Now, this negative connotation of suburbs was rapidly reversed in the early nineteenth century, with newly emergent middle-classes beginning to seek residences that were actually outside the city rather than in the inner cities, and thus being in an environment that was immune to pollution, that was more rural, that was more healthy. So bearing in mind all of this history of the term, I wanted to ask you Magali, how do you think this definition stands today, Magali…?

Magali: I think we’ve moved a long way from this definition. But defining what suburbs are or what suburbia means is always tricky. As it is amorphous, it is quite amorphous concept. So taking your definition we can of course envisage the suburbs in first of all geographical terms as peripheral zones in the city where processes of urbanisation have more traditionally followed a centripetal movement of expansion, yeah we can imagine that.

But from a sociological perspective we also need to understand suburbs in socioeconomic terms as well as in cultural terms.

So as you said, suburbs need to, tend to still be seen as the realm of white flight from the 1930s and we can link that perception to suburban expansion, from the suburban villas of the Victorian era, through to the interwar period of suburban expansion…

However the demography of the suburbs have changed over the years especially in London and have to in parenthesis notify that London to be precise has never followed quite a strict pattern of centripetal expansion where the suburban areas strictly speaking as middle class areas.

In fact in the suburbs we can see spatial opportunity to expand through council housing in the 1960s and 1970s, as evident in Colindale you mentioned the GPE.

Today we also see a growth in suburban poverty, in part due to displacements, in part due to gentrification in the inner areas of the city. So it is important to note that the cliché of white middle class suburbia does not longer hold, if it ever was.

So the suburbs in London are particularly multicultural, diverse in their ethnic make-up, and ethnic composition. It is in my opinion essential to rethink the suburbs beyond their mythology, and even perceived ideas of their morphology. The idea of 2.1 white middle class heteronormative family living in a detached or semidetached house, is to some respects we can still see evidence of that but we also need to move away from this traditional picture.

Interwar suburbs

Ana: I think that provides an excellent grounding and the way you map out the complexity really of understanding the suburbs and all the different iterations that there have been both geographically but also over time.

But I guess what I want to do now is to dig a little bit deeper precisely into the clichés of the 1930s interwar suburbs. Because in MoDA we have a wide collection of promotional material that relates to the development of the north London suburbs in this period.
Among these are house brochures by developers, also we have posters of building societies, which were financial institutions that helped people purchase or improve their homes.

But there is one particular brochure of a developer of 1936, it’s called George Reed and Co., and I know you have looked at this one in the past. This includes developments in Enfield and Southgate, these are areas not far from where we are now, and they grew extensively in the 1910s. And then we have these brochures that often represent cottage estates, you mentioned morphology before, quite traditional.

But we also have these other brochures like this one that I’m looking at, Be Modern at St Margaret’s, in Edgware – which is slightly different in the sense that it tells the reader that this is a “house of health”; that it invites the sun, and is situated in surroundings that give pleasure and rest. So we see kind of this appeal to being modern alongside more conservative calls. And I wanted to ask you about this, just to think about you know, what makes this part of London desirable, what kind of lifestyles can we associate to it, and who had access to it?

Magali: Yes I found your collection absolutely fascinating over the years, and I’ll explain a little bit more why in my answer.
I’m not sure this part of London was particularly desirable, I think it’s just part of suburban expansion, geographically speaking.
And we can see this phenomenon at the time in the interwar period taking place across the country, mostly to relieve demographic pressure from the city. So it’s started from the Victorian era, and expanded further and further away, although there are differences time-wise depending on cities.

But the way I analysed it in the past is that mostly it is a sign of modernity, so suburbanisation understood within the parameters of suburban modernity, where material improvements is to be linked to social mobility and social aspiration.

So the brochures here reveal how the suburbs of the past were appealing to middle class families with traditional structures, so appealing to that kind of population and demographics.

So for me because of that connection to social mobility and social aspiration, it is quite evident for instance in the brochure at MoDA, where suburbanisation remains in main respects associated with a geography of class, a geography of social aspiration entrenched in British modernity, and you mentioned being modern, but more specifically to the context of the suburbs of the English-speaking world. I guess I want to insist on this particular aspect here culturally speaking.

I always analysed suburban aspirations against British class structures. I just want to give you a quote by Giles (2004), who argues for contextual understanding of the modernity n Britain in relation to the particularities of its class structures, so if you allow me I’ll read briefly: “The survival of a monarchy and an aristocracy, albeit with limited political power, and its industrial and imperial history gave Britain a large urban working class, which despite unrest in the early part of the century, chose to deal with a changing world the through the discourse of material betterment rather that militant political activity” (Giles, 2004: 7).

So that refers to common perception of suburban expansion, which would have suburban living as the ultimate aspiration of upward mobility and materialist achievement in the context of British modernity.

So the aspiration to become a homeowner, to own that piece of land, so the privilege of the upper class normally to be homeowners, here accessible to a wider proportion of society, having your own little land, your home as your castle, and that’s a possibility out of British modernity.

Home ownership and modernity

Ana: You talking about ownership, you know this question of almost how that can be an anaesthetic to dissuade people from political action in some respects, makes me think more broadly of the increase of homeownership in this period from the 1920s. So we had witnessed in 1919 the Addison Act which actually give local authorities the power to build more council housing, but although they wanted to build 500,000 houses within 3 years, as the economy weakened fund had to be cut, they could only build just over 200,000 houses.

And what that means is that there’s an increase in private development from the 1920s, and we have material in the collection that relates to this and which shows that in the suburbs particularly houses are sold for profit, often without the need of an official architect of planner.

Some firms grew to become very large; and New Ideal Homesteads would be one that would be the largest in the country. And we have one pamphlet here of this housing developer, and I wanted to focus on it, especially the imagery that we see, so I’m just going to describe for listeners. So you have this pamphlet that has the title Homebuilders at the top and then there’s a depiction of a man and a woman. The man is holding the woman, and they seem to be wearing 16t- century clothing; and in the background you can just about see these images of ships that also look of that period, so they’ve just come by sea to some new land. And this is interesting because it seems as if this is some kind of new frontier, but actually we’re looking at New Ideal Homesteads, a pamphlet for, to acquire new houses.

What do you make of this imagery, what kind of rhetoric is in it, and do we see connections to this today, with new developments?
Magali: I think I like the fact that you call it new frontiers, I think at the time we saw suburban expansion taking place on the outer periphery of the cities, so we could see them moving into those new lands which were just rural areas that were gradually being purchased by the city.

So it’s a fascinating image to look that those two pioneers, a very strong man looking after his wife, I suspect, again we have a very heteronormative image of a couple moving into an area.

We can see that, the image that came into popular culture, of aspiring to move to those suburbs and provide safety, but again moving into virgin lands that could be populated, I wouldn’t want to say colonised, because this is not what it is, but it’s about taking ownership of that particular area.

There’s a long history of urban social policy really encouraging home ownership, so throughout the years, through suburban expansion, and later with the Right to Buy…so there’s always been a long insistence compared to other countries in Europe on the home ownership in the UK, also because it’s a form of capital investment, and investments into the future.

But what I find interesting here is also the perpetuation in the way, and looking at more recent brochures from the developers of the new estates in London, is the way they are trying to attract new residents in the recent developments. By which I mean the way they’re trying to attract new people to an area that is supposed to be designed and fashioned in their image and reflect their aspiration and lifestyle, so they have in mind that they want to attract a certain type of population that they want to attract and populate new developments.

So that’s interesting if we were to compare the image, we still have images of couples moving in. There’s one image as we arrive in Colindale on one of the hoardings or one of the posters, so you have an image of the couple on the bench.

And the statement is “you’ve arrived”, so I think that’s a nice echo from that, you’ve arrived, you’ve arrived physically where you should live, but you’ve arrived also, but I expect the message is you’ve arrived socioeconomically as well by moving in.

So – I think that you can see some similarities, obviously now we see that by expansion being vertical today, and we’re going to talk more about what suburbanisation looks like nowadays in London in particular because instead of being horizontal, that centripetal movement of expansion is now going upward with high-rise buildings of flat suburbs.

There’s a difference though in the way they’re trying to attract, or the type of people they’re trying to attract, I think they’re trying to attract young professionals nowadays, young couples, although I think the reality is slightly different, I don’t think necessarily the people who are moving in into the new developments are fitting with that image they are trying to portray. So that’s something to be problematized.

We can see parallels, we can see stark differences, and I think that is what is fascinating in using the collection to make sense of the suburbs of today by looking at the suburbs of the past.

Ana: And I wanted to touch on one aspect of that, which concerns the way in which public space has been thought about. And we were talking about the ways in which communal facilities were part of some of these developments earlier, whereas now in the new brochures, they’re slightly different.

Magali: In the George Reed and Sons brochures, where there’s clear mention of what’s attractive of the area, and by purchasing one of their homes in the area, and there’s definitely mention of public parks; and golf course, and I believe leisure centres, public schools, as in state schools in this case, theatre, cinema, so we see here how the suburbs have developed to still be quite, you know, of course there is the domain of the private in the home and the privatisation of home ownership, but still the way it’s being sold is still as quite a public space.

And when we compare these particular brochures of George Reed to current developers’ brochures in Colindale there’s different features that are put forward, so instead of state schools there is mentions of private schools, and the close universities nearby.
If we look at entertainment and leisure that is quite significant of the privatisation of living and lifestyles, so you won’t have a public park anymore, the park is gated – I don’t know who has the key to that park – but it has CCTV, it’s clearly only to be used by the residents. And I suspect it’s to be used by private residents not the ones on social housing, so you know, there are different doors as well, depending if you’re on social housing or either privately renting or a homeowner.

So there is you know, quite a withdrawal within the public sphere. It’s a private land, it’s a private land, the streets are private. There’s private security, there’s evidence of surveillance and CCTV everywhere, so space is quite controlled and privatised.
So these are some of the contrasts I think we can make here, and questions of who they’re trying to attract in those particular areas, and how it’s being used as a space.

The Suburbs as Gendered Space

Ana: I want to dwell on this issue of who’s living in the suburbs and who was living in the suburbs in the past, and just to talk about an aspect as part of the suburban experience in the 1930s, is the way in which this was quite gendered experience.

And we have a the pamphlet says is titled “Bride’s Home” it was published by Woman’s Journal for Morrell Builders, and it’s quite interesting, just the title itself is quite revealing The Bride’s Home…. The pamphlet says: “Happy indeed will be the bride who starts on life’s greatest adventure in this thrilling house, for the many labour-saving improvements that her home can be run efficiently and without too much hard work”. So, I wondered if you had some thoughts on the gendered aspects of the representation of estates in the 1930s versus the reality, but also how does this link to today, is this substantially different, do we still need to take gender as one of the important dimensions alongside class and ethnicity that you’ve already mentioned?

Magali: I think to some degree it’s impossible to study homemaking without having a gendered perspective, of course we all some changes, but it’s an important aspect.

And when I was looking at the pamphlet and at the brochures, I think it comes up in a number of brochures and advice about how women have to maintain their suburban home as well as decorate them, it’s just this insistence on feminine domesticity that is put forward as a marketing argument, so again we have echoes of Victorian ideals of the family, of the nuclear family, heteronormative family of course. Where the wife is the guardian angel of the home, and the husband goes out to work.

It reminds me when I engage with gender and suburbia of the work of Betty Friedan on The Feminine Mystique, because that’s where she based a criticism of an ideology of femininity based on women’s domestic confinement, in this case of the American suburbs, this golden cage of domesticity, which pertains quite a lot to a post-war era, I think, a number of changes have however taken place, but I think we still always must question issues of homemaking within a gendered perspective.

And what’s interesting is, you mentioned taste, and taste is intimately related to class, and here, always at the intersection of gender and the notion of class, when women are imbued with the responsibility to make a home, and keep a home against the best possible taste, which is really interesting, against this hegemonic script of what good taste in these middle class homes must be.

But I think moving beyond that, the suburbs have always been much more heterogeneous that they appear on the brochures or in the magazines, both in the kind of role and the place of the woman, as well as more recently, ethnic diversification, but I think it’s always been more heterogeneous.

The Myth(s) of the Suburbs

Ana: Yes, exactly, and I think really what we see in the collection is the myth of the suburbs the white, middle-class generally conservative, inward-looking family, that’s the reality that is presented to us by this promotional literature, but we can see it elsewhere too, right? And I’m thinking especially of popular culture, you have an interest in this from a sociological perspective, and have done research… But would you say that the suburbs have been fictionalised through the media, and in what way?

Magali: Yes, in many ways, popular culture has reinforced myths of suburban as white middle class, homogeneous and culturally poor. American popular culture in particular is quite rich, I was particularly fascinated in the work of Tim Burton in the 1980s, his films are particularly, you know, there is always an underlying criticism of suburban life, he’s very critical in many of these films of this suburban, you can think of music, bands, who’ve written about these issues, so generally not a very positive look on even if they often come from a suburban background.

So there’s a lot of what I’ve called in the past big denunciations of the suburbs as culturally lacking, homogenising spaces of middle England, and that’s common in literary, but also in academic writing, so academics also have been quite dismissive of the suburbs as these middle class places that are not worthy of academic interesting, but actually that’s the opposite.
I can mention the work of Rupa Huq for instance, who has interestingly worked in debunking many suburban myths by looking at popular culture.

So she dispelled some of these myths about suburbia, by looking at suburban Asian storytellers who’ve marked popular culture from their distinctive point of view, albeit limited to suburban London, in many ways Asians too have aspired to live there while making it different, reaffirming their suburban dreams but in different ways, and this has resulted in a number of narratives of popular culture of what she calls suburban Asian London.

But unfortunately mostly we see this perpetuation of this idea of popular culture, but it’s moving on, I think we can see other examples where it’s slightly different.

New Research Trends about the Suburbs

Ana: Your research is opening new ground, you’re looking at issues around belonging, identity, but also the impact of gentrification. So do you see that this is changing gradually, is there a growing interest in looking at the suburbs from a sociological, critical perspective, that will bring new evidence and help us understand better what is happening in this part of well, the city, in London, but also elsewhere? As you said it’s very different London from other cases. Are we understanding better what suburbanisation means and what’s on hold for the future?

Magali: Yes I think there is definitely, I’m only situating my work within a growing existing body of work of people who are turning their gaze their attention from different areas of the social on to the suburbs.

Definitely it’s about what kind of realisation or impact this will have in the future because at the moment all we can, what I can see that obviously requires further investigation is that they seem to be providing a spatial fix, because they still provide enough land for the expansion to kind of target a housing crisis that is affecting London at the moment.

And that can be problematic, because that can be a quick fix, and there are a number of issues around infrastructures that aren’t being changed, there is no investment in improving transport, education, health services within the suburbs to reflect the amount of people that are going to arrive, or are arriving, and moving into those new developments, because we’re talking thousands.

Ana: I have come across a few interesting references, particularly McNamus and Ethington (2007) who in the US have tried to show the diversity of suburbia and draw attention really to the ongoing transformation of the suburbs, rather to that historical past and association. Is there a parallel history to be explored in the UK?

Magali: It has been essential, especially when I started my studies on the subject, to look at the literature from the North-American perspective, because, and I was particularly interested in the work of Lacy (2007) in America, who had been looking at middle class black suburbanites in Washington DC. So it was essential to look, or even in Canada, so it was essential to see what had been done, what had been done earlier, to some extent, in a North-American context, on different people moving to suburbia, so that was essential to ground my work.

Also because suburbs are a global phenomenon, and I mentioned the fact that we can talk about social culturally speaking these notions of suburbia tend to apply to English speaking world cities, but we see them applied in cities in the Global South. So there’s a global interest around suburbs where they still remain ways to relieve demographic pressure but often still associated with removing yourself from more chaotic inner urban areas, so we see that in cities across Asia, where you have new suburban developments that tend to be gated, so that’s interesting to see that it’s also beyond also beyond the Anglo-American literature on the issue, which is growing, it’s also thinking about the Global South and how suburbs are developing there too.

Shifting Narratives: Suburban Council Estates

Ana: So really talking about the suburbs means understanding how they’re changing, the new trends of development globally, but also in London.

And here particularly I wanted to ask you about the development of council estates, in the suburbs, because that’s an area of research that you’ve been doing for a number of years, and perhaps what you found is not corresponding to what people often think of when then think of the suburbs.

Magali: When I started to look at this aspect of the suburbs actually perhaps because initially my work was done in Nottingham, so again the patterns are different with provincial cities, in a way more straightforward, in terms of what’s defined as suburban neighbourhood.

But with suburban boroughs in London are very diverse, they often have pockets of poverty, juxtaposing areas that highly desirable, so this contrast needs to be notified.

So this is by arriving in London, and notably doing fieldwork, and fieldwork with my students, that the contrast between some of those pockets became more apparent, and notably when we look at Colindale we see those new high rise flats that are marketed as to be luxury, appealing to that kind of market, an then we cross the road and we have GPE, for instance which is one of largest council estates, probably the largest council estate in Barnet. And there’s a real contrast that is neglected, and in limbo at present waiting to be regenerated, but regenerated against what conditions that’s the question.

Suburban Displacement

Ana: It reminds me of article that I came across recently written by Loretta Lees and Phillip Hubbard (2018) and in this article they discuss issues around displacement, and particularly the tensions that can happen between existential and embodied meanings of displacement, so being removed from place that you call home, and legal definitions of displacement, so the removal to a right to a property. But in this article what they also discuss is this right to community, which is to say that there are legal arguments that residents can make when they are threatened by displacement to assert the right to stay put, and I wonder if this has some bearing on the work that you’re doing about the GPE, with the changes in the suburbs, and with the neglect in certain areas that are being regenerated, how residents might have the capacity to stay put, or what’s going to happen after these areas are being regenerated?
Magali: I think for me it’s more related to the work that I’m doing in Harrow, for instance, whereby I see, so Lees and Hubbard article is really interesting, because it’s offering a different perspective on the legal framework that would work in favour of council estate residents, which you know, often they have a battle on their hands to keep their right to housing.

But there are forms of activism, there are ways in which they organise themselves across London, there are many examples whereby residents get together to affirm their rights, and their rights to, in the case where redevelopment is happening, regeneration is happening, to fight for what we call for tenure blind redevelopment. So that whether or not you are on social housing you access the same kind of facilities. That the development doesn’t make a distinction between the private tenant and tenants on social housing.
Also residents want a better place to live in, so they’re not necessarily against their area be rebuilt and regenerated, and in better conditions. But they want it so that it’s fair, so that they also benefit from the same facilities, and that there is no if you like physical divide between private and social housing tenants. And that’s important.

Ana: We’re talking about the suburbs but it is happening also in inner city areas. And with that I guess my broader question is do we need to see these two as more connected, is there a false binary here between the suburbs and the urban? They seem to be very connected to me, and seem to very connected historically, but sometimes they’re seen as there is this divide as well?

Magali: I know, I know.. we need to think beyond this dichotomy, it’s impossible to think the urban as being, I mean there is still this relationship – you know – we talked about the connection to public transport. Because there is still this inward direction, that’s fair, but there’s lots of things that are happening in inner boroughs in London that have an impact on the suburbs and vice versa.

You talked about displacements, we can talk about displacements of people on council estates that have happened, we can talk about the west Hendon Estate, which has been in the news too, contributed to the displacements of a number of its tenants, but it’s also the fact that we looked at the marketing, we talked about some of the current brochures trying to attract certain populations, I’m not sure they necessarily attracting the young professionals they want to attract, because, and that will need to be proved through empirical research, I think there are also a number of people that are moving into those estates, that could not afford to live in inner boroughs that have seen a rise in house prices because of regeneration taking place there. So there’s a movement, and there’s a kind of pressure cooker that is happening in London that is creating waves of displacement.

It’s quite complex in that respect, so I think yeah, we need to move beyond the dichotomy, definitely the two are in dialogue, and the impact of what’s happening in one area, in one particular area will have consequences elsewhere.

Suburban Vertical Expansion

Ana: And you yourself live in the suburbs, right, and how would you say this experience has informed your research, have you been engaged in any auto-ethnographic research, have you always lived in the suburbs, what’s your more personal relationship to the suburbs?

Magali: It’s interesting that you ask this question, I grew up in the suburbs in France, and not one of the suburbs that have a negative connotation, but one of the residential suburbs of a suburban town in a large city, so quite dormitory, it’s very heteronormative, family, houses, and quite boring, so my dream was always, I went to high school in the city centre, and I was proud to live in the city centre. So when I moved to the UK, I mostly always lived in Nottingham and Newcastle, I mostly lived in inner city area. Also because this is where I could afford it.

When I moved to London, I moved to the suburb because it was more affordable than in the other inner boroughs. So there was a question of affordability in the suburbs. I didn’t move into a residential leafy suburb. I moved into Harrow, but not in the most desirable of neighbourhoods of Harrow.

I’m trying to get involved in the various discussions around the regeneration of different neighbourhoods in Harrow, I take part also in the residents in the regeneration panel.

I’m trying to oversee the plans of regeneration and work in discussions with the council around those plans, so it’s an interesting insight into the process of regeneration, and what they’re able to do and not able to do. Because they have to respond to the pressure from the Mayor of London to build more housing, more affordable housing, you know it’s needed, there’s demographic pressure here. But on the other hand they’re also extremely reliant, especially in times of austerity, with doing those developments with the help of the private sector.

Which again will pose some issues, when it comes to the right to community, the right to the city, because the interest of the private sector is definitely different to the interest of public good, and housing as public good.

The suburbs have offered this kind of spatial opportunity to expand, but they’ve mostly expanded upward. I can think of Wembley, I can think of Colindale as particular spectacular examples of those vertical expansions, where you have like I said thousands and thousands of homes, but the only way for those houses to exist within existing land, or using brownfield sites, is still to go upwards, so we have now high rise flats. In the past, in the past there used to be negative connotations of high rise in the UK, because of the association with council estates.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong to build vertically to alleviate demographic pressure and housing shortage. You know. That’s fine, many cities in Asian have responded to that by going upwards. There’s also a lot of studies that show that in Asia or elsewhere this hasn’t just been a housing fix, but it has also been a way to partake in the financialisation of housing as a form of capital investment. So that’s problematic in itself, when housing is not just a primary right, but becomes a form of capital investment, a way to move assets, or retain assets in the city, so that’s where I think, you know, in the suburbs, they’re pretty dramatic at the moment, the height, the scale of the change, the number of people that are going to move into those new areas.

The Future of the suburbs?

Ana: And moving into the future, just my last question which I always like to ask all our guests that come to the show is how do you envision the next 20 years, and more importantly what changes would you like to see?

Magali: Yes I think it goes back to the points I was making earlier on, is to continue to research those areas, to understand better who lives there, in order to envision the future I need to understand what’s happening in the present, I need to understand exactly the demography in either in the new developments, the old council estates, so I need to have a better picture of what’s happening, who is moving, and what purpose, have they had a choice, is it like in the past where there was this social aspiration, or because they had no other choice than moving here?

For me however I think it’s something that we haven’t seen since the 1930s, and I would like to do more research on what I’d refer to as a new mass suburbanisation. So again we have thousands of homes being built every year, with little actually in terms of investment in public infrastructures, so I want to see that relationship and I think looking at it, this might be problematic, if local authorities are not acting fast in relation to developing the public infrastructures that are needed. Because yes, you know, those domestic fortresses are providing their residents with gyms, and saunas, and private parks, but there needs to be more about what other kind of public structures there are to provide health, education, primarily, and transport of course, so that would be the questions I’d pose. And who is this for, in this context?

And especially when, you know, we see again a reliance on the private sector, where the state is withdrawing from its responsibility to provide housing. Of course the Mayor of London has stated his commitment to offer a home for everyone. So, and the Mayor of London strategy is pretty clear, and you know, it’s pretty admirable on paper, but the problem is when those developments are built and handed down to housing associations, and the way housing associations are then managing those developments. So a lot of interrogation marks there.

Ana: Yeah lots of questions that we’ll keep asking, not always with easy answers. But thank you. It’s been a brilliant conversation, and I think we’ve really cast also an interesting and more contemporary light on the collection at MoDA, and also in understanding the differences. So thanks very much.

Magali: Thank you, and I really encourage people to come and see what’s happening at MoDA, I tend to say that a lot. I introduce students to the collection. I’ve used it for teaching purposes, as well as research purposes, and it has been a real insight for my students especially to understand better the concept of suburbia, and looking at the archives comparing it to the current changes. So I think it’s a real insight, so it’s really fascinating. And not just for suburban geeks.

Ana: Ok, so you have all heard Magali, you have to all come down now to MoDA, thank you very much Magali.

Thank you!

Music Credits

Sound editors: Rhys Mathews, Martin Baxter.

Say It Again, I’m Listening by Daniel Birch is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial License
Let that Sink In by Lee Rosevere is licensed under Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)
Would You Change the World by Min-Y-Llan is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (aka Music Sharing) 3.0 International License.
Phase 5 by Xylo-Ziko is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

Details of all the publications mentioned in this episode can be found on this reading list