Bourgeois Monuments: The Birth of Suburbia
At the turn of the 19th century, immersed in the Industrial Revolution, the city of Manchester experienced one of the greatest structural changes in urban architectural history; the birth of modern suburbia. The origins of the modern suburb are highly complex, as it is difficult to distinguish between a number of contributing factors and places involved, particularly in a period of such rapid and turbulent growth. I will, however, argue that the suburb of privilege was a utopian social construct, born in permitting circumstances. The entire situation in Manchester was entirely avant-guard, and worked to redefine the urban framework of a city, thrusting suburbia and its bourgeois inhabitants into grandeur. For the suburbs really represented this assertion of bourgeois values, of family life and also of exclusion from the urban-industrial world they themselves were creating. Indeed, the modern suburbs are the great monuments of the bourgeois.
It is important to make clear that I am concerned only with the middle-class suburb of privilege, as the notion of a suburb on the urban fringe had existed before modern times, particularly since the 14th century, where it was a place of ‘inferior habits of life’ (Oxford English Dictionary). Even in Roman times the concept existed, as the subura, which was the poorest and most densely populated part of the ancient city (McCullough, 1998, p. 657). In examining the origins of the suburb one is able to grasp suburbia’s radical departure from traditional urban structure as well as its crucial role in reshaping the modern city. In order to fully understand these origins I must first define the nature of the ‘suburb’. The word literally means ‘beyond the city’ (Oxford English Dictionary), and thus refers to any settlement at the periphery of a city.
It is interesting to note here that in defining suburbia, the Oxford English Dictionary observes that the origins of the suburb were...