Spotlight on suburbia, a series: Part 1.

Diana Sanchez

Diana Sanchez, Senior Associate

A changing landscape.

Our country’s suburbs are significant to so many of us: whether we grew up in one, spend time with friends and family in them, or are invested in their development from a more objective point of view.

So how do we classify a suburb? There’s no common definition, but generally they are characterised as low-density residential areas, covering everything from the established and evermore populous hinterland surrounding city centres to the dedicated, new-build satellites of major employment metropolises.

Suburbs in England have and will continue to experience significant changes. In this series we will explore a range of different possibilities for suburban development in the next 20 years.

The numbers.

Based on Census data, today the population living in suburban areas is approximately 13.7 million, representing 21 percent of the total UK population. There are also 4.8 million households living in suburban areas. Almost a third have children, while the rest are either single households (30%) or couples or families with no children (36%).

In terms of age structure, the proportion of the suburban population under 24 years old is 26 percent, while 23 percent are over 65 years old. The other half falls within the working age (25 to 65 years old).

Interestingly, overall, the quality of life in suburbia tends to be higher than in the rest of the country. In fact, almost 80% of suburban areas rank within the less deprived areas in the country and almost 30% are within the 10% least deprived.

So what are the drivers for change in suburbia?

A change in ownership?

Firstly, nationwide, there is strong negativity regarding opportunities and standards of living for young generations, with access to housing being the main concern. Amongst all income groups across the country, young people believe they have less opportunity for home ownership than their parents and grandparents; indeed, 71 percent of Britons think millennials have a lower chance of owning their own home than their parents.

Nationwide, the tenure mix of the UK housing stock has shown a turning point, with the size of the owner/occupier sector declining and the private rented sector increasing significantly. Although, at a suburban level, 80 percent of households are owner-occupier, most of these are middle-age and older households.

This ageing population and changing ownership landscape, combined with the acceleration of renewable energy technologies and markets, the digitisation of the built environment, and a call for increased densification and sustainability of suburbs, are all reshaping people’s preferences for housing and what suburban residential developments could and should become.

While, the approach to designing urban areas has been evaluated and scrutinised from a variety of perspectives over the past decades, suburbia has avoided the same focus and its design has seen little evolution.

In this series, we look at how suburbia might evolve over the next 20 years, considering the myriad of social, economic, political, and environmental factors. Ultimately, we hope it will put suburbia in the spotlight, and highlight new ways to build and deliver housing in this most vital of living environment.

Read part 2.