In praise of suburbia


The late J. G. Ballard was famous for living in suburbia, Shepperton to be precise. He thought it odd that anyone should think this odd. The suburbs were, in his view, the logical subject for any writer seeking to track shifts in culture, for the important post-war cultural trends had started there. The ’burbs were where it was at; they were socially as well geographically edgy, to use the sort of language he wouldn’t have used. It is hard to think of a more unfashionable claim. To the intelligentsia, the suburbs were and always have been the place where nothing happens, or nothing good. While the fates of the city and the countryside vex every bien-pensant breast, nobody pays much attention to the people who live in between, except to finger them as the Enemy. Lewis Mumford, in his heyday as the urban guru, declared that the flight to the suburbs “carries no hope or promise of life at a higher level”. D. H. Lawrence wrote in Kangaroo of the “utterly uninteresting” suburbs of Sydney (where he had been for all of a fortnight): those myriads of bungalows offered “no inner life, no high command, no interest in anything, finally”. From Byron to Graham Greene and Cyril Connolly, the “leafy middleclass suburbs” have been denounced as smug, small-minded and spiritually derelict.

more from Ferdinand Mount at the TLS here.