Still Entangled Adversaries? Understanding Today's Popular City through Perceptions of Suburbia

Anne Hedegaard Winther, Claus Bech-Danielsen

Abstract


Through an ethnographic case study of urban households in Danish cities, this article examines whether perceptions of suburbia are still relevant for learning about current perceptions of the city amongst city dwellers. From a historical point of view, suburban neighbourhoods were developed as a reaction to the unhealthy and even dangerous living conditions in the cities. Yet, since then cities have changed, and Danish cities today are lauded for their liveability and highly popular for residential settlement. Along this journey, cities have adopted suburban features, giving rise to questions whether the city-suburbia dichotomy is still relevant today. This article finds that narratives of suburbia nuance and accentuate the identification of the urban households with an urban lifestyle. Whereas the city is perceived as diverse, social, lively and atmospheric, suburbia is perceived as its near-perfect opposite: a characterless place, where life is confined to one’s own cadastre. Despite its physical spaciousness, suburbia is perceived as a place of social claustrophobia. Thus, the article demonstrates how perceived location has a key role in the processes of housing choice and thus affects residential settlement patterns.

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