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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, April 05, 2005
    Suburbs - the new wave?
    Down at Demos they're talking about The Battle for Suburbia. Refreshingly, this isn't another pre-election profile. It's about whether the leafy fringes where much of the population lives, can offer the rest of us some cultural renaissance:

    We live in a creative age - during a long wave of change affecting every sector of the economy and society. Today competitiveness, quality of life and wealth have become increasingly determined by our capacity to innovate and be creative. ... However, there is a growing sense that the creative age has got stuck. Creativity has become synonymous with art galleries, creative industry clusters and inner- city districts. While creative stocks can be high in these places, it sometimes seems that they claim an exclusive hold. The next challenge for the creative age will be to connect what has fast become the metropolitan creative establishment with the rest of society, genuinely opening it up so that a greater number of people can participate in the creative age, and help lead it.

    They reckon that the suburbs may be ripe for pushing the creativity agenda, that places like Surbiton may contain the seeds which could shape the next phase of 'the creative age'.

    They cite The Good Life as an example - back in the 70s Tom jacked in the 9-5 bank job and embarked with his wife Barbara on the road to eco self-sufficiency. Their behaviour was regarded as the hippy-fringe back then... but not now. They write about Orange County - on the surface a
    conventional suburban all-American Dream: beautiful people, beautiful weather, strip malls, big cars and even bigger houses - "all gift-wrapped in the aesthetics of a Tommy Hilfiger ad":

    But dig a little deeper and some more interesting things are going on. For starters the Bateshop club is a talent development hub for some of the hottest music acts coming through - the likes of The Killers, Rooster and Snow Patrol have all played there. The standard suburban family unit of mum, dad plus 2.4 kids is questioned by troubled teen Ryan moving in with his lawyer ’s family. And some novel approaches to multiculturalism are being tried out: Seth,with a WASPish mum and Jewish dad, has invented his own interfaith festival called Chrismukah.

    And Demos have noticed that many retired British folk don’t want to be quietly pensioned off but want to carry on working after 65, just not in a 9-5 way: "The question is whether suburbia can adapt and develop an attractive lifestyle package for these demanding citizen-consumers."

    So they're working on a research project in the Borough of Kingston-on-Thames, exploring all this potential hidden behind herbaceous borders. Radical?? Perhaps.

    [Download paper here]