Case Study - Adaptable Suburbs

Team led by Professor Laura Vaughan

Adaptable Suburbs is an EPSRC-funded project aimed at challenging policy assumptions about suburbs.  By looking at 26 suburban centres in outer London - such as Barnet and Bexleyheath, South Norwood and South Harrow, Wallington and Whetstone, which are seen as both unfashionable and unremarkable - the research team delivered new findings about the extent of their adaptability and resilience. The research findings made it clear that often ignored places can be models of flexible form, sustaining successful spatial networks over centuries. Understanding these physical success factors helps planners and designers to create sustainable developments today.

Why do people walk in the suburbs?

Image shows walking activity patterns in a smaller than average suburban town centre in outer London. It was found that walking corresponds to route availability and amount of active uses available. Although the trips are mainly concentrated within town centres , they also extend to the wider neighbourhood, which suggests that wider radius is also important for walkability.

Geddes, I and Vaughan, L. (2014). Working Paper: Why do people walk in the suburbs? An analysis of how spatial configuration and land use diversity contribute to walkability. Working Paper 1/2014. University College London, London.

The high street is not just high street

Through-movement accessibility of South Norwood town centre. At radius-n (left), the model takes account of all streets within London. At radius-800m (right), the model takes account of all streets at a distance approximating a ten-minute walk into the surrounding residential area. There is interdependence between retail and other types of non-residential activity which suggests that the high street is not just a street; nor is the suburban town centre just for locals.

Vaughan, L. and Griffiths, S. (2013). A suburb is not a tree. Urban Design (issue edited by Matthew Carmona on mixed use) 125: 17-19.

The high street is formed and shaped overtime

Image shows Loughton in its evolution from 1880 onwards (today's peak retail centre is highlighted with the jagged black line in the centre of each map). The network accessibility of the centre is coloured up in a range from red to blue and overlaid with building footprints for each period. The 'active' town centre that extends beyond the area of the high street is a distinctive social-morphological entity in its own right, and whose morphological integrity is essential for the long-term success of such centres.

Vaughan, L., Dhanani, A. and Griffiths, S. (2013). Beyond the suburban high street cliché - A study of adaptation to change in London's street network: 1880-2013. Journal of Space Syntax, 4(2), 221-241