The sitcom Suburgatory, novelists like Richard Yates, and endless memes from suburban mothers are testament to the impact these outskirts of cities have on the public imagination.
In Great Britain, the poet John Betjeman coined the term “Metro Land” to lovingly refer to the suburbs on the outskirts of North London.
Peter deGraft-Johnson is 26 years old and has lived in different parts of East London for the past five years. The poet and writer grew up in Essex in the south east of England, but moved to the capital as a student.
“I was drawn [to London] of the creative culture, “he told CNN.” I wanted to be part of this progressive, challenging culture industry so I thought I’d come, almost like Dick Whittington, to find my fortune! But also to be part of it [world]. “
DeGraft-Johnson spent the UK’s spring lockdown alone with a family friend where he lived. He later moved to another property in town with a friend.
The poet told CNN that he had long been frustrated with what he saw as London’s “extortionate rents and living expenses.”
“It made me more and more frustrated. But I endured it all for the arts, the culture, the people,” he said. “And then obviously the lock [happened] and the nightlife, hotel, poetry and film industries have been decimated. And now there’s even less of that gravity … to keep me here. “
Real estate website RightMove found that the average rent in Greater London was £ 2,046 ($ 2,666) in the second quarter of 2020. However, the most sought after areas were on the outskirts, where prices were lower.
The average rent in Sidcup, a suburb to the southeast of the city, was £ 1,185 ($ 1,544) per month, while rents in Wallington, a leafy city on the south-west edge of London, were £ 1,190 (£ 1,551).
There is a similar gap in property prices. In Dalston, a busy area of east London, the average price for a home is £ 699,642 ($ 911,634) according to property website Zoopla. In Chessington, a town on the outskirts of south-west London that is becoming increasingly popular, the average price is £ 404,037 ($ 526,472).
DeGraft-Johnson is now considering leaving town. A decision that, in his opinion, was partly motivated by the experience of the lockdown.
He is not alone. Real estate agents have seen a decrease in requests for popular city centers and an increase in people looking to move to the suburbs and further afield.
“Tenants searching in the capital are looking for accommodation in the outskirts,” according to a recent survey conducted by property website RightMove. The researchers found that suburbs that were nearly an hour’s drive from the city center were attracting increasing interest.
“Chessington in Kingston upon Thames saw the largest annual increase in rental searches in London, with searches almost doubling (up 99%) compared to the same period last year,” the report said.
“People have reassessed their home situation and [during the pandemic] They use every corner of their homes because [they’re] work from home, “Timothy Bannister, Rightmove’s director of property data, told CNN.
Sarah Hicknmott, a real estate agent who works in south-west London, said the growing number of home-based professionals were behind the move to the suburbs.
“”[People are] much more concerned with finding space – a garden or even just a balcony, “she said.
“When [the UK] came out of the lock [in July] everyone’s requirement [for a house] was two beds and a garden – because they want office space and a garden. You want somewhere with fresh air. “
The researchers and real estate agents CNN spoke to pointed to two major changes in working life that were driving the housing shift. First, people spent more time at home and wanted more space. Second, people don’t have to commute downtown to work that often.
“It sure is a trend,” Richard Donnell, research and at Zoopla, a major real estate website, told CNN.
“Covid-19 created a search for space. People think, ‘We’re not going out so much, we’re entertaining at home.'”
“And there is a big difference in commuting two days a week [to a city] compared to five days a week. With two days a week you can go much further. “
Donnell said interest in areas outside of London such as Enfield, Barnet, Bromley, Twickenham and Kingston has increased.
Wendy King, a university professor, recently moved from west London to a rental property in the south-west London suburb of Twickenham.
The 41-year-old currently has a mix of work practices and spends a few days teaching in person while others work from home.
“I lived in the New Forest [in southern England]”She said to CNN.
“It’s beautiful – it’s green and green and I love the landscape. And my husband loves big cities and tall skyscrapers.”
King said the pair ended up choosing Twickenham as a compromise.
“Twickenham has enough green leaves to remind me of the New Forest, but it’s close enough to town to have enough of the pubs you want to go, there is a theater, and it’s 20 minutes to downtown from London, “she said. “This is how you get the best parts of town.”
Meanwhile, another cohort of city dwellers want to flee further into the villages.
Bannister told CNN that people in the UK cities of Liverpool, Edinburgh and Birmingham, as well as London, wanted to flee the major metropolitan areas entirely.
“City residents who contacted real estate agents to buy a house in a village rose 126% in June [and] July compared to the same period last year, “Rightmove said in a press release.
“The relocation of more buyers looking to move outside the cities started in April and is continuing.”
Ed Davey is part of the group that is leaving urban life altogether. The 39-year-old Londoner will move with his family to Lewes, a county town in the south of England, in December 2020.
“We’re running out of space in our two-bedroom apartment,” he told CNN.
“I work from home and I am there [my three-year-old’s] Children’s room, my laptop is on a stool on the bed, diapers are everywhere and zoo calls happen and it’s crazy. In Lewes I can commute a couple of days a week and we can have a garden. “
The future of city life
Some companies are also moving out of urban centers. IWG, a provider of office space, said in a September press release that it is increasingly offering suburban locations in response to “developments in the marketplace as companies choose to offer workspaces close to where employees live”.
Visitor numbers in local city centers have also increased faster than in large cities.
“The smaller centers recover faster than the larger ones [ones]”Lahari Ramuni, an urban policy researcher at the Think Tank Center for Cities, told CNN.
“When you enlarge Manchester, local centers like Bury, Rochdale, Bolton, […] What we find is that these places do better than Manchester city center. “
“It’s a combination of factors – there is more office and commercial space in bigger city centers than in the smaller local centers that have more housing. And it’s also about what is accessible to people.”
For many local centers, this is a fortune reversal. Such areas have often had trouble attracting customers over the past decade, but researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) believe the pandemic has allowed people to rediscover their neighborhoods and give them new vitality.
“Our research shows that during and after the coronavirus lockdown, local highways were people’s lifeline for major retail and service businesses and as gateways to local parks and green spaces,” said Cathy Parker, a professor at the university, in a statement in September.
Leona Janson-Smith and her husband Mark run four greeting card shops called Postmark, including one in the leafy London suburb of East Dulwich.
“”[This has] Over the past four or five years people’s interest in Main Street has been rekindled and Covid made this a special event [phenomenon]”She said to CNN.
“In East Dulwich we saw an increase in sales [since reopening.] People have been very supportive, “she said.
“We feel very happy that we are not in central London [during the pandemic] – We have access to our customers. “
But Ramuni pointed out inner-city life can jump back well. “Keep in mind that the cities’ demand has decreased over the centuries,” she said.
“People moved in during the Industrial Revolution, people moved out during World War II. It’s very cyclical. And it’s easier for smaller city centers to recover [with footfall] as big, because small centers didn’t have the same thing [high] Cadence degree as [cities.]””
The researcher also pointed out that for many people working remotely or leaving an urban center, it just simply isn’t possible.
The Center for Cities found that up to one in two workers in London can work from home, giving people more flexibility when it comes to housing. However, for workers in less affluent cities like Barnsley, Burnley and Stoke, that figure drops to less than 20% of the workforce.
“The number of jobs that you can work from home is not as common as you might think,” Lahari said.
“And we’ll probably still see offices in the city centers because they’re accessible there.”
Bannister repeated their comments. “It’s not that there’s a decline in the city,” he said. “People are still moving in. It’s more that there is this additional cohort that wants to move to the suburbs and into the country. It’s a mix of both.”
While property prices rise and new residents flock in, the suburbs enjoy a moment of popularity. However, it remains unclear whether their newfound desirability will persist, or whether these areas are simply a safe haven for people affected by the aftermath of the pandemic.
Regardless of whether the change is permanent or not, the appeal of suburbs in times of turbulence is understandable.
“A border in front of your house and grass and a tree for the dog,” said Betjeman, describing the charm of the London suburb of Harrow in the 1973 documentary Metro-Land.
“Variety in the facades of the individual houses – in the color of the trees.”
He added, “Indeed, the land had come to the suburbs. Roses bloom in metro land just as they do in the brochures.”