Suburbanisation and Suburbanisms – Making Sense of Continental European Developments




Suburbanisation, Suburbs, City regions, Europe


This paper provides a brief overview of recent developments and debates concerned with suburbanisation in continental Europe. While current discourses in urban research and practice still focus on processes of reurbanisation and the gentrification of inner-city areas, suburbia continues to exist and thrive. Depending on the definition applied, suburban areas still attract a large share of in-migration and employment growth in cities of the developed countries. Given that popular meta-narratives on suburbia and suburbanisation are often spurred by, or refer to, North American suburban studies, we take a different perspective here, one based on continental European trajectories of development in and across city-regional areas that are considered to be suburban, and on social processes that are associated with suburbanisation (suburbanisms). Thus, we aim to avoid a biased understanding of suburbia as a spatial category, which is often considered mono-functional, non-sustainable, or in generic decline. Instead, we observe that suburban variety is huge, and the distinction between urban core and fringe seems to be as ambiguous as ever. The paper, which also introduces the theme of this special issue of “Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning”, bundles our findings along four themes: on suburbia as a place of economic development, on the shifting dynamics of housing between core and fringe locales, on the life-cyclic nature of suburbanisation, and on strategies for redevelopment. Finally, we discuss certain topics that may deserve to be addressed by future research, particularly on the European variant of suburbanisation and suburbs.


Download data is not yet available.


Adam, B. (2017): Wachstumsdruck in deutschen Großstädten. Bonn. = BBSR-Analysen KOMPAKT 10/2017.

Antrop, M. (2004): Landscape change and the urbanization process in Europe. In: Landscape and Urban Planning 67, 1‑4, 9‑26.

Berndgen-Kaiser, A.; Bläser, K.; Fox-Kämper, R.; Siedentop, S.; Zakrzewski, P. (2014): Demography-driven suburban decline? At the crossroads: mature single-family housing estates in Germany. In: Journal of Urbanism 7, 3, 286-306.

Bontje, M. (2001): Dealing with Deconcentration: Population Deconcentration and Planning Response in Polynucleated Urban Regions in North-west Europe. In: Urban Studies 38, 4, 769-785.

Bontje, M.; Burdack, J. (2005): Edge cities, European-style: Examples from Paris and the Randstad. In: Cities 22, 4, 317-330.

Bourne, L.S. (1992): Population Turnaround in the Canadian Inner City: Contextual Factors and Social Consequences. In: Canadian Journal of Urban Research 1, 1, 66-89.

Bourne, L.S. (1996): Reinventing the suburbs: Old myths and new realities. In: Progress in Planning 46, 3, 163-184.

Buzar, S.; Ogden, P.; Hall, R.; Haase, A.; Kabisch, S.; Steinführer, A. (2007): Splintering Urban Populations: Emergent Landscapes of Reurbanisation in Four European Cities. In: Urban Studies 44, 4, 651-677.

Carr, C.; McDonough, E. (2018): Integrative Planning of Post-suburban Growth in the Glatt Valley (Switzerland). In: Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning 76, 2.

Caruso, G. (2001): Peri-urbanisation: the situation in Europe. A bibliographical note and survey of studies in the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and the Nordic countries. Louvain-la-Neuve.

Charmes, E.; Keil, R. (2015): The Politics of Post‐Suburban Densification in Canada and France. In: International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39, 3, 581-602.

Clapson, M. (2003): Suburban century: Social change and urban growth in England and the United States. Oxford.

Cooke, T.J.; Denton, C. (2015): The suburbanization of poverty? An alternative perspective. In: Urban Geography 36, 2, 300-313.

Danielzyk, R.; Münter, A.; Wiechmann, T. (eds.) (2016): Polyzentrale Metropolregionen. Lemgo. = Planungswissenschaftliche Studien zu Raumordnung und Regionalentwicklung 5.

Davison, G. (1995): Australia. The first suburban nation? In: Journal of Urban History 22, 1, 40-74.

Dear, M.; Flusty, S. (1998): Postmodern Urbanism. In: Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88, 1, 50-72.

Duany, A; Plater-Zyberk, E.; Speck, J. (2000): Suburban nation: the rise of sprawl and the decline of the American Dream. New York.

Dunham-Jones, E.; Williamson, J. (2009): Retrofitting Suburbia. Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. Hoboken.

Ehrenhalt, A. (2012): The great inversion and the future of the American city. New York.

European Environment Agency (2016): Urban sprawl in Europe. Joint EEA-FOEN report. Kopenhagen. = EEA Report 11/2016.

Ewing, R.; Bartholomew, K.; Winkelman, S.; Walters, J.; Chen, D. (2008): Growing cooler. The evidence on urban development and climate change. Washington, DC.

Fertner, C.; Jorgensen, G.; Sick Nielsen, T.A.; Nillson, K.S.B. (2016): Urban sprawl and growth management – drivers, impacts and responses in selected European and US cities. In: Future Cities and Environment 2, 9, 1‑13.

Fielding, A.J. (1982): Counterurbanisation in Western Europe. In: Progress in Planning 17, 1, 1‑52.

Filion, P.; McSpurren, K.; Appleby, B. (2006): Wasted Density? The impact of Toronto’s Residential-Density-Distribution Policies on Public-Transit Use and Walking. In: Environment and Planning A 38, 7, 1367-1392.

Fina, S.; Planinsek, S.; Zakrzewski, P. (2009): Suburban crisis? Demand for single family homes in the face of demographic change. In: Europa Regional 17, 1, 2‑14.

Fishman, R. (1987): Bourgeois utopias: The rise and fall of suburbia. New York.

Florida, R. (2017): The urban revival is over. In: New York Times, September, 1, 2017. (02.01.2018).

Frank, S. (2018): Inner-City Suburbanization – no Contradiction in Terms. Middle-Class Family Enclaves are Spreading in the Cities. In: Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning 76, 2.

Frey, W.H. (1993): The New Urban Revival in the United States. In: Urban Studies 30, 4‑5, 741-774.

Garcia-López, M.À.; Muñiz, I. (2010): Employment Decentralisation: Polycentricity or Scatteration? The Case of Barcelona. In: Urban Studies 47, 14, 3035-3056.

Gordon, D.L.A.; Janzen, M. (2013): Suburban nation? Estimating the size of Canada’s suburban population. In: Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 30, 3, 197-220.

Gordon, P.; Cox, W. (2012): Cities in Western Europe and the United States: Do policy differences matter? In: The Annals of Regional Science 48, 2, 565-594.

Grant, J.L.; Nelson, A.C.; Forsyth, A.; Thompson-Fawcett, M.; Blais, P.; Filion, P. (2013): The future of the suburbs. Suburbs in transition/The resettlement of America’s suburbs/Suburbs in global context: the challenges of continued growth and retrofitting/Suburban urbanity: re-envisioning indigenous settlement practices/Toward a new suburban America: will we catch the wave?/Optimistic and pessimistic perspectives on the evolution of the North American suburb/Response: Suburbs in transition. In: Planning Theory and Practice 14, 3, 391-415.

Guth, D.; Siedentop, S.; Holz-Rau, C. (2012): Erzwungenes oder exzessives Pendeln? Zum Einfluss der Siedlungsstruktur auf den Berufspendelverkehr. In: Raumforschung und Raumordnung 70, 6, 485-499.

Hall, P.; Pain, K. (2006): The polycentric metropolis. Learning from mega-city regions in Europe. London.

Harris, R. (2010): Meaningful Types in a World of Suburbs. In: Clapson, M.; Hutchison, R. (eds.): Suburbanization in global society. Bingley, 15-47.

Harris, R.; Larkham, P.J. (eds.) (1999): Changing Suburbs: Foundation, Form and Function. London. = Studies in History, Planning and the Environment 24.

Häußermann, H.; Läpple, D.; Siebel, W. (2008): Stadtpolitik. Frankfurt am Main.

Helbich, M. (2012): Beyond Postsuburbia? Multifunctional Service Agglomeration in Vienna’s Urban Fringe. In: Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 103, 1, 39-52.

Hesse, M.; Schmitz, S. (1998): Stadtentwicklung im Zeichen von „Auflösung“ und Nachhaltigkeit. In: Informationen zur Raumentwicklung 7/8, 435-453.

Hesse, M.; Scheiner, J. (2007): Suburbane Räume – Problemquartiere der Zukunft? In: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Kommunalwissenschaften 46, 2, 35-48.

Hesse, M.; Polívka, J.; Reicher, C. (2018): Spatially Differentiated, Temporally Variegated: The Study of Life Cycles for a Better Understanding of Suburbia in German City Regions. In: Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning 76, 2.

Hilal, M.; Legras, S.; Cavailhès, J. (2018): Peri-Urbanisation: Between Residential Preferences and Job Opportunities. In: Raumforschung und Raumordnung | Spatial Research and Planning 76, 2,

Hirt, S. (2006): Post-Socialist Urban Forms: Notes from Sofia. In: Urban Geography 27, 5, 464-488.

Hirt, S. (2012): Mixed Use by Default: How the Europeans (Don’t) Zone. In: Journal of Planning Literature 27, 4, 375-393. doi: 10.1177/0885412212451029

Hochstenbach, C.; Musterd, S. (2017): Gentrification and the suburbanization of poverty: changing urban geographies through boom and bust periods. In: Urban Geography.

Jessen, J.; Roost, F. (eds.) (2015): Refitting Suburbia. Erneuerung der Stadt des 20. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland und den USA. Berlin.

Johansson, M.; Rauhut, D. (2002): The spatial effects of demographic trends and migration. ESPON project 1.1.4. Stockholm.

Kabisch, N.; Haase, D. (2011): Diversifying European agglomerations: evidence of urban population trends for the 21st century. In: Population, Space and Place 17, 3, 236-253.

Keil, R. (ed.) (2013): Suburban constellations: governance, land, and infrastructure in the 21st century. Hamburg.

Klausen, J.E.; Røe, P.G. (2012): Governance and change on the urban fringe – special issue of Urban Research & Practice. In: Urban Research and Practice 5, 1, 1‑5.

Knapp, W.; Volgmann, K. (2011): Neue ökonomische Kerne in nordrhein-westfälischen Stadtregionen: Postsuburbanisierung und Restrukturierung kernstädtischer Räume. In: Raumforschung und Raumordnung 69, 5, 303-317.

Kneebone, E.; Garr, E. (2010): The Suburbanization of Poverty: Trends in Metropolitan America, 2000 to 2008. Washington, DC.

Kneebone, E.; Nadeau, C.A. (2015): The Resurgence of Concentrated Poverty in America: Metropolitan Trends in the 2000s. In: Anacker, K.B. (ed.) The New American Suburb. Poverty, Race and the Economic Crisis. Farnham, 15-38.

Kloosterman, R.C.; Musterd, S. (2001): The Polycentric Urban Region: Towards a Research Agenda. In: Urban Studies 38, 4, 623-633.

Krehl, A.; Siedentop, S.; Taubenböck, H.; Wurm, M. (2016): A Comprehensive View on Urban Spatial Structure: Urban Density Patterns of German City Regions. In: International Journal of Geo-Information 5, 6, 76, 1‑21.

Kuhn, G. (2002): Suburbanisierung: Das Ende des suburbanen Zeitalters? In: Informationen zur Modernen Stadtgeschichte 2, 5‑12.

Le Galès, P.; Zagrodzki, M. (2006): Cities are back in town: the US/Europe comparison. Paris. = Cahier Européen numéro 05/06 du Pôle Ville/métropolis/cosmopolis, Centre d’Etudes Européennes de Sciences Po.

Leinberger, C.B. (2008): The Next Slum? In: The Atlantic Monthly, March 2008. (02.01.2018).

Maciag, M. (2017): Population Growth Shifts to Suburban America. In: Governing Magazine. (02.01.2018):

Mazierska, E.; Rascaroli, L. (2003): From Moscow to Madrid: Postmodern Cities, European Cinema. London.

Modarres, A.; Kirby, A. (2010): The suburban question: Notes for a research program. In: Cities 27, 2, 114-121.

Mumford, L. (1921): The Wilderness of Suburbia. In: The New Republic, September 7, 1921, 44-45.

Muñiz, I.; Garcia-López, M.À.; Galindo, A. (2008): The Effect of Employment Sub-centres on Population Density in Barcelona. In: Urban Studies 45, 3, 627-649.

Nelson, A.C. (2013): The resettlement of America’s suburbs. In: Planning Theory and Practice 14, 3, 392-403.

Nicolaides, B. (2006): How hell moved from the city to the suburbs. In: Kruse, K.M.; Sugrue, T.J. (eds.): The new suburban history. Chicago, 80-98.

Nijman, J. (2015): North American suburbia in flux. Introduction. In: Environment and Planning A 47, 3‑9.

Nüssli, R.; Schmid, C. (2016): Beyond the Urban-Suburban Divide: Urbanization and the Production of the Urban in Zurich North. In: International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40, 3, 679-701.

OECD – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2017): The Governance of Land Use in OECD Countries. Policy Analysis and Recommendations. Paris.

Petsimeris, P. (2002): Population deconcentration in Italy, Spain and Greece: A first comparison. In: Ekistics 69, 412/413/414, 163-172.

Phelps, N. (2017): Introduction: Old Europe, New Suburbanization? In: Phelps, N. (ed.): Governance, Land, and Infrastructure in European Suburbanization. Toronto, 3‑17.

Phelps, N.; Parsons, N.; Ballas, D.; Dowling, A. (eds.) (2006): Post-Suburban Europe: Planning and Politics at the Margins of Europe’s Capital Cities. Houndmills, Basingstoke.

Phelps, N.A.; Wood, A.M.; Valler, D.C. (2010): A Postsuburban World? An Outline of a Research Agenda. In: Environment and Planning A 42, 2, 366-383.

Randolph, B.; Tice, A. (2017): Relocating Disadvantage in Five Australian Cities: Socio-spatial Polarisation under Neo-liberalism. In: Urban Policy and Research 35, 2, 103-121.

Ravetz, J.; Fertner, C.; Sick Nielsen, T. (2013): The Dynamics of Peri-Urbanization. In: Nilsson, K.; Pauleit, S.; Bell, S.; Aalbers, C. (Hrsg.): Peri-urban futures: Scenarios and models for land use change in Europe. Berlin/Heidelberg,13-44.

Rérat, P. (2012): The New Demographic Growth of Cities: The Case of Reurbanisation in Switzerland. In: Urban Studies 49, 5, 1107-1125.

Richardson, H.W.; Bae, C.-H.C. (eds.) (2004): Urban Sprawl in Western Europe and the United States. Aldershot.

Riguelle, F; Thomas, I.; Verhetsel, A. (2007): Measuring urban polycentrism: a European case study and its implications. In: Journal of Economic Geography 7, 2, 193-215.

Salet, W.; Savini, F. (2015): The political governance of urban peripheries. In: Environment and Planning C 33, 3, 448-456.

Salvati, L.; Carlucci, M. (2015): Land-use structure, urban growth, and periurban landscape: a multivariate classification of the European cities. In: Environment and Planning B 42, 5, 801-829.

Salvati, L.; Morelli, V.G. (2014): Unveiling Urban Sprawl in the Mediterranean Region: Towards a Latent Urban Transformation? In: International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38, 6, 1935-1953.

Salvati, L.; Morelli, V.G.; Rontos, K.; Sabbi, A. (2013): Latent Exurban Development: City Expansion Along the Rural-To-Urban Gradient in Growing and Declining Regions of Southern Europe. In: Urban Geography 34, 3, 376-394.

Schmidt, S.; Fina, S.; Siedentop, S. (2015): Post-socialist Sprawl: A Cross-Country Comparison. In: European Planning Studies 23, 7, 1357-1380.

Schwanen, T.; Dieleman, F.M.; Dijst, M. (2004): The impact of metropolitan structure on commute behaviour in the Netherlands: a multilevel approach. In: Growth and Change 35, 3, 304-333.

Seidel-Schulze, A.; Dohnke, J.; Häußermann, H. (2011): Segregation, Konzentration, Polarisierung – sozialräumliche Entwicklung in deutschen Städten 2007-2009. Berlin. = Difu-Impulse 4.

Siedentop, S. (2015): Suburbane Räume unter Anpassungsdruck – Ein deutsch-amerikanischer Vergleich. In: Jessen, J.; Roost, F. (eds.): Refitting Suburbia. Erneuerung der Stadt des 20. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland und den USA. Berlin, 23-42.

Siedentop, S.; Fina, S. (2012): Who sprawls most? Exploring the patterns of urban growth across 26 European countries. In: Environment and Planning A 44, 11, 2765-2784.

Siedentop, S.; Kausch, S.; Einig, K.; Gössel, J. (2003): Siedlungsstrukturelle Veränderungen im Umland der Agglomerationsräume. Bonn. = Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung, Forschungen 114.

Siedentop, S.; Zakrzewski, P.; Stroms, P. (2018): A childless urban renaissance? Age-selective patterns of population change in North American and German Metropolitan areas. In: Regional Studies, Regional Science 5, 1, 1-20.

Sieverts, T. (1997): Zwischenstadt: Zwischen Ort und Welt, Raum und Zeit, Stadt und Land. Braunschweig. = Bauwelt-Fundamente 118.

Silverstone, R. (ed.) (1997): Visions of suburbia. London/New York.

Sohmer, R.R.; Lang, R.E. (2001): Downtown Rebound. Washington, DC. = Fannie Mae Foundation Census Note 3.

Taylor, L. (2011): No boundaries: exurbia and the study of contemporary urban dispersion. In: GeoJournal 76, 4, 323-339.

Thierstein, A.; Lüthi, S.; Kruse, C.; Gabi, S.; Glanzmann, L. (2008): Changing Value Chain of the Swiss Knowledge Economy: Spatial Impact of Intra-firm and Inter-firm Networks within the Emerging Mega-City Region of Northern Switzerland. In: Regional Studies 42, 8, 1113-1131.

Turok, I.; Mykhnenko, V. (2007): The trajectories of European cities, 1960-2005. In: Cities 24, 3, 165-182.

Turok, I.; Mykhnenko, V. (2008): Resurgent European cities? In: Urban Research and Practice 1, 1, 54-77.

Walks, A. (2013): Suburbanism as a Way of Life, Slight Return. In: Urban Studies 50, 8, 1471-1488.

Wilson, S.G.; Plane, D.A.; Mackun, P.J.; Fischetti, T.R.; Goworowska, J. (2012): Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change: 2000 to 2010. Washington, DC.

Wolff, M.; Haase, A.; Haase, D.; Kabisch, N. (2017): The impact of urban regrowth on the built environment. In: Urban Studies 54, 12, 2683-2700.

Wolff, M.; Wiechmann, T. (2017): Urban growth and decline: Europe’s shrinking cities in a comparative perspective 1990-2010. In: European Urban and Regional Studies.

Ye, L.; Mandpe, S.; Meyer, P.B. (2005): What Is “Smart Growth?” – Really? In: Journal of Planning Literature 19, 3, 301-315.




How to Cite

Hesse M, Siedentop S. Suburbanisation and Suburbanisms – Making Sense of Continental European Developments. RuR [Internet]. 2018 Apr. 30 [cited 2024 Jul. 23];76(2):97–108. Available from:


Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 3 > >>