Suburb mostly refers to a residential area. They may be the residential areas of a city, or separate residential communities within commuting distance of a city. Some suburbs have a degree of political autonomy, and most have lower population density than inner city neighborhoods. Modern suburbs grew in the 20th century as a result of improved road and rail transport and an increase in commuting. Suburbs tend to proliferate around cities that have an abundance of adjacent flat land. Any particular suburban area is referred to as a suburb, while suburban areas on the whole are referred to as the suburbs or suburbia, with the demonym being a suburbanite. Colloquial usage sometimes shortens the term to burb.
Prior to the 19th century, suburb often correlated with the outlying areas of cities where work was most inaccessible; implicitly, where the poorest people had to live. The modern American usage of the term came about during the course of the 19th century, as improvements in transportation and sanitation made it possible for wealthy developments to exist on the outskirts of cities, for example in Brooklyn Heights. The Australian and New Zealand usage came about as outer areas were quickly surrounded in fast-growing cities, but retained the appellation suburb; the term was eventually applied to the original core as well.
The growth of suburbs was facilitated by the development of zoning laws, redlining and numerous innovations in transport. After World War II availability of FHA loans stimulated a housing boom in American suburbs. In the older cities of the northeast U.S., streetcar suburbs originally developed along train or trolley lines that could shuttle workers into and out of city centers where the jobs were located. This practice gave rise to the term bedroom community, meaning that most daytime business activity took place in the city, with the working population leaving the city at night for the purpose of going home to sleep.
Economic growth in the United States encouraged the suburbanization of American cities that required massive investments for the new infrastructure and homes. Consumer patterns were also shifting at this time, purchasing power was becoming stronger and more accessible to a wider range of families. Suburban houses also brought about needs for products that were not needed in urban neighborhoods, such as lawnmowers and automobiles. During this time commercial shopping malls were being developed near suburbs to satisfy consumer needs and their car dependent lifestyle.
Long Island, New York in the United States became the first large scale suburban area in the world to develop, thanks to William Levitt’s Levittown, New York which is widely considered to be the archetype of Post-WWII suburbia. Long Island’s significance as a suburb derived mostly from the upper-middle-class development of entire communities in the late nineteenth century, and the rapid population growth that occurred as a result.
The growth in the use of trains, and later automobiles and highways, increased the ease with which workers could have a job in the city while commuting in from the suburbs. In the United Kingdom, railways stimulated the first mass exodus to the suburbs. The Metropolitan Railway, for example, was active in building and promoting its own housing estates in the north-west of London, consisting mostly of detached houses on large plots, which it then marketed as “Metro-land.” As car ownership rose and wider roads were built, the commuting trend accelerated as in North America. This trend towards living away from towns and cities has been termed the urban exodus.
Zoning laws also contributed to the location of residential areas outside of the city centre by creating wide areas or “zones” where only residential buildings were permitted. These suburban residences are built on larger lots of land than in the urban city. For example, the lot size for a residence in Chicago is usually 125 feet (38 m) deep, while the width can vary from 14 feet (4.3 m) wide for a row house to 45 feet (14 m) wide for a large standalone house. In the suburbs, where standalone houses are the rule, lots may be 85 feet (26 m) wide by 115 feet (35 m) deep, as in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. Manufacturing and commercial buildings were segregated in other areas of the city.