Hamel, Pierre and Roger Keil (eds).
Suburban Governance: A Global View.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.
As their book-title implies, the editors of this volume of collected essays are exceptionally ambitious. Part of the "Global Suburbanisms" project at York University headed by Roger Keil, the volume aims at worldwide coverage of the suburban phenomenon. With the exception of the Middle East and North Africa, global coverage is admirable, even if the corollary is that some of the world's largest and most important cities get short shrift: New York, Mexico City, and Tokyo each have only one brief entry in the book's comprehensive index.
Apart from the short Introduction and Conclusion by the editors, most of the book's sixteen chapters are territorially-based (the U.S, Canada, Australia, Western Europe, Global South etc). But three of the most interesting are mostly outside this territorial framework. My colleague at the University of Western Ontario, Robert Young, in the shortest chapter in the book, urges the contributors to focus on the "intervening variables" between large global forces and actual political decisions or non-decisions. Jamie Peck focuses on the connections between suburbia and libertarianism in the U.S., but ends his fascinating account by introducing readers to the ultimate libertarian (suburban?) escape: "seasteading" on ocean-going platforms. Thomas Sieverts examines aesthetic issues in suburban landscapes. Ananya Roy reflects on whether we can reconceptualize suburbs in the Global North by understanding postcolonial suburbs in the Global South.
Given the book's wide-ranging scope, some obvious questions arise, the most important of which is: What exactly is "suburban governance"? The answer is far from obvious. According to the three authors of Chapter 1, "suburban" refers to "the combination of non-central population and economic growth with urban spatial expansion." It includes "the wealthy gated communities of southern California to the high-rise dominated old suburbs of Europe and Canada, the faux Westernized outskirts of Indian and Chinese cities, and the slums and squatter settlements in Africa and Latin America" (p.22). "Governance" in the suburban context is even broader in its scope. Although discussed in various ways at different points in Chapter 1, the statement I found most helpful was that governance refers "to the constellation of public and private processes, actors...