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Basic Information

A suburb is, as the name implies, a peripheral district of a city1. Historically these tended to come in two categories - satellite villages controlled by a city and expansion settlements adjoined to the city but outside its walls, often in the form of a foregate2 spreading along the road leading into the city. Similar things could also occur along rivers leading into (or out of) a city.

The status of a suburb could be … interesting … some were little more than shanty towns for those too poor to live in the city, others were virtually wards in their own right and not a few actually consisted of the homes and residences of wealthier citizens looking for more cleanliness and elbow room than could be found within the walls. Suburban residents might or might not have the full privileges of a citizen or resident of the city, but often paid less in the way of property taxes (not being inside the expensive city walls). Any policing performed by the city often stopped at the walls, meaning that the poorer sort of suburb could be potentially lawless - but equally, it could also mean that guild privileges were less strictly enforced and there was potential for unlicensed traders and craftsmen to work there. In wartime, suburban dwellers would probably have been granted refuge within the walls, but their homes could well have been subject to demolition and/or burning to deny cover and engineering supplies to the enemy. The "village" suburb, by contrast, could be a few miles from the city and was liable to be the same as any other village, except for being under the sway of the city council rather than a local noble. The territories of historical city states serve as good examples of this - whether Monarchy era Rome, Classical Athens (or Sparta) or the various city states of medieval and early modern Italy… although any putative "suburb" that counts as a town (or even city) in its own right probably qualifies as a colony instead and promotes the city on which it depends to a metropolis.

Industrial suburbs were also a known phenomenon - often established to keep something offensive away from peoples homes but close enough so that the city still had it as an asset. Tanneries, rendering works and similar things were common candidates for this treatment.

The modern suburb tends to be a democratisation of the "wealthy citizen seeking elbow room" - residential neighbourhoods built on the outskirts of a city to give the reasonably well off somewhere to live that is a bit roomier than the city proper can allow … but no so rural as to be cut off from city amenities and society. With modern mass transit a "commuter suburb" can sometimes be a considerable distance from the city itself. There is also, however, the phenomenon of the "out of town sink estate" - many of these were built in the 1960s and 70s as model housing projects, but were never completed, meaning that the jobs and amenities they were meant to possess never appeared and the place consisted solely of (usually high density) housing … often of very poor quality due to the era. These places quickly came to be the home of those with nowhere else to live and are often places of utter misery, crime and substance abuse, with the added torment that, being relatively remote from pretty much anything, they can actually be more expensive to live in lacking, for example, cheap shopping outlets found in more urban areas. The remoteness is often exacerbated by the decline in public transport - they were generally not well served to begin with, this is undermined further by the lack of revenue potential (most residents don't have jobs to go to and cannot afford to consume much in the way of transport at any time so there is only a small amount of bottom tier commuter traffic) and then further reduced by crime - such as vandalism and outright attacks on transport - so that the only service that occurs will be that which transport providers are legally obliged to give, and that to the lowest standard that they can get away with.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • For a predominately urban campaign, a trip to a distant suburb may be an interesting change of pace.
  • Even an adjacent suburb could change things - for example a Roman from the Subura might well find a trip to a villa suburb within an hour of Rome to be a massive culture shift (and would probably consider that he'd been "to the countryside").
  • Themed suburbs might well be a thing as well - especially those with a whiff of the ghetto about them.
  • Generally, a chance to see how "the other half" live … whichever half that may be.
  • In a pre-modern setting, the idea of a lawless suburb may be played out - or equally that of one with its own tightly knit society and law enforcement3.
    • Likewise conflict, for example, between the city's craft guilds and "bunglers" working in the foregate … or the guilds merchant and irregular traders in a foregate, perhaps involving charges of forestalling.
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