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Outer London is generally understood to be suburban. It is where City bankers, Kensington nannies, Clerkenwell office workers, Knightsbridge shop assistants, Westminster bureaucrats, Belgravia household staff and millions of other workers live. But Outer London is also home to millions more residents who rarely find reason to travel into central London. The suburbs and exurbs have their own shopping centres, office districts, factories, schools and local governments. Furthermore, much of the essential infrastructure for the entire metropolis is embedded in Outer London: the airports, reservoirs, pumping stations, hospitals, prisons, goods depots, warehouses, back offices, trading estates, sewage works and power stations that are essential to the metabolism of the great city. Outer London, then, is at once metropolitan and suburban in character. It is, to borrow from the lexicon of urban studies, metroburban: a multinodal mixture of residential and employment settings, with a fusion of suburban and central-city characteristics.

Metroburbia was created by social and economic forces which drew people into the capital, pushed them out from the centre, and redistributed them as roads and railways were built, housing was demolished, villages were transformed into town centres, and new suburbs were put up and occupied sequentially by different socio-economic and demographic groups. Nevertheless, the several hundred square miles of Metroburbia are often portrayed as monotonous or amorphous, differentiated only in terms of the age of buildings or the social standing of neighbourhoods. In fact Metroburbia is highly structured, with an internal variability of form and quality that belies stereotypical images of suburbia.