This chapter has drawn on extensive research in London and other WTCs to argue that off the beaten track areas have become increasingly appealing to those in search of the real city, but that commercial development means the qualities visitors value are harder to find in inner areas. As a result, suburbs may become increasingly attractive to some visitors.
Growth in the numbers of tourists who are experienced travellers, often connected to the city they visit, has combined with the desire to experience the real and authentic to drive some visitors to leave well-established tourist beats and seek out new areas. These places seem to offer a real experience through a combination of morphology, an imagined geography that is distinctive and the opportunity to experience the everyday life of the city - where exoticism can be found in the everyday, and there is an opportunity to fit in rather than stand out, whilst mingling with co-tourists who seem cool. However, the radical changes that London is undergoing make getting off the beaten track more difficult. A previous development route that saw semi-derelict areas colonized by artists and creative industries seeking cheap space, developing in synergy with adventurous tourists and pioneer gentrifiers, is now largely closed. At the same time, central and inner London is increasingly defined by transience (Goldfarb, 2013), with the ultra-affluent more segregated and less committed to a city that is more of an asset store than a home. For locals and visitors who seek out areas that are authentic, for the opportunity to mingle with each other and co-tourists and pick up style tips, and who value the cultural capital and cool image to be derived from knowing about places outside the mainstream, inner London has less to offer.
One possible spatial consequence would be for artists, gentrifiers and curious visitors to look further out, into the suburbs where property values are lower, where everyday life goes on and which are home to poorer residents and migrants. This would follow a pattern that saw, for example, the Kings Road reimaged as fashionable in the 1960s and 1970s, Notting Hill in the 1980s and 1990s, and Shoreditch and Hoxton in the early 21st century, and provide opportunities for new creative and tourist areas well away from the mainstream, undiscovered and therefore cool. Yet the very notion of cool suburbs as a place attractive to tourists or hipsters still seems unlikely. As we have seen, this is despite their similar morphology to much of inner London and their being the focus of the city’s authentic everyday life. Rather, it is a consequence of a long-established and relentlessly negative imagined geography that has made it almost impossible to imagine the suburbs as cool places, attractive to experienced travellers. Yet there are reasons to think this may change.
The driving force of change is likely to be economy and demography as affluent incomers dominate inner areas, so that the suburbs and hinterland seem to have more to offer. But the very qualities that have made suburbs such objects of contempt may paradoxically build their attraction. If suburbs are home to ‘the Other’, then that in itself offers an exotic appeal for urban explorers. Webster (2000) sees the suburbs as liminal and ambivalent - not in the city, yet not outside it; not working class yet not upper class. This has been read as superficiality and depthlessness, but the absence of a strong set of narratives and profound cultural signi- fier status could be seen as strength. Wynn (2010) argues that the stuff of everyday experience, the free resources of culture, history and place can be transformed into something meaningful - a process he terms ‘urban alchemy’. In this process visitors use their experiences to create their own imaginaries and their own narratives of the city, drawing on everyday life and interactions with local people - both readily available in the suburbs. Suburbs are places where the everyday life of the city goes on, but which do not carry strong historical or cultural narratives - provided one can get away from a disdain of all things suburban. They are more malleable for the visitor, so that individual stories can be constructed; their otherness can be read as edgy and authentic.
The growth of tourism in the outer city seems plausible, although we do not expect an immediate rush to the suburbs. It will be driven by the interplay of market forces and the developing desire of some tourists to escape places that have been commercially appropriated, as it was in off the beaten track areas in the inner city. The roles of tourism developers and marketers are strictly limited - partly because their ability to intervene in development is circumscribed, partly because overt marketing of areas inevitably makes them mainstream. What would be helpful would be support for research. Currently there is almost no empirical work on how tourism is developing in the suburbs, and whether the processes are in fact comparable with those we have seen in the inner city. Tourism in the inner city was derided in the 1980s but is now integral to what London offers. Perhaps in future, a visit to the cool suburbs will be equally essential - but we need more research before we can say so with confidence.