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Is Denton a suburb? Depends on who you ask

Denton Record-Chronicle

Originally Posted: August 3, 2019

When Rolling Stone magazine first wrote about Brave Combo in 1979, the reporter said the genre-bending polka band was from Austin.

From there, it was repeated again and again. Almost any media outside of North Texas writing about the group credited Austin as their home, because writers couldn’t conceive that cool music came out of other cities in the state, band founder and lead singer Carl Finch said.

And thus began a nearly 40-year tradition of announcing “We’re Brave Combo from Denton, Texas” during sets near and far — as the band resisted any pressure to be lumped in with Dallas or Fort Worth.

“I think that we have been so long associated with Denton pride and carrying that banner, and I know we brought it on ourselves because we’ve made a point of it,” Finch said.

The creative community, the cluster of live music venues and other artists and musicians make Denton special, Finch said. Most residents would agree: That’s why we live in Denton. But as the tip of the Golden Triangle in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with dozens of towns and cities, could we be just another suburb?

Defining a suburb

Let’s start here: If there was one definition that fit the word across all areas of study that think about suburbs, we would know for sure if Denton is a suburb. Even an academic journal article called “Defining Suburbs” grapples with this.

“Suburbs, at their simplest, are more recently developed parts of an urban or metropolitan area, outside the core or historical city area,” reads the article from Journal of Planning Literature. “Even this definition raises questions.”

A CityLab project looked to define different kinds of suburbs and says Denton is “sparse-suburban,” which by the project’s definition means predominately suburban with a small urban core and exurb-style neighborhoods.

It doesn’t help that the U.S. census doesn’t weigh in on rural vs. urban vs. suburban, either. The last census showed that the region had multiple urban centers, calling DFW the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro area.

Lucas Owen Kirkpatrick, a sociology professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says the definition has changed over time as our cities and outlying towns have changed. Back in the 19th century, there were urban cores, and rich people worked in the urban core and lived in the suburbs, he said. Now there can be several urban cores, as highlighted in the U.S. census definitions, he said.

“Each of these cores has a clearly defined center, and social and economic activity radiates out from them, though no longer as neatly as the dartboard/concentric zone model would lead us to believe,” he said in an email. “So, for instance, the classic suburban bedroom community of the 1950s is not as prevalent today. Many suburbs are now economic hubs, as well.” READ MORE