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noun [countable]

an area in the countryside where there are both housing developments and farms, and many people travel to work in nearby cities

'Using census data and our own data sources we looked to see how far people traveled for work. What we saw led us to come up with the concept of ruburbs … which saw people living a suburban life but further and further out of the major cities.'

Experian 9th January 2015

There's one aspect of my life that I'm extremely grateful for on a daily basis – I'm lucky enough to live somewhere where I can see open countryside from my living room window, but only have a five minute walk if I need access to a doctor, post office, small supermarket and, should the mood take me, fish and chip shop. A short drive takes me to the centre of a small UK city. Bliss. I was therefore recently pleased to discover that there's actually a name for this countryside-meets-suburbia utopia that I've been waxing lyrical about for so many years – it seems I live in a ruburb.

these are the sort of places where it wouldn't be unusual to see tractors and pigpens happily coexisting with pushchairs, post boxes and the daily school run

The word ruburb (not to be confused with rhubarb, the bright red stalk and classic accompaniment to custard) is an emerging term which describes a kind of hybrid of country village and suburban residential area. A ruburb is, both conceptually and linguistically, a fusion of rural (countryside) and suburb (an area of a town away from the centre where there are many houses). Ruburbs are areas of countryside within sensible striking distance of a town or city (and employment stronghold) which, along with fields, farms and everything you'd expect, have pockets of residences deposited by savvy housing developers. Painting a more vivid picture, these are the sort of places where it wouldn't be unusual to see tractors and pigpens happily coexisting with pushchairs, post boxes and the daily school run.

In early 2015, the term ruburb hit the spotlight in the UK amidst observations about spiralling housing costs, which appear to be making people move further and further away from cities and conventional suburbs. Instead, people are electing to live in residential areas further afield, not necessarily because they want to leave the hustle-and-bustle of city life and live the rural ideal, but because their income simply doesn't match the high rents and house prices they'd need to afford to be closer to the centre of things. Improved transport links and a growing tendency to commute have also contributed to the rise of ruburbs, which offer people a best-of-both-worlds mix of rural tranquillity with relatively easy access to work/leisure facilities.

Background – ruburb

In January 2015, planning consultants in the UK claimed to have coined the term ruburb when discussing emerging trends in the country's housing market. However they aren't in fact the true originators of the word, since it seems it's been in use (albeit fairly marginally) for a number of years, particularly in the US. There's evidence for it as far back as 1999, as this citation so aptly illustrates:

'What we've got out here might be more accurately described as the ruburbs: a rural version of suburban living with soccer moms and Taco Bells among the manure-scented pastures …'

Austin Chronicle26th November 1999

An adjectival counterpart ruburban (compare suburb > suburban) doesn't seem to have taken off, though there is evidence for an adjective rurban – a fusion of urban and rural which has made it into some established dictionaries and is used to describe a very similar concept.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. Demi-decade.

This article was first published on 21st April 2015.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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