In the age of coronavirus, the suburbs are cool for the first time ever

Twickenham, in southwest London, is proving popular with people seeking greener pastures.

London (CNN)The landscape of pop culture is littered with people trying to escape the suburbs.

The sitcom "Suburgatory," novelists such as Richard Yates and endless suburban mom memes are a testament to the hold these outer reaches of cities have on public imagination.
In Britain, the poet John Betjeman coined the term "Metro-Land" to fondly refer to the suburbs on the edge of north London.
But while urbanites through the ages have dismissed suburbia as the antithesis of cool, often-derided areas like these are now rocketing in popularity across the UK, due to the pandemic, as the charms of city life are put on hold.
    The suburbs grew in popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries after rapid advances in transport. To many people of that age the suburbs were an ideal; a healthy, greener escape from the grime of city life. A century or more on, they are once again experiencing a renaissance.
    Peter deGraft-Johnson is 26 and has lived in various parts of east London for five years. The poet and writer grew up in Essex in southeast England but moved to the capital as a student.
    "I was drawn [to London] by the creative culture," he told CNN. "I wanted to be part of that progressive, challenging cultural industry so I thought I'd come, almost Dick Whittington style, to find my fortune! But also to be part of that [world]."
    DeGraft-Johnson spent the UK's spring lockdown alone, at a family friend's house where he was lodging. He later moved to another property in the city with a friend.
    The poet told CNN that he'd long been frustrated by what he viewed as London's "extortionate rents and cost of living."
    "That just made me increasingly frustrated. But I put up with all that for the art, the culture, the people," he said. "And then obviously the lockdown [happened] and the nightlife, the hospitality industry, the poetry and film sectors have all been decimated. And now there's even less of that gravity ... to keep me here."
    The property website RightMove found that average rent across Greater London was £2,046 ($2,666) in the second quarter of 2020. But the most in-demand areas were on the city's outskirts, where prices were lower.
    The average rent in Sidcup, a suburb to the south-east of the city, was £1,185 ($1,544) a month, while rents in Wallington, a leafy town on London's southwestern edge, were around £1,190 (£1,551).
    A similar gulf exists with house prices. In Dalston, a bustling area of east London, the average price paid for a house is £699,642 ($911,634), according to the property website Zoopla. In Chessington, a town on the outskirts of south-west London currently booming in popularity, the average price paid is £404,037 ($526,472.)
    Peter deGraft-Johnson is considering moving away from London.
    DeGraft-Johnson is now considering leaving the city, a decision he says was partially motivated by the experience of lockdown.
    He's not alone. Estate agents have noticed plummeting inquiries about popular city centers and a rise in people wanting to move to suburbia and even further afield, to the countryside.
    "Renters searching in the capital are home-hunting in the outer zones," a recent survey by the property website RightMove found. The researchers found that suburbs almost an hour's drive away from the city center were attracting increasing interest.
    "Chessington in Kingston upon Thames has seen the biggest annual rise in rental searches in London, with searches almost doubling (up 99%) compared to the same period in 2019," the report noted.
    "People have reassessed their home situation and [during the pandemic] they're using every nook and cranny of their houses because [they're] working from home," Timothy Bannister, Rightmove's Director of Property Data, told CNN.
    Sarah Hicknmott, an estate agent who works in southwest London, said the rising numbers of professionals working from home were behind the move to suburbia.
    "[People are] much more driven to find actual space -- a garden, or even just a balcony," she said.
    "When [the UK] came out of lockdown [in July] everyone's requirement [for a house] was two beds and a garden -- because they want office space and a garden. They want somewhere with fresh air."
    The researchers and estate agents CNN spoke to pointed to two major changes to working life that were driving the housing shift. First, people were spending more time at home and wanted more space. And secondly, people don't need to commute as often into city centers for work.
    "It's a trend, for sure," Richard Donnell, Research and at Zoopla, a major property website, told CNN.
    "Covid-19 has created a search for space. People are thinking, 'we're not going to go out as much, we're entertaining at home.'"
    "And there's a big difference in commuting two days a week [to a city] compared to five days a week. With two days a week, you can go much further afield."
    Donnell said interest in outer London areas including Enfield, Barnet, Bromley, Twickenham, and Kingston had surged.
    Wendy King, a university lecturer, moved to a rental property in the southwest London suburb of Twickenham recently from west London.
    The 41-year-old currently has a mix of working practices, spending some days teaching in person and others working from home.
    "I used to live in the New Forest [in southern England]," she told CNN.
    "It's beautiful -- it's green and leafy and I love the countryside. And my husband loves major cities and big skyscrapers."
    King said the pair eventually settled on Twickenham as a compromise.
    "Twickenham has enough leafy green to remind me of the New Forest, but it's close enough to the city to have enough of those pubs you want to go into, there's a theater and it's 20 minutes into central London," she said. "So you get the best bits of the city."
    Meanwhile another cohort of city dwellers wants to flee further, to villages.
    Bannister told CNN that people living in the British cities of Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Birmingham as well as London were looking to escape from major metropolitan areas entirely.
    "City residents contacting estate agents to buy a home in a village rose by 126% in June [and] July compared to the same period last year," Rightmove said in a press release.
    "The shift in more buyers looking to move outside cities began in April and is continuing."
    Ed Davey is part of the group leaving urban life altogether. The 39-year-old Londoner is moving with his family to Lewes, a county town in southern England, in December 2020.
    "We're running out of space in our two bedroom flat," he told CNN.
    "I'm working from home and I'm in [my three-year-old's] nursery, my laptop's on a stool on the bed, there are nappies everywhere and zoom calls happening and it's crazy. In Lewes, I can commute in a couple of days a week and we can have a garden."