I was reading this story in The New Republic (subscription required, I think) about the problems of US cities and it struck me that little of the discussion would make sense in an Australian context, simply because Americans and Australians understand the city-suburb distinction quite differently. As noted here, in Australia , a suburb means “one of the units comprising a city”, corresponding roughly to the American “neighborhood”. By contrast, in the US the term is understood to mean “a district, especially a residential one, on the edge of a city or large town”. British usage is somewhere between the two, but closer to Australian.
This distinction is reinforced by the fiscal system in the US, where more tax is raised, at the local government level, and more functions, notably education are undertaken by local government, so the boundary between local governments makes a bigger difference. This seems to cause a lot of problems, with the result that US cities seem to be in difficulty most of the time. Perhaps the Australian setup produces different problems that aren’t so obvious or pressing.
Beyond this, though, I think there really is something to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis here. The fact that everyone in Australia regards the suburbs as part of the city to which they belong, regardless of local government boundaries, affects the way we think about all sorts of things. For example, even if inner-city suburbs are thought of as hipper and cooler than the outer suburbs, the distinction is one of degree rather than kind, since there is no sharp dividing line between the two, so we don’t really have an urban/suburban distinction in the way that Americans do.