The winter scene of City Suburbs (ca. 1914) offers a view of the outskirts of Inwood in northern Manhattan. On the left, the building on the hill stands on the site of a Revolutionary War fort; it was replaced by The Cloisters in 1930. The narrow road that crosses the scene at a slight diagonal is Broadway. Lawson painted this scene several times: the small dimensions of City Suburbs and the inclusion of details not shown in other works of the same scene suggest that it may have been a study created outdoors. Another Phillips painting, Harlem Valley, Winter, shows a broader view of the same site. A quarry and a stone-cutting mill were once located in the area, and the composition focuses on four tiny laborers, possibly stonebreakers.
Duncan Phillips, who had an affinity for color, was drawn to the rich and varied palette of City Suburbs. In areas of exposed canvas, one can see the underpainting that served to block in the composition. Following this thin application, the artist applied heavy impasto, thick layers of pigment, to the canvas. The humble theme and unpretentious setting show Lawson departing from the picturesque subject matter popular at the time and coming close to a true "ash can" subject. Phillips understood this when he wrote about Lawson's "peculiar power of finding sensuous beauty in dreary places."