The Changing Shape and Nature of Cities

On 14 of December 2016, the Knowledge Quarter and Corridor Manchester co-hosted a policy dinner focusing on the geographic inequalities and wider issues facing cities in the United Kingdom.  Participants included Knowledge Quarter partners, representatives from the Corridor Manchester board, Government, academics and leaders from a variety of different sectors.  Opening remarks were made by Paul Swinney, Principal Economist from the Centre for Cities and Clare Devine, Acting Chief Executive of the Design Council.

A range of economic and social forces have converged to change the role of cities dramatically. From being places of decay in the 1970s, cities across the world have become in the 21st-century centres for innovation and hubs for a range of activities and dynamics. Technological and architectural revolutions combined with globalisation have forged a new economic role for cities. New millennial working patterns, a growing need for creative classes and inputs and a shift towards open innovation are putting a new emphasis on face to face interactions, physical spaces and well-designed public realm. In 2015, Centre for Cities found that the population of large-city centres in England and Wales more than doubled between 2001-2011, with the number of residents aged 20-29 nearly tripling.

However, in the UK, prosperity in cities has not been uniform. The expansion of services and decline in manufacturing has affected cities differently. Those who were capable of creating jobs in the knowledge sector thrived and those in declining industries struggled. London and the South have fared traditionally better than the former industrial cities in the North and Midlands. According to the Joseph Rowtree Foundation, 10 of the UK’s top 12 struggling cities are based in the north; no city in the south featured in the top 12 or 24 of the index. Even within cities, participants noted that there are still geographic divides. For example, large parts of the Knowledge Quarter contain 10% of the most deprived areas in the whole of the United Kingdom. Islington and Camden are respectively the 24th the 84th most deprived local authorities in England.

Participants debated many of these points in detail, particularly noting there has been a consecutive paradigm shift in the field of design and thinking behind urban form. Other emergent themes included the role of strong civic leadership in successful cities, the need to focus on creating ecosystems which allow for innovation, and the vital importance in the skills agenda.

A full write-up will be published in the New Year for more information please contact Daniel Stevens at the Knowledge Quarter.