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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have been thinking recently.

There is clearly a massive disparity between what many on here think about the size of their home town compared to others relative to how those in Whitehall, TfN, DfT, Treasury... see their home towns

Lets not beat around the bush, the decision makers see Manchester and Birmingham as almost equivalent cities in terms of population and wealth, miles behind London, but likewise miles above other (mostly northern) cities. This view is rarely understood in non-Manc / non-Brum cities.

I think I understand the reasons, let me explain my thinking.

I reckon most on here, and more widely in the regular population, judge the size of the city based on what they experience in the city centre.

Reality is few of us in large cities really understand the economic, retail and leisure links from distant suburbs in our own cities, let alone in another city.

If that assumption is correct then an interesting thought.

Most northern city centres (won't talk about Brum at this point) developed at a time when the England was heart of the Empire and the English dictated how that Single Market operated i.e. to our own benefit.

This led to massively wealthy (compared to today) northern cities in Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle.....

That led to impressive town halls and impressive city centres to support that wealth

However

the Empire ended, the world globalised, the reasons that those northern cities benefited in the past disappeared, but they were left with very impressive town halls and city centres of a size that they height of the wealth of the Common Wealth could support.

So, if I am correct so far, people today are judging the size of their relative towns based on how wealthy they were at the peak of the British Empire, not today, the time when there was the wealth to grow the city centres to be the size that they are today.

I reckon since the end of the Empire, since the end of the war, each city centre for northern cities effectively has huge spare capacity, we have cities 'designed' for 1m people being used by 250k people.

That is where the disparity lies in my opinion, the government stats that are used measure the current use of cities, they measure the current 2018 economic, retail and leisure impact of a city, in my opinion the anecdotal person on here walks around their city centre that was built at the peak of the Empire, thinking it looks the same as Manc (and Brum) not realising that it is only operating at 25% capacity.

IN MY OPINION
 

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I have been thinking recently.

There is clearly a massive disparity between what many on here think about the size of their home town compared to others relative to how those in Whitehall, TfN, DfT, Treasury... see their home towns

Lets not beat around the bush, the decision makers see Manchester and Birmingham as almost equivalent cities in terms of population and wealth, miles behind London, but likewise miles above other (mostly northern) cities. This view is rarely understood in non-Manc / non-Brum cities.

I think I understand the reasons, let me explain my thinking.

I reckon most on here, and more widely in the regular population, judge the size of the city based on what they experience in the city centre.

Reality is few of us in large cities really understand the economic, retail and leisure links from distant suburbs in our own cities, let alone in another city.

If that assumption is correct then an interesting thought.

Most northern city centres (won't talk about Brum at this point) developed at a time when the England was heart of the Empire and the English dictated how that Single Market operated i.e. to our own benefit.

This led to massively wealthy (compared to today) northern cities in Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle.....

That led to impressive town halls and impressive city centres to support that wealth

However

the Empire ended, the world globalised, the reasons that those northern cities benefited in the past disappeared, but they were left with very impressive town halls and city centres of a size that they height of the wealth of the Common Wealth could support.

So, if I am correct so far, people today are judging the size of their relative towns based on how wealthy they were at the peak of the British Empire, not today, the time when there was the wealth to grow the city centres to be the size that they are today.

I reckon since the end of the Empire, since the end of the war, each city centre for northern cities effectively has huge spare capacity, we have cities 'designed' for 1m people being used by 250k people.

That is where the disparity lies in my opinion, the government stats that are used measure the current use of cities, they measure the current 2018 economic, retail and leisure impact of a city, in my opinion the anecdotal person on here walks around their city centre that was built at the peak of the Empire, thinking it looks the same as Manc (and Brum) not realising that it is only operating at 25% capacity.

IN MY OPINION
which cities are you referring to here?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
It is a general comment.

The numbers are not specific.

I would imagine that Manchester has a city centre that could support 1m job, easily, yet probably supports a third of that.

Likewise elsewhere.

Point being, the size of the city centre gives no idea about how large and economically/retail/leisure important it it.
 

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Not sure where the value of this thread is, as we pretty much know who is going to provide what response to it ...
Agreed, it is a fact that some people are not interested in anything that contradicts what they believe in, better to let it lie when possible.

It is however one of my pet hates to see perfectly good and solid family houses from the 1930s and 1950s being reduced to rubble due to the depopulation of many northern towns and cities that once thrived. However there are no easy solutions to issues like these, when the world has moved on and the previous source of wealth has largely vanished.

It is good when regeneration happens in our large urban areas, but in other cases do we as a nation try to preserve things in aspic, or do we accept the economic reality of the 21st century? That might entail persuading people to up sticks and move away from those towns and cities with their splendid Victorian monuments in the centre.
 

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It is good when regeneration happens in our large urban areas, but in other cases do we as a nation try to preserve things in aspic, or do we accept the economic reality of the 21st century? That might entail persuading people to up sticks and move away from those towns and cities with their splendid Victorian monuments in the centre.
Don't want to dwell on this too much as don't want to write an essay just yet, but I don't think it's so much people need to up stick. It's more that outside of London and South East in general, we are not embracing the metropolitan economies - people are often not looking beyond their own neighbourhoods or towns when looking for opportunities. Commuting is looked down upon then people complain they don't receive rail investment.
 

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One of my favourite resources on the internet are the National Library of Scotland's map images. These cover Scotland and many the rest of Great Britain too, and allow you to see in incredible detail how villages, towns and cities across the UK developed.

The most interesting thing you see is that a hundred years ago, at the peak of their importance, these cities were small. Not small in the economic sense, but small in the geographical one. Population density in urban environments was much, much higher than it used to be. This is why so many cities had trams or metro systems, when today they can't scrape together two pennies for a bus lane.

When suburbanisation, slum clearance and mass motoring happened, people moved out of dense urban environments. Even if the population and economic strength of the UK or even of specific regions stayed the same, this meant that the old urban cores became much less important than they used to be. There are many cities across the UK whose urban cores are really only used as shopping centres today, with all of the population living out in suburbs.

This has had enormous implications for transport planning. Obviously it means motorways and trunk roads are a very important part of most cities, but it also makes it much harder for cities to justify massive investment in public transport. If people are more spread out and car usage is viable, it's very hard to get the demand required for anything more than bus services. Most of the investment we have seen has been about getting people into the old urban cores from their suburban or exurban homes for work and leisure.

Things are slowly changing as suburbanisation becomes less popular. Cities are the sign of human development, as they're by far the most efficient way for humans to organise themselves. The shift of population out into suburbs is really going to be a blip, caused by the easy availability of transport and the relative unpleasantness of polluted urban cores.
 

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Quite. While road transport serves provincial cities OK, it's clear that saturation point has reached. Unless you build more roads LA style there is no more room for expansion. On the other hand, many corridors haven't reached the public transport volumes. This means these locations are now stuck with low productivity. What you need is a multi-pronged approach:

- Accelerated reurbanisation
- Artificial restrictions on road capacity (starting with car parking)
- Winding down of out-of-town office parks.

Yes, Londonspaining if you will.
 

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I must say that there is no evidence of suburbs becoming less popular in my part of the south east, in fact new suburbs are being thrown up constantly. Nor do I accept that suburbs can't generate high levels of public transport use, the plethora of lines and stations in London shows that they can - if the transport links are planned at the same time.

Airborne pollution in cities may decrease over time, but many other disadvantages will still exist for those people who would prefer suburban lifestyles. Some degree of densification is probably inevitable in our major cities, but I don't see the British love of green space and individual homes changing much.
 

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I think treating this as a general phenomena with a single 'provincial' solution is as unlikely to be any more successful than the wholesale adoption of suburban development in the 20th century was.

The continual development of large city centre commercial developments in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Glasgow suggests that for these cities at least there is an increased demand for city centre employment over that they experienced during their industrial heydays, at least in terms of office workers. Conversely the relative scarcity of these developments in central Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle, Hull, Middlesbrough and Bradford (along with smaller centres like Blackburn) suggests that those cities are still under performing the level of activity their historic built environment would imply they're capable of supporting. All these cities suburbanised, but only some of them have bounced back with thriving city centre based knowledge/service economies.

Presumably this is as Vulcan implies because as sources of wealth have changed, so has the optimum distribution of activity changed. The kinds of firms for whom a city centre based location is essential need a presence in fewer centres than their equivalents in the early 1900s did. But that doesn't suggest that residential densification is the solution for under performing centres, because the problem isn't lack of people or poor connectivity, but lack of the right kind of economic activity and/or the competitive advantages of neighbouring centres.

Different centres will need different solutions. Newcastle would presumably be as successful at attracting commercial property investment as Manchester/Birmingham/Leeds if the North East regional economy could be brought up to the level of the city-regions around those cities. It has no competition, and merely seems to be suffering from decades of lack of investment in its hinterland. At the other extreme Bradford (and other smaller centres like Bolton, Huddersfield and Wolverhampton) probably doesn't have a commercial function independent of that of Leeds and its future is almost certainly one of offering a differentiated 'local' experience as a sub-centre of the Leeds urban area. More integration with their larger city is the key to places like that. Most places will lie somewhere along this continuum, and it's probably important for local economic planners in the under performing cities to work out how much of their future potential they can derive from city centre based business activities, and how much they need to focus on other uses of those grand Victorian/Edwardian spaces.
 

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Density isn't so much of a problem if the geometrical distribution of residential areas and economic activities is right. London suburbs are towards the higher end of densities, and one crucial characteristics is that in a typical Zone 3/4 suburb, 50% of commuters go the same way, towards Central London. Also London has a collection of vibrant local town centres with high local population densities you don't tend to see elsewhere. A dozen 5m-a-year stations and you have a full and standing Tube line.

You just don't get this sort of flow concentration outside of London. It's not so much suburbanisation that made public transport unviable, but the decentralisation of employment activities through business parks and new towns has meant you have a low concentration of people travelling in all sorts of directions. Then so many suburbs and even council estates are off through transport corridors, that it has become a nightmare to string communities together with an accessible public transport together. And it's not so much suburbanisation that's the problem, but de-urbanisation, to the extent that inner cities were completely hollowed out. London managed to escape most of these things.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
The purpose of the thread was no more that spilling my thoughts after having been walking around town yesterday, trying to think what an alien would make of the city based on the old, the derelict, the new, the surface car parks next to sky scrapers and thinking about how that has changed in recent and long term history and what the future may bring.

Lead to all sorts of interesting, probably wrong, thoughts.
 

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I must say that there is no evidence of suburbs becoming less popular in my part of the south east, in fact new suburbs are being thrown up constantly. Nor do I accept that suburbs can't generate high levels of public transport use, the plethora of lines and stations in London shows that they can - if the transport links are planned at the same time.

Airborne pollution in cities may decrease over time, but many other disadvantages will still exist for those people who would prefer suburban lifestyles. Some degree of densification is probably inevitable in our major cities, but I don't see the British love of green space and individual homes changing much.
The UK might not be as affected as the US. Lots of suburbs in the US are economically dependent on industries which are on their way out. The replacement jobs are being created in a small number of urban areas. While their parents had good middle-class jobs, young people have few opportunities locally and are moving to urban areas. Many suburbs are decaying fast, while the urban areas the children are heading to are on their way back up again.

The small size of the UK means we aren't going to see problems as extreme as those in the US. Even the most post-industrial area is a viable commuting distance from one recovering urban area. However, young people are still moving back into the cities. You can see the wide range of private rental sector construction going on in urban areas, aimed solely at young people who don't want to have kids, a dog and a white picket fence just yet. With the way people are having kids later, a significant proportion of the adult population are going to want to live in cities where there are interesting activities.

Some of these families are going to decide to stay even as their kids grow up, because there's no absolute reason why people need to move to the suburbs. If the city is clean and safe and all of the services you need are only a walk away, it can be a much better place than out in the suburbs. Dependence on a car is the problem today, as car ownership is the primary problem of living in an urban environment. Even if parking is available, driving in a city isn't a pleasant experience. Suburbs are often built right off of motorway junctions just so that they're good for car users.
 

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London became a hell of a lot bigger when it expanded in 1964.

Manchester and Leeds became bigger when they sucked up a lot of their suburbs. Manchester in fact has continues to do this, expanding by 11% in terms of populations in 2011 by nicking bits of Merseyside and Derbyshire to become "the second city" even though anyone with eyes can see that Birmingham has always been and still is bigger than Manchester.

other cities failed to follow this route and so are seen as separate from their suburbs. as a Londoner and as someone who had seep the OPer argue frequently about this, the obvious city in this category is Liverpool. Liverpool city centre is as large and certainly has more impressive architecture than Manchester, and is just as busy. it's simplly that Liverpool is often just the city and a few boroughs around in the popular consciousness, whereas "Manchester" is Manchester plus Stockport plus plus.......... plus Wigan plus Warrington. it's a con trick that the local government have pulled and everyone's fallen for it.

so in conclusion the craftier the leadership the bigger the "city".
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Thanks

You've confirmed what I thought.

You've judged your idea of size based on your experience of the city centre, showing no real understanding of what makes that city.

When walking around town yesterday I was thinking how on earth could you possibly know where a city starts or ends by simply experiencing the centre of town.

Denton, the end of the M67, dual carriage way into the centre of town.

From looking at the city centre the Empire left us I have no clue as to how integrated Denton is into the economic, leisure, retail and social fabric of Manchester.

I personally have no idea what Denton is like and how it operates.

I'd love to know how people from far away are so certain about how large urban areas function

Maybe you could share with us, showing your workings, the equivalent of Denton in other northern cities, by that I mean areas with the same economic, retail, leisure and social links.

Thing is, I doubt you can, I certainly cannot, because your idea about equal sizes is based on nothing more than your experiences in the city centres, centres that are massively oversized for their function in 2018.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Thinking further about this, I think the above posts are very valid and have some great points.

Been thinking yesterday that as the traditional manufacturing base died, the jobs that would be provided in their hundreds of thousands in cities like Manchester, at the time the city centres became de-populated in terms of people and jobs, as people have said, this coincided with the rise of the private car.

From the city I know well I think that this is particularly apparent along the M63 Corridor - a now long gone motorway, but basically the M60 from Eccles to Stockport.

From Trafford Park which employs tens of thousands in all sorts of industry, from foods to hi tech internet of things companies, through South Trafford where companies like IBM and Cap Gemini have offices just off the motorway on the A56 in Sale, through Didsbury with the high tech Siemens amongst many highly skilled employers through to the area just north of the airport along the M56 that is home offices that employ thousands of people in the financial sector and some of the UKs banking industry.

That areas, surrounded by relatively (for the north) wealthy people grew I would suggest down to the rise of the car, down to the M63, A56, Princess Parkway and Kingsway.

But it also meant that those financial organisation would not setup home in the city centre, it would means that those suited to being in that environment would forever be dependent upon the ever more congested roads.

So as you walk around Manchester at the start of 2018 you will see dozens of high rise buildings going up, they are not office blocks though, they rarely are, they are overwhelmingly residential.

What I think is happening is the motorcar based economy around the southern crescent in Manchester provided a fertile environment for the highly skilled service sector to get a foothold in the city, I think as the economy around the western world moves to such a knowledge economy then given the pre-existing workforce that exists around the M63 corridor then it should follow that it would be time for existing and new employment opportunities to arise at easier to access locations, that being the city centre, Salford Quays and the airport.

I'm rambling now, but I guess the point is two fold, firstly I think that the car made it possible for the highly skilled knowledge economy to commence in Manchester at a time the whole region was in serious decline and secondly do not know how common it is across other northern cities to have additional regions, away from the main core, that are intrinsically linked to the urban mass and create a huge pool of highly skilled jobs for the local population to create wealth in.

Is there an M63 Corridor equivalent in Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff .... ???
 

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Thinking further about this, I think the above posts are very valid and have some great points.

Been thinking yesterday that as the traditional manufacturing base died, the jobs that would be provided in their hundreds of thousands in cities like Manchester, at the time the city centres became de-populated in terms of people and jobs, as people have said, this coincided with the rise of the private car.

From the city I know well I think that this is particularly apparent along the M63 Corridor - a now long gone motorway, but basically the M60 from Eccles to Stockport.

From Trafford Park which employs tens of thousands in all sorts of industry, from foods to hi tech internet of things companies, through South Trafford where companies like IBM and Cap Gemini have offices just off the motorway on the A56 in Sale, through Didsbury with the high tech Siemens amongst many highly skilled employers through to the area just north of the airport along the M56 that is home offices that employ thousands of people in the financial sector and some of the UKs banking industry.

That areas, surrounded by relatively (for the north) wealthy people grew I would suggest down to the rise of the car, down to the M63, A56, Princess Parkway and Kingsway.

But it also meant that those financial organisation would not setup home in the city centre, it would means that those suited to being in that environment would forever be dependent upon the ever more congested roads.

So as you walk around Manchester at the start of 2018 you will see dozens of high rise buildings going up, they are not office blocks though, they rarely are, they are overwhelmingly residential.

What I think is happening is the motorcar based economy around the southern crescent in Manchester provided a fertile environment for the highly skilled service sector to get a foothold in the city, I think as the economy around the western world moves to such a knowledge economy then given the pre-existing workforce that exists around the M63 corridor then it should follow that it would be time for existing and new employment opportunities to arise at easier to access locations, that being the city centre, Salford Quays and the airport.

I'm rambling now, but I guess the point is two fold, firstly I think that the car made it possible for the highly skilled knowledge economy to commence in Manchester at a time the whole region was in serious decline and secondly do not know how common it is across other northern cities to have additional regions, away from the main core, that are intrinsically linked to the urban mass and create a huge pool of highly skilled jobs for the local population to create wealth in.

Is there an M63 Corridor equivalent in Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff .... ???
That is already happening, and has been happening since at least the late 90s. While the high rise buildings in Manchester are residential, that shouldn't distract you from the considerable (by historic standards) level of commercial development that has been progressed in the city centre. The same can be said for Leeds and Birmingham too. Within a UK planning context high rise office towers are the exception rather than the rule. They only make sense in areas of very concentrated demand, with very high rents. That's pretty much only the City and immediately adjacent areas. You shouldn't imagine that a lack of office towers outside London means a lack of office development.

A more interesting question is why that has not happened in other major cities in the post-industrial north.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 · (Edited)
Indeed and good point about there being office developments across the area.

In my mind our future economy has to be based on knowledge and the services sector, we're good at it and can compete globally.

Taking financial services, 2m employed in the UK, majority outside London and South East, contributes over 20% of UK tax to the exchequer. Has a massive trade surplus with the rest of the world.

These companies need high volumes of skilled people, the bigger the pool of people the better.

I guess the more successful places are more accessible to more people than the other places which generates a positive self improving cycle of more skilled people moving into the region to take those jobs.

This has been happening since the 1960s, when travel became easier with the car. To reverse 50 years of economic growth and change its direction is incredibly hard for the likes of Preston, Bradford, Hull etc.

When Bank of New York Mellion setup in Manchester they expected to be able to recruit very locally and from the University area, they really struggled to get the skills and ended up with people commuting from High Peak, Leeds, Sheffield, Preston and all points around Manchester, showing how hard it is to get the right skills even in the most populous area in the North.

Those people from High Peak, Sheffield, Leeds etc may not have been willing to commute to Liverpool for example, making any such location in Liverpool a far greater risk than it is in Manchester.
 
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