Project aims

In the UK, interest in the economic performance of cities takes on particular importance given the Government’s concern spatially to rebalance the economy between the less prosperous North and the more prosperous South . ‘Powering up’ northern cities to unlock their growth potential is seen as crucial to securing that political imperative. Against this background, the basic aim of this research is twofold.

Firstly, to examine and explain the economic growth paths of British cities in terms of how far and in what ways actors within them Have been able structurally to re-orientate and transform their economic base over what has been a period of intense economic change and disruption.

Secondly, to understand the scope for policy intervention to enable cities successfully to adapt to structural change in a world of increasingly devolved decision making and perhaps new forms of city-region governance.

A previous ESRC-funded programme looked at how British cities experienced and coped with economic and social change over 1951-1981 (see Hausner, 1987). The period since has been one of much more profound and rapid structural, technological, global and competitive transformation, and how this has affected British cities and their relative growth paths and economic evolutions is a key issue requiring analysis. We see an opportunity to build upon both that earlier ESRC city research and some preliminary investigation by two of the Principal Investigators for the UK Government Office for Science’s Foresight Project on The Future of Cities. Our work for the latter suggests that the growth paths of British cities have been quite diverse, and possibly divergent, and that the issue does indeed warrant a much more detailed and concerted effort to document, map and account for such diversity (Martin et al. 2014). How cities adapt their economic structures over time in response to changing conditions and opportunities, both local and external, and how such adaptation affects city growth, are questions of key relevance for policy and governance.

The main hypothesis to be addressed by this research project is that differences among cities in medium to long run growth, and shifts and changes in the economic growth paths of cities relative to one another, are in large part due to differences between cities in the process, nature, extent and success of structural transformation and adaptation.

More specific research questions include:

  1. How has the industrial structure of the national economy changed and evolved over time?
  2. How have these structural transformations been distributed across British cities and non-urban areas?
  3. How have the economic structures of British cities changed over time?
  4. How and why have cities varied in economic adaptability and to what degree has this been shaped by their industrial ensembles?
  5. What has been the role of economic structure and structural transformation in explaining city growth paths?
  6. How have urban and related policies impacted on the structures and growth paths of British cities?