Over the past few years, cities and city-regions have assumed growing prominence in discussions over economic growth, performance, and prosperity. Both geographers and economists point to the increasing concentration of economic activity and wealth creation in cities, and their crucial importance as the loci of national prosperity. National governments and international bodies have likewise recognized the key economic role that cities play, and have correspondingly directed attention to cities as the foci of policy intervention and governance reform. Cities have come to dominate how we think about economies.

But, as some studies demonstrate, not all cities have enjoyed economic success in recent years, and some evidence points to an increasing divergence in economic growth between cities, especially in the United States. In fact, certain cities have actually experienced a dramatic decline in economic fortune, such as Detroit in the USA, or Liverpool in the UK, and have been struggling to recover. More generally, there is growing concern about what has become known as the ‘shrinking city’ phenomenon, as certain cities across the US, Europe and elsewhere appear to be declining in population and in economic growth. Other cities, however, appear to be able to ‘reinvent’ themselves and undergo economic resurgences, such as Boston in the US, London in the UK, and Munich in Germany.

The decline of many cities particularly in the North of the Britain in the postwar period has had dramatic consequences for the well-being and quality of life of their residents. The loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector led to many becoming long-term unemployed or destined to take relatively low paid service sector jobs or move to urban centres of growth and employment elsewhere. The structural transition from manufacturing to service economies has thus been one of the fundamental drivers of urban inequality.