Who runs cities in the twenty first century?

Who owns your city?  The buildings in which you work, the apartments in which your friends live, the bars to which you flock after work on a Friday evening, the gym at which your partner works out on Monday and Wednesday: these are elements of the built environment, and while establishing who owns them might once have been straightforward, it is not now.  The inflow into English cities of significant amounts of capital investment during the 1990s and 2000s has produced a complex patchwork quilt of owners. From local and regional developers to international pension fund investors, the ownership of your city involves people making decisions around the world on practical issues that matter, from the mixed use of land to the accessing of buildings, from their external design to their environmental sustainability.  Less obviously, but as importantly, who owns the city shapes the way a city looks and feels.  It matters to those who call the city home.

If establishing who owns your city is not straightforward, neither is identifying who governs it. A range of government programmes such as urban regeneration companies, local strategic partnerships, business led initiatives, and city mayors have complicated matters. It is now hard to identify exactly who it is that is making decisions over the future of your city and where these decisions are being made. While local government continues to be centrally involved in the governance of cities, a range of other stakeholders with varying geographical remits, also have a part to play. Under the coalition government the last year has seen a return to the language of the 1980s, when local government and other public sector bodies were talked about as ‘enablers’ and ‘facilitators’. Bound up with the notion of ‘Big Society’ is a devolving of power down to local communities. Not without precedent, this most recent shift in policy only serves to make answering who governs your city a less straightforward question to answer.  Yet, who governs the city shapes the way a city looks and feels. It matters to those who call the city home.

Taken in tandem, who owns and governs the city should matter to all of us who live and work in cities. Together they lie behind the very profound question over who runs cities.  Answering this question is what this proposed project will do, if funded.  Using the cities of Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, this project’s over-arching aim is to use a comparative analysis to explore who owns and governs English cities, and in what ways. It will be specifically interested in governance and ownership issues in relation to economic development, broadly defined. Using a combination of existing data sets and semi-structured interviews, this project will ask and answer the following four questions. First, how and why have ownership patterns changed in the three cities in the last 30 years? Second, how and why have governance structures changed in the three cities in the last 30 years? Third, what are the connections between ownership and governance patterns in the three cities? Fourth, and finally, in what ways do these changes make the three cities better placed to face current and future challenges?

Of course, in the current funding climate, with success rates low, this project may never be carried out, which would be a great shame!

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