Tag Archives: Manchester

Summer Institute in Urban Studies 2014 – Some Reflections!

Elnaz Ghafoorikoohsar (SEED), Gwyneth Lonergan (SoSS) and Elisa Pieri (SoSS) reflect on their participation in the first Summer Institute in Urban Studies …

cities@manchester’s Summer Institute in Urban Studies took place last (30 June – 4 July) at the University of Manchester. The twenty eight participants – selected out of the 180 plus applicants – came from across the UK, Europe, Australia and North America, and brought with them a wide variety of research interests and experience. What united them was a keen interest in cities, whether in Europe, the United States, Africa, East Asia or the Indian Subcontinent.

Participants get to work!

The Institute provided an excellent opportunity for lively discussion on many of the pressing theoretical issues in urban studies today, including notions of urban assemblages, policy mobilities and the worlding of different cities, various forms of gentrification, sustainability, sustainable development, and climate change, and politics and post-politics in the city. Many speakers discussed the various methodological implications of studying the urban, and how to engage in academic practice that is ethically and politically responsible and accountable. Ultimately, we were interested in thinking reflexively about the future of urban studies and our role in the field. We were fortunate to hear presentations from leading urban studies scholars, both from within and from outside of the University of Manchester. These included speakers working outside of academia, in NGOs and in policy circles. Manchester’s own experience of post-industrial regeneration provided a case study, with a panel of speakers on this topic and a walking tour of East Manchester regeneration sites.


The Institute also gave participants a chance to consider many of the challenges facing early career researchers, including interdisicplinarity, different publication formats and strategies, ethical dimensions of academic research and practice, and engagement with stakeholders outside of academia. A large component of the program was devoted to professional development – for example, effective teaching, and curricular development, writing funding applications, securing a post following completion of the PhD, and planning a career trajectory. Many participants found this career guidance especially valuable, as they had not received any such advice as PhD students. Moreover, with participants coming from a wide variety of countries, it allowed us to exchange information and ideas about the different national research cultures and expectations.


The week was intense with participants enthusiastically engaged with all of the sessions, and we also enjoyed a friendly, sociable atmosphere.   The program allowed participants to explore issues with peers at a similar career stage as well as with more experienced academics, in a supportive environment. There was achieved through a mixture of both formal and informal opportunities for discussion and socialising. Many of these were classroom based, although highly varied, including a daily plenary as well as smaller workshops. Participants were expected to play an active role, completing preparatory reading in addition to chairing a panel, or acting as discussants. These activities were complemented by the walking tour, and the use of multimedia materials, including film, to stimulate discussion. An ‘official’ institute dinner was held at Yang Sing on the Thursday evening, but there were plenty of other opportunities for informal after hours socialising. Even as the Institute ended on Friday, there were already plans being made among many participants for future collaborations.


Open up the gates

Manchester’s creative economy – where to next?

Based on his contribution at last week’s “Manchester’ creative economy – where to next?” urban forum at Twenty Twenty Two, David Gledhill, professional artist and co-administrator of Rogue Artists Studios, the largest studios in the North of England, writes …

Manchester has a particularly vibrant, resourceful and innovative visual arts community. We have great art schools, affordable group studios and plenty of artist-led initiatives and alternative spaces to exhibit in. Artists may be self-employed, working in the service sector or teaching to supplement their activities. Many of them may be exhibiting at a national or even international level and yet Manchester audiences rarely get the chance to enjoy their work and to benefit from the artistic status enjoyed by cities such as Liverpool, Glasgow or Leeds. Manchester isn’t mentioned in the Arts Council plan for 2011-15 which cites the BALTIC in Gateshead, MIMA in Middlesborough, the Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Liverpool Biennial as evidence of the strength of the visual arts in the North. (http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/arts-council-plan-2011-15)

If this doesn’t ring any alarm bells, the almost complete absence of any initiatives that may benefit, promote or support artists in the region may do. Manchester has no visual arts biennial, no art prize (like Liverpool), no annual open submission competition (like the London Open at the Whitechapel) no purchase schemes, and no artist residency programmes at its biggest institutions. We’ve never been in the running for European Capital of Culture. In fact you’re more likely to see a Manchester artist working as a gallery attendant than exhibiting in the city. If we want artists to live and work in the region, rather than moving south in search of opportunity, our major galleries must join hands with the artist-led sector to nurture a fully integrated visual arts ecology.

Artists contribute far more to a region’s tourism, academic, service and construction sectors than they ever absorb through direct public subsidy. They revitalize neglected zones of the urban environment and lend cultural prestige to a city’s portfolio of attractions. The Arts Council’s attempts to support excellence and diversity, including aesthetic diversity, are foundering on their agenda of driving public-funded institutions towards the open arms of the private sector in the attempt to broaden income steams. The commercial art world in particular, is founded on exclusivity, with self-appointed ‘gatekeepers’ promoting their own vested interests and excluding the vast majority of practitioners. Imagine turning up at hospital to be told that you’re not welcome because you haven’t been to dinner with the administrator.

An independent report (http://www.theroccreport.co.uk) concluded that there’s an urgent need for investment in arts production outside London. Nevertheless it failed to critique the rampant croneyism that is infesting the museum sector and leading to homogenization and stagnation in the visual arts. In his book ‘Dark Matter’ (2011) Gregory Sholette talks about the ‘structural invisibility’ of most artists. The passion and dedication of Manchester’s artists and the legendary DIY spirit of our great city can only carry us so far. Artists deserve the widest possible audiences and a platform alongside the international talent that visits the city. Manchester deserves to experience the greatest art in the world together with the greatest art from right here. The arts community must come together and make it happen!

Who owns London’s revenues?

Adam Leaver of Manchester Business School, University of Manchester picks up a point made by Evan Davis in replying to an earlier blog Size matters? London – the subsidy junky. Evan asked the following question about whether London was a ‘subsidy junkie’:

“Don’t you have to take revenues earned by each region into account too? To reduce it to basics, it could be that London is more productive and as a consequence is more tax-generating and more expensive. It thus needs extra public spending. That is not a subsidy if London more than raises the money to pay for it”.

Putting to one side the dubious point that more productive regions are necessarily more expensive, two issues arise immediately out of this intervention. First, Evan raises a question about measurement: how do we measure regional cross subsidy when one region is so successful and requires higher levels of public service investment to sustain its success? Second, implicitly, he raises a question about ‘ownership’ of those revenues – that higher levels of expenditure are not a cross subsidy if that region is simply spending its own money.

The issue of cross subsidy is a difficult one to measure. On a per capita measure, it is certainly the case that Londoners receive higher levels of public expenditure than individuals elsewhere in the country. As my colleagues argued, identifiable expenditure on services per capita is higher in London than any other English region, though figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are higher. On transport infrastructure expenditure, the per capita figures are: south-west £215, north-east £246, Yorkshire and Humberside £303, north-west £839, London £4895. The differences are astronomic. However, it is also true that London has historically generated a greater proportion of gross value added growth, and – as figure 1 shows – this has increased significantly post- crisis. Since 2007, London and the South East account for close to a half of the UK’s total GVA growth.

In some ways these figures support Evan’s query. Even if we consider the possibility that tax efficient schemes are more active in London than elsewhere, it is frankly implausible that London doesn’t also generate a significantly greater share of the UK’s total tax take. But perhaps that is the wrong way of looking at the issue of cross subsidy because it only takes into consideration ex post distributions. By thinking about ex ante cross subsidies – that is distributions, guarantees, bailouts and other subsidies that underpin activity – a different picture emerges.

To take one example: financial services. The cost of the UK bank bailouts, are estimated at between £289 billion to £1,183 billion by the IMF. Similarly the presence of a state bailout guarantee, reduces banks credit risk and allows them to borrow more cheaply. In 2009 alone it was estimated that this amounted to a funding cost reduction of more than £100 billion for 13 banks in the UK. With that level of subsidy, of course we might expect those industries to become world leaders. Of course we might then expect an influx of global talent as those subsidies allow us to pay the best wages and bonuses. We might expect foreign direct investment as global companies source here to access that talent. We might expect allied industries to spring up – lawyers, accountants, service firms, boutique establishments. We might then expect agglomeration economy dynamics to emerge as demand multipliers kick in. Those industries would make a lot of money, and would pay a lot of tax – as would their employees. But that is a state subsidy, applied to London and not to activities prevalent elsewhere in the country. Further, because those activities suck in talent from the regions (engineers, mathematicians, physicists and other scientists) they undermine the broad competences of non-metropolitan areas. This implies less palatable conclusions to those of Mind The Gap because gains are zero sum: to replicate the success of London, regions must wrestle power and state subsidy from it.

Let’s take another example: PFI. The problem with ‘identifiable expenditures’ as reported by the Treasury is that it does not capture the leakage of revenues out of the regions. If a hospital is built in Manchester, how much money remains in Manchester? With the example of St Marys – not a lot. The shareholders on the St Marys hospital PFI were Bovis Lend Lease (50%) (HQ Kent); HSBC (25%) (HQ London) and Sodexho (25%) (HQ London). The contractors were Bovis (Design & Build) (HQ Kent), RKW (HQ Dusseldorf, Germany), WR Adams (HQ Georgia, US but a Bovis subsidiary), Building Design Partnership (HQ Manchester), Anshen Dyer (HQ Calif/London). The private sector advisors were Clifford Chance (HQ London), Faithful & Gould (HQ London) and Marsh (HQ London). Financing involved the European Investment Bank; Deutsche Bank and the Royal Bank of Canada. With these foreign firms it is also the case that much of the money flows back to their London offices. So this is state money supporting London based business and employment even when investment is in the regions. Infrastructure investment of this kind could be organised differently to the benefit of the regions, but this model has the effect of operating like a quasi-regional policy for London and the South East.

Finally, on the question of ownership: are these London’s revenues? That is a tricky question because it raises all kinds of technical questions about how we account for these things and moral questions about proprietorial claims in a national economy. It is perhaps worth noting that banking profits rest on the principle of eking out a thin film of profit on a teetering tower of assets and liabilities. When those assets values rise, the booked profits are assumed to be London’s and are distributed accordingly via the bonus system and comp ratio; when they fall and banks require a bailout, the accumulated losses are assumed to be national. To put this in the parlance of finance, this is a regional moral hazard: the metropolitanisation of gains and the nationalisation of losses.

The issue of what the regions can learn from London deserves deeper thought. UK second cities are small and growing more slowly than London. In ratio terms, the UK’s largest 2nd tier city generates around 10% of the output of London – the second highest capital to 2nd tier city output inequality within the EU. In terms of the regional concentration of GDP creation, that means we have more in common with a Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania or Greece than a Germany, Netherlands or Sweden. It is just not credible to continuously laud London as an exemplar from which others might learn, without recognising the role of these ex ante state subsidies from which London benefits disproportionately and which reinforce regional inequalities.

It all comes together in … Hebden Bridge?

In this second blog post about Evan Davis’s recent BBC series, Mind the Gap: London v the Rest, Iain Deas, Graham Haughton and Stephen Hincks from Planning and Environmental Management in the School of Environment, Educaton and Development at the University of Manchester look at the intriguing suggestion that policy support might in future concentrate on promoting growth in a trans-Pennine super-city radiating outwards from Manchester. In doing so, they draw on a wider critique of ‘agglomeration boosterism’ they began to develop in an open access paper published last month in Environment and Planning A.

The case for a trans-Pennine super-city drew on the now familiar argument that bigger is better in respect of urban economic development: that large cities are associated with higher levels of prosperity and productivity. Citing Word Bank research linking increased city size to raised productivity, the programme frustratingly left unexplored the direction of any causal linkage between population growth and economic development. Instead, it asserted that “if you could make Manchester the size of London (by doubling it and doubling it again) you would expect it to be about 6% to 16% richer”. Thus, what is needed is “the creation of a far bigger second city – one of several million people, which could serve as a counterweight to the mighty force that is the capital” (Davis, 2014).

Manchester and Birmingham, on the grounds of their size and international standing, were presented as the most realistic candidates to assume this status as Britain’s second global city. A survey commissioned for the programme showed Manchester as the preferred second city, if nothing else illustrating the effectiveness of the city’s efforts to transform its external perception as the quintessential ‘dirty old town’. But the programme also offered another way forward: creating a polycentric super-city by encouraging stronger linkages between existing urban areas along the M62 motorway corridor. Suggesting in partly jocular fashion that the commuter town of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire possesses the London-style sense of cultural tolerance and liberal mindedness to act as symbolic link between the great Victorian industrial cities on either side of the Pennines, Mind the Gap argued that investment in infrastructure and complementary economic specialism could create a super-city straddling the functional economies of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool.

Figure 1: The Manchester-Hebden Bridge super-city

Sources: Manchester and the Hulme Arch (Graham Haughton); Rochdale Canal, Hebden Bridge (ManAlive!, flickr.com, Creative Commons license).

Sources: Manchester and the Hulme Arch (Graham Haughton); Rochdale Canal, Hebden Bridge (ManAlive!, flickr.com, Creative Commons license).

The idea of enhanced inter-city cooperation, or of a trans-Pennine super-city, is by no means new. In the mid-late-1990s, some of our colleagues in Planning and Environmental Management at Manchester produced a series of studies articulating the ways in which a trans-Pennine regional growth corridor, from Liverpool to Hull, could be developed. This in turn prompted interest from the European Commission, and armed with Interreg funding the trans-Pennine corridor eventually extended beyond its northern roots to form a North European Trade Axis stretching from Dublin to Donetsk. This, and other ideas like the starchitect Will Alsop’s proposal in 2005 for a super-city along the M62 motorway, helped for a short time to generate political interest. John Prescott’s Northern Way, again linking the M62 cities but with an additional branch to Newcastle, was proposed as a new growth corridor, helping to bridge the ‘£29 billion gap’ in economic output between the northern regions and London.

The notion of increased inter-city collaboration – or even a pan-regional super-city – has been persistent, but fulfilling it has proved frustratingly elusive. Much of the initial political momentum underlying the Northern Way rapidly dissipated as the constituent cities reverted to more insular policy-making and produced a series of separate (and only nominally linked) city-region development plans, rather than a coherent pan-regional collaborative strategy. This is just one illustration of the difficulty involved in persuading cities with distinct political, economic and cultural histories to work together in any meaningful way. The potency of longstanding parochial rivalries in limiting the scope for meaningful inter-city cooperation is compounded by government efforts over more than thirty years to foster competitive localism and encourage cities to compete with domestic and international rivals for policy resources, skilled labour, inward investment, prestige events and so on.

In this context, it is hardly surprising that many inter-city collaborative initiatives should founder. The Liverpool-Manchester Vision – an attempt from 2001 by the North West Development Agency to promote greater collaboration around external marketing to visitors and inward investors – unravelled amid inter-city acrimony about the location for its launch event. More recently, efforts to agree a name for the new Merseyside combined authority have come unstuck over resistance amongst the city-region’s satellite districts to the use of ‘Liverpool’ in the title of the new institution (‘Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority’ is the less than catchy interim compromise).

Securing agreement amongst reluctant constituent areas is just one of the obstacles confronting efforts to construct the kind of super-city mooted by Evan Davis and others. Infrastructure investment in the North, especially in the rail network, was rightly highlighted by Mind the Gap as an important way of cultivating links between cities. Evidence to date suggests that existing links are inadequate and the necessary investment unlikely to be forthcoming. The programme correctly noted that while HS2 and Crossrail involve billions of pounds of expenditure on improving transport to and within London, resources allocated to trans-Pennine linkages are slender by comparison. Indeed, at the time of writing Parliament is debating the announcement that some 13% of the rolling stock on the overcrowded trans-Pennine rail route is from 2015 to be diverted to meet capacity shortages in the South East (Parliamentary Business, 2014). And even when investment has proved forthcoming, as with the electrification of the Manchester-Liverpool rail line to form a high(ish) speed connection along the route of the world’s first inter-city passenger railway, this has been dependent in part on new infrastructure development in London generating surplus rolling stock to be refurbished and redeployed in the provinces.

Figure 2: Percentage change in public sector employment, 2008-2013

Source: ons.gov.uk (accessed 24th January 2013)

Source: ons.gov.uk (accessed 24th January 2013)

The ability of northern cities themselves to invest in developing new infrastructure or improved links – or to develop their economies more generally – is also constrained. Government’s localist rhetoric implies that cities have been ‘liberated’ and are free to develop whatever policy innovations they deem appropriate. However, the reality, given that austerity measures have impacted on local government more than any other part of the public sector, is that the ability of cities to effect economic change is highly restricted. The prospect of local agencies promoting meaningful economic development is perhaps especially limited in the cities of the north, given that it is provincial regions that have borne the brunt of public sector employment losses. Indeed, as Figure 2 shows, the only English region not to experience a net loss of public sector jobs since 2008 has been London.

The history of London-centric decision-making, and its recent parallel logic that what’s good for London is good for the rest, continues to blight the prospects for development for the country as a whole. Two things are left unanswered by recent calls to focus more resources on just a small number of large cities because of their supposed contribution to national productivity. First, why should the ‘The Rest’ – people outside London and other potential growth areas – accept their taxes funding disproportionate investment in apparently already buoyant urban economies? And second, do we really want to live in a country where decisions about the geography of public spending pander to a highly questionable economistic logic that attaches undue importance to inducing gains in a dubious concept like productivity? Better to think in broader terms, to the benefit of London, Manchester… and Hebden Bridge.





Size matters? London – the subsidy junky

Iain Deas, Graham Haughton and Stephen Hincks from Planning and Environmental Management in the School of Environment, Educaton and Development at the University of Manchester reflect on Evan Davis’s arguments about London’s relationship with the rest of the UK economy …

In a recent BBC series, Mind the Gap: London v the Rest and an accompanying BBC blog (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03xp6x7), Evan Davis put forward an argument that government should do more to help large and successful cities prosper – even though this means spending less elsewhere. Central to the case was the notion that cities are best able to prosper when they have dense networks of highly skilled and creative workers intermingling in close proximity, driving innovation and promoting high-value economic activity.  Both local and national economic development policy, the programme argued, ought to concentrate support much more exclusively on the small number of cities that can fulfil this role as epicentres of knowledge-driven economic vitality.

The programme singled out London as an exemplar of this form of urban economic development.  The dramatic transformation of the city’s economic fortunes over nearly thirty years, it was argued, was attributable to its ability to attract and retain skilled mobile labour from around the world, lured by a seductive mix of vibrant cultural environments, attractive neighbourhoods and the prospect of rapid economic enrichment.  Amid predictable images of self-congratulatory, coffee quaffing metropolitan hipsters, the programme argued that London’s growth should be celebrated and promoted.  Although there was acknowledgment of some of the problems associated with rapid growth and overheating – strains on infrastructure, acute housing shortages and the social and spatial marginalisation of residents left behind – these were presented simply as impediments to further growth that policy intervention should and could circumvent.  London’s prosperity, ran this argument, ought to be facilitated by accommodating growth pressures: providing developable land, ensuring a supply of affordable housing, investing further in infrastructure and continuing to meet demand for labour by stressing the city’s openness to newcomers.

Mind the Gap was in some ways an entertaining and deliberately provocative piece of television. What is interesting, though, is that it echoed much of the orthodoxy that many would argue infuses contemporary urban economic development policy – not least in Manchester.  In an open access paper published last month in Environment and Planning A (http://www.envplan.com/abstract.cgi?id=a130335c) we began to question the sorts of academic idea that underpinned Mind the Gap. Building on this, we want in this two-part blog to critique two of the ideas central to Evan Davis’s thesis. In this first post, we assess Davis’s contention that London’s ascendancy ought not only to be tolerated, but should be actively promoted by government as the best way of driving national prosperity.  In the subsequent blog, we review the second episode of Mind the Gap, which argued that by concentrating resources in a network of linked urban areas as part of a northern super-city, England’s provincial cities might begin to develop new agglomerative economic growth and follow London’s path to success.

London: state aid addict

Evan Davis’s treatise said relatively little about the role of policy in underpinning London’s transformation from merely another declining British city in the 1970s to the thrusting global city of today.  Indeed, implicit to the programme was an argument that spatial policy had been trained to too great a degree on the declining cities of the north and midlands, to very limited effect. At the same time, earlier policy efforts to manage the growth of London itself – via green belt policy or the new towns programme – were said to have undermined the city’s economy by restricting in situ development and diverting development elsewhere.

This ignores the instrumental role played by government in enabling London’s growth. The emphasis of national policy, at least until the onset of the crises of 2007-08, on promoting the financial and producer service sectors has been a major part of this.  So too has been associated spending, aimed at accommodating London’s growth via multi-billion investment in infrastructure. What is less frequently acknowledged, however, is that public expenditure in general has also been skewed towards London.  Treasury data on per capita identifiable public expenditure on services for standard regions give some sense of the capital’s favourable treatment (Figure 1).  London, the graph shows, is consistently the best funded of the English regions, and exceeded only by the special cases of Northern Ireland and (to a lesser extent) Scotland and Wales.  The unavoidable additional cost of maintaining capital city functions for the four UK capitals, and other complications such as the variable physical size of the regions and their differing social profiles, makes comparison across regions difficult.  But the extent of interregional disparity is striking nonetheless – and even greater in terms of specific types of spending, like science and technology and transport, where London and the South East again receive disproportionately larger shares than other English regions.

Figure 1:  Total identifiable expenditure on services by country and region per head in real terms,2007-08 to 2011-12

Source: HM Treasury (2013) Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2013, Cm 8663, London: The Stationery Office. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/223600/public_expenditure_statistical_analyses_2013.pdf (accessed 20th March 2014).

Source: HM Treasury (2013) Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2013, Cm 8663, London: The Stationery Office. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/223600/public_expenditure_statistical_analyses_2013.pdf (accessed 20th March 2014).

A dispassionate observer might well conclude that London’s growth has been highly dependent on state subsidy.  Moreover, data on disaggregated public service expenditure suggest a pattern for the English regions that runs counter to regional policy. And the sums involved in the latter are, of course, much smaller by comparison with spending on mainstream services. This is important because implicit to the argument of Mind the Gap was a view that past spatial policy has been ineffective in reenergising declining economies, and that public money ought to focus on stimulating agglomerative growth in a few large urban areas instead of trying to narrow interregional inequality.  Past policy for cities and regions, runs this line of argument, is wasteful because it is propping-up areas that are less ‘productive’ than London.

Yet there is an argument that previous regional policy should not to be so readily dismissed, and that it is unrealistic to expect regional economic transformation given the degree to which regional imbalance has been ingrained over a century and more.  Even at its peak in 2005/06, the national budget of £2.2b for Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) represented only 0.2% of national output.  And even in the most generously funded of the RDAs – One North East – peak spending amounted to £240m: a mere £95 per person or 0.75% of regional economic output.  These are miniscule sums, dwarfed by public expenditure directed towards London.  And the contrast becomes even more striking given the abolition of the RDAs and their replacement by Local Enterprise Partnerships, nominally private sector bodies responsible for raising their own resources and benefitting from only modest levels of financial support from government. Viewed in the context of the meagre resources allocated to spatial economic development policy and the hidden subsidy to London and its region, therefore, it is unsurprising that regional economic disparity should prove so intractable.

Mind the Gap echoed the view that past policy for cities and regions has detracted from rather than added to national productivity , and that resources could be better used to enable London’s growth to be maintained and to create mini-Londons elsewhere.  What was missing, however, was any kind of lateral thinking on how to offset the growth pressures accumulating in the London region. Yet the solution to some of London’s problems of overheating, it could be argued, rests not in the capital, but elsewhere in urban Britain.  The sensible response London’s  to spiralling house prices, one could contend, lies not in liberalising planning and releasing more land for development, but in focusing economic development policy on struggling cities and regions in order to bolster their demand for labour and displace some of the pressures from the  existing hotspots of the South East.  Supply-side policies on land and labour in London and the South East over thirty years have failed to resolve growth pressures, hence acute localised wage and house price inflation. Instead of maintaining urban containment and resisting green belt encroachment, concerned residents of the Home Counties might be better advised to lobby for more investment in the north in order to ensure that housing is affordable in the South East.

Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, likes to argue that concentrating investment in already prosperous London is justifiable not only because the city is a net contributor to the exchequer, but also because the benefits ultimately trickle-down to the rest of the country. “I’m making the argument to the Treasury that a pound spent in Croydon is far more of value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde. You will generate jobs in Strathclyde far more effectively if you invest in parts of London”, he told the Huffington Post in 2012 (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/26/job-creation-london-mayor-huffpost-linkedin_n_1456092.html).  A rather better argument would be to invest more in Britain’s provincial cities, linked to a genuinely integrative national spatial policy, as the best way of maintaining London’s prosperity.




Can Manchester become a cycling city?

For cities such as Manchester to operate a fully sustainable transport system they must make cycling mainstream, say Dr James Evans and Gabriele Schliwa. Their study into how to make the vision a reality has policy implications for cities across the UK.

Manchester may be the home of British cycling, but does the city fully embrace two wheels?

A flat city home to Europe’s largest student population should, in theory, be a biking mecca. But the reality is some way off. Many would-be cyclists are simply put off getting on the saddle at all, even for the slightest journey, be it because of safety or security issues, practicalities, better alternatives or maybe just Mancunian weather!

However, as more people see both the economic and health benefits of cycling (and the nationwide boom shows little sign of letting up), so cities need to adapt and make cycling mainstream. If cities really want to fully embrace sustainability then cycling has to be a part of the mix.

For a city such as Manchester to see more cyclists on its streets it has to do a number of things – understand the needs of cyclists, experiment with solutions, and learn what works. This means bringing together partners already working on the ‘two-wheels good’ mantra.

It was precisely these elements which provided the framework for the Manchester Cycling Lab research project into the state of cycling in the city that we began a few months ago, thanks to funding from the Economic & Social Research Council.


Ranked against the likes of London – or even a comparable city on the continent – Manchester would probably admit it has been slow to fully embrace the potential of cycling, while also underestimating cycling usage. At the same time there has been remarkably little research into cycle usage in the city compared to other forms of transport. There is a sense in which Manchester has to catch up.

There are lots of exciting initiatives already underway in the city. For instance the Velocity 2025 programme (http://cycling.tfgm.com/velocity/) aims to make cycling a mainstream, everyday form of transport via a network of newly-built or enhanced cycling routes within the next decade. And the Oxford Road Corridor development will ban all cars except taxis along a stretch of the road beside our own university, while at the same time improving pedestrian and cycle facilities.

So what exactly have we been doing? Our starting point was to identify the gaps in knowledge that need to be filled in order to facilitate the Velocity programme, working closely with Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and local businesses.

We then developed a suite of applied projects to address these needs using existing research capacity in the University – most notably in the form of our highly trained and motivated student body. The idea is to turn Manchester into a living laboratory for the study of cycling, harnessing the knowledge and capacity of the University to support a cycling transition.

Our portfolio contains about a dozen research projects, tailored to the knowledge needs of our key stakeholders, including a cost-benefit analysis for cycling investment in Manchester; an analysis of the potential to use bikes for delivery services; comparisons with cities such as New York and Berlin that have successfully invested in cycling; and smart planning for bicycle infrastructure.

For the latter project masters student Benjamin Bell is investigating whether Strava, a popular app which enables users to track and record their cycle journeys, can be used to understand where people cycle in Manchester. Early estimates suggest more than 12,000 people use Strava in Manchester, which accounts for around 6% of all cyclists in the city, a not insignificant number. We are sending out mailshots to further encourage the use of Strava by regular commuter cyclists to build up more representative data.

We set out to learn who already cycles in the city, which roads they use, and how often. We particularly wanted to test the extent to which Strava provided a realistic picture of Manchester’s most popular cycling routes and cyclist demographics. Is it representative of actual cycle patterns? We will be comparing our results with previous TfGMstudies and against real-life counts of cyclists on the same road segments.

Although the results are still coming in, the findings are already striking. For instance the vast majority (on average more than 90%) of Strava users are men. But does this reflect the wider uptake of cycling in the city? And those women who do use Strava tend to use more side roads and off-road routes to complete their journey. Surely a demonstration of very real safety concerns among women?

The questions ultimately posed by our study are long term. They are as much cultural and behavioural as physical. Can we change the actual mindset of vast swathes of the population and bring them around to the benefits of cycling?

As the Manchester Cycling Lab research portfolio shows, we want to compare our work with comparable cities. But in this regard Manchester needs to benchmark itself not just with other UK cities, but with those on the continent or in other developed nations too. Here our aim is to very much to be part of that wider policy debate about what cities like Manchester can and need to do to fully embrace cycling.

Cities like Berlin have achieved major increases in cycling levels in a relatively short time-frame with similar levels of investment to that proposed in Manchester. Their investment in cycling infrastructure, promotion and education is now really paying off, as any recent visitor would tell you. Let’s make people say the same about Manchester in 10 years time.

 *We would urge you to join us for two special events next month. The University of Manchester Bicycle Users Group (UMBUG) is celebrating reaching 1000 members with a special event at 4.30pm on Thursday April 3 outside University Place http://umbug.manchester.ac.uk/. Meanwhile Cities@Manchester is hosting an urban forum exploring the issues raised in this article on Tuesday, 8 April, 6-8pm at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation.  http://www.cities.manchester.ac.uk/events/

This blog is also available at policy@manchesterhttp://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/



Of refugees and post-earthquake responses

Natalia Garcia Cervantes, Jessica Roccard and Cathy Wilcock (University of Manchester) write about an international conference that took place two weeks ago in Manchester …

The third part of the series ‘Ambivalence in the city’ at the HCRI/GURC sub-conferences for the 11th International Conference on Urban Health continued with the session ‘Urban humanitarianism III: Refugees, inequalities and humanitarianism’. Participating in the plenary was our colleague Cathy Wilcock, from IDPM at the University of Manchester, and Jorge Inzulza from the University of Chile.

Cathy Wilcock started the session with the presentation ‘Institutional Resistance to the transnational political activities of refugee groups: The anti-politics of refugee NGOS towards Sudanese activists in Manchester’. Cathy explores how the political activities of Sudanese refugees in urban centres in the UK are affected by the political environment of their new place of residence. She analyses the systems of power relations, both actors and processes, of the refugees’ political environment in relation to their transnational activities. She does this by exploring three key questions: What transnational activities are taking place? How do UK-NGO’s relate to those activities? And, what are the implications of this relation?

In this context, refugees NGO’s aim to support and empower communities to establish strong organizations; nonetheless, these NGOs appear to be extremely concerned with the possibility of lending support to political activists based in the UK, such as the anti-Bashir movement. As a result, political activism is seen by NGOs as a menace for the refugees’ community development and an ‘institutional resistance’ emerges whereby NGOs become reluctant to form relationships with transnational political activism groups. Additionally, an obvious support for cultural, as opposed to political refugee organisations, on one hand, and resistance to political activities on the other, sends the message that ‘There is an ideal type of refugee that we will support’, namely those who are victims of conflict, and not embroiled in the contentious politics which espoused conflict, those who bring over cultural memories of their place of origin and not political ones. In short, it results in the legitimisation of cultural activities and the delegitimisation of political activities. She asks whether, in reality, it is sensible or possible for those to be separated.

To continue with the session, Jorge Inzulza, from the University of Chile presented a very engaging topic; ‘Tremors and large waves: loss of memories and threat in the context of the Chilean reconstruction’. Dr Inzulza introduced the urban planning policies issues regarding post-earthquake reconstruction using the case of Talca and Constitucion. He argued that, natural disasters and gentrification are processes that commonly increase poverty and social inequality; they often displace residents and change the urban landscape in cities, particularly at intermediate size cities in Latin America. Dr Inzulza suggested that, the lack of appropriate post-reconstruction planning policies results in a gentrification of the city, where the loss of infrastructure and consequent sense of place amounts to the loss of citizens’ legitimacy and identity. He highlighted the dissonance between the existent normative and guideline documents that work at different levels and the pressing needs that surge from the earthquake; and there is an explicit disconnection between normative aspects and socio-economic, government management, territorial investments and a spatial-physical approach to planning for reconstruction.

This was indeed a very compelling and exciting session. Thanks to both participants!!

All change please: climate in urban areas

The third day of the conference ICUH 2014, started with a plenary session led by Prof Hancock, Prof Sir Gilmore, Prof Hickman and Prof Rao. First, Prof Hancock presented the impacts of climate change on urban areas. Pointing out the three parameters that have influence on urban areas and public health (environment, people and economy), he argued for the need for “healthy democracies”. Secondly, Prof Sir Gilmore introduced the disastrous effects of alcohol on urban population. Hence, he claimed that we are currently witnessing a shift of the behaviour of the population: from enjoying a glass of alcohol to binge drinking. This change poses a serious threat for public health as a significant increase in alcohol-related injuries and disease and death is observed. Then, the third speaker, Prof Hickman, talked about the issue of hepatitis C in urban areas among the injection users with a very cost/effective approach by addressing the effectiveness of the possible interventions depending on the prevalence of the disease among this population. The last speaker, Prof Rao, described the health problems of the urban poor in Indian and Bangladesh cities. She pointed out the link between health and urbanisation emphasising the importance of the urban areas. Indeed, cities are powerful drivers of economic growth, but they are also the witnesses of social inequity between low-income and higher-income communities, being a major issue to address.

Is climate change THE PRIMARY concern or is it a new characteristic of development issues?

The documentary presented by Dr Dodman entitled “Climate Bites: Disease”, of the hot cities series, was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation for the purpose of being broadcast by the BBC. It presented the exacerbation of public health issues related to climate change. The examples of Jakarta and the increasing epidemics of dengue, Paris and the heat wave which occurred in 2003, and Chicago and its solutions strategies such as green roofs and surveillance system were examined.

This interesting video raises numerous questions. First, the documentary emphasises that climate change is the cause of the public health issues. However, is climate change really the main cause of the disease epidemics, or does it simply exacerbate existent issues of urbanisation of the city? In this case, what is the degree of importance of its impacts on these inherent urbanisation issues? Is climate change a development issue?

Furthermore, the case of Jakarta addresses gender issues. Indeed, while fogging is undertaken by the authorities, prevention campaigns and insecticide distribution are also carried out by a women’s organisation. Hence, could measures to face climate change impacts be implemented along with women’s empowerment strategies? However, while focusing on this organisation, further questions are raised. Who provided the insecticide to the women’s organisation? How was their organisation set up? Would it be efficient in a low-income community, also often lacking of basic knowledge?

In this context, it can also be noted that the strategy implemented by the authorities is short term. It eradicates the vector but it does not address the underlying issue of water and sanitation. Hence, the sustainability of the strategy is questionable as the deeper causes of the epidemics are not addressed. On the contrary, long-term strategies such as the building of green infrastructures and designed of surveillance system of the most vulnerable people have been implemented in Chicago. However, could these long-term strategies of Northern cities be possible to be implemented in the cities of the Global South as these latest are already facing heavy and different urbanisation burdens?

Finally, regarding both the heat wave in Paris and dengue in Jakarta, it can be noticed that the authorities and sanitary actors were unprepared to face the hazards. Learning from these experiences, responses have been elaborated. However, do we need to witness deaths to prepare for the coming changes?

All’s well that ends well: Closing plenary

The closing session of the HCRI/GURC sub-conferences was chaired by Dr Tanja Muller, with the contributions of Professor Diana Mitlin, from GURC at the University of Manchester and Dr David Dodman from IIED.

Professor Mitlin started by offering her observations on ‘Urban Risk and Humanitarian Response: reflecting on urban realities and specificities’, where, in order to understand urban risks,  she scrutinized what the terms ‘urban’, ‘risks’ and ‘humanitarian’ mean. An ‘urban’ environment is among other things, characterised by high density areas, a dependence on labour markets influenced by public investment management and potential of urban space.

Dr Dodman explored the topic ‘Climate change and its health impacts on the urban poor’ and pointed at the pressing need for new urban systems for resilience, and to develop preventative measures for the implications of climate change in health.

The session ended as an invigorating exchange of ideas between the audience and the panellists. We discussed the significance of humanitarian response to the current and future challenges posed to urban health, by risks such as violence and climate change.

Overall, the HCRI/GURC sub-conference of the 11th International Conference on Urban Health delivered a thought-provoking and dynamic symposium. It brought together some fascinating research from both established and emerging academics with insights from some world-leading practitioners.