That old chesnut: the North/South divide

You may have seen some of the media surrounding the Policy Exchange’s recent report Cities Unlimited. The authors Tim Leunig and James Swaffield have had outraged reactions to what people have seen as their recommended 'abandonment' of northern cities. Delve a little deeper into their report however and it contains food for thought. The authors look at the past development of cities, the government’s regeneration plans and whether these will create the future cities the government wants. Traditionally cities, centres of society, have grown in key locations. Leunig and Swaffield have essentially asked how successfully cities have created new key features to make them as important now and going forward as they may have been in the past. They think about urban development in traditional terms, considering economic importance and geographical location. What if there are other ways of thinking about the importance of a town? Consider, for example, Abu Dhabi in the Arab gulf: positioning itself as a centre for culture, attracting its own outposts of the Guggenheim and the Louvre and its neighbour Dubai -very much on shortlists as a shopping desination.

What trends do you see becoming stronger in the future that could bolster the seemingly ‘abandoned’ northern cities? The concept of a knowledge economy as opposed to a financial one is interesting. The report authors touch on this as an alternative base on which to strengthen a city's position. There are changes in the financial economic climate at the moment; would more conceptual economies such as a knowledge economy also be subject to fluctuations? How could your organisation benefit from, or engage with these economies? 

Another key aspect of the report for me is that it raises the spectre of lack of community engagement (see also our drivers relating to this). Community regeneration in the north is presented as having failed. Commentators speculate that a fundamental reason for this is lack of engagement with the people schemes are intended to benefit. Leunig and Swaffield’s proposal to devolve spending to local authorities to spend where they see need would perhaps help mitigate this problem. Ensure that your organisation can lead by example by making sure you engage the people you’re trying to help. Perhaps if those who hold the purse strings nationally had engaged in more of this, would regional regeneration have been more successful? Speculation can be endless, but one thing’s for sure. Public engagement with your aims and programmes cannot harm an organisation’s effectiveness.

Last updated at 15:08 Mon 18/May/09.
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