Between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s I visited many of the UK’s Northern and Midland towns and cities, and found myself revisiting many of these places just before the crash of 2008. It was very obvious that all these places (apart from one) had markedly improved in the intervening period. It looked like ‘we’ were beginning to get Regeneration right.
But, the thought struck me that the common denominator was about 13 years of more-or-less continuous economic growth of the UK’s national economy – longer than had been achieved for a long time.
We will always need Regeneration strategies, policies and interventions because some places, economies and people can fall so far behind others that they need a re-boot in order to become self-sustaining and self-renewing, but I have long believed that urban regeneration and growth, if it is not to be a zero-sum game, with one place’s gain being dependent on another place’s loss, is easier to achieve in a climate of general and widespread economic growth. But this thinking was through observation and intuition and I had no proof until I came across the ESPON-FOCI final report, (page 44) which said: ‘Many studies have shown that the economic growth of cities is frequently embedded in national economic systems and is often strongly related to the development of the latter. Seventy-four per cent of the differences in growth ( in GDP ) between individual cities in Europe is accounted for by differences between the growth rates of different countries, and just twenty-six per cent by the differences between growth rates of cities in the same country. There is, however, a marked difference between large cities’ growth in EU-12 and EU-15. The largest cities in EU-15 Member States grew marginally faster than cities as a whole within their countries in the period 1995-2001 and grew at about the same rate in the 2001-06 period. However, the largest cities in the EU-12 Member States grew significantly faster in both periods.’ So, someone has done the number crunching and shown that I am right: ‘normal’ cities and towns (that is, the majority) do need a successful and strong national economy but the largest cities like London can get by on their own to a greater extent. This is not to say that there is nothing we can do to improve and regenerate the average place but it does show that a growing national economy makes it less of an up-hill task.