Report shows local leaders should capitalise on the growth of city centres

According a new study by think tank Centre for Cities, local leaders have the capacity to act more in order to capitalise on the growth of city centres.

The study makes numerous recommendations on how local leaders can sustain the recent growth in city centre living and local economies. Urban Demographics, a study of why people live where they do, is a report based on YouGov polling. The study found that young professionals are increasing more likely to choose to live in UK city centres and that the number of residents aged 20-29 living in large city centre has nearly tripled between 2001-11.

The increase has arisen despite concerns over high rents, poor air quality and a lack of green space. The survey shows that 39 per cent of respondents cited the availability and proximity of restaurants, leisure and cultural facilities as a primary attraction to living in urban areas. In addition, 27 per cent said that living close to their place of work is the main advantage of living in the city.

However, 31 per cent of urban residents contended that the cost of housing is also a drawback, while 25 per cent maintained that pollution and poor quality of environment are downsides to living in urban areas.

The Centre for Cities report suggests the growth of population in urban areas is a result of the expansion of the knowledge economy, the jobs it has created and the proliferation of universities. Another contributing factor is that students now account for 44 per cent of the total population of large city centres, with many staying on after graduation.

The report continues to make a number of recommendations on how local leaders can benefit from this trend. This includes creating a better environment for businesses in urban areas, and making city centres a priority in efforts to attract firms and jobs, by choosing to locate enterprise zones in city centres, rather than on the outskirts; strategically planning housing and transport, to ensure that both are built in the right place for the right people, e.g. by building appropriate accommodation in city centres for young professionals; ensuring that regeneration projects include investment in skills and business growth, rather than simply focusing on physical and cultural regeneration; addressing the concerns of city centre residents about poor environment and lack of green spaces, by making these issues a priority in proactive planning decisions.

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “This research shows how the face of UK cities has changed dramatically over the last fifteen years – with city-centres transforming from often deprived and crime-ridden areas into places where young professionals across the country increasingly want to live and work.”

She continued: “While the report highlights the potential downsides of urban living, such as high housing costs or the lack of open space, it’s clear that for many young people these drawbacks are outweighed by the appeal of access to highly-skilled jobs, amenities, restaurants and shops, which are making city centres magnets for young talent.’

“But local leaders shouldn’t take this growth in people and jobs for granted, and need to consider how they can sustain and capitalise on these trends. That means taking steps to make city centres better places to live and do business in – for example, by building more housing in urban areas to meet the needs of young professionals, and by investing in infrastructure, to attract more jobs and firms to central areas.”

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