Cities case study

Urban forms and futures are the focus of policymakers’ and corporate attention as, in England, attention has shifted to prospects for Greater Manchester and other northern conurbations. Cities may be ‘innately complex’, according to a Government Office for Science Foresight review,31 but social scientific analysis is setting out the conditions, indicators and models for running them successfully. On social scientists depend many of the 32,000 enterprises involved in urban innovation in the UK, working with government and city authorities on fiscal devolution and regeneration.

But it is striking, says the Chair of the Royal Society of Arts City Growth Commission, Jim O’Neill, how few major companies are based outside London and how talent ‘flows into universities around the country but then funnels into London after graduation’.32 The remedy may be tying cities to the wider growth and innovation agenda, reconcentrating research and students in non-London institutions.

The late Sir Peter Hall, a social science visionary, spoke years ago of ‘creating an extraordinary new urban form … a totally new edge city around a high-speed train station’. It came to pass and his successors are now working on innovations in land use, getting the most from High Speed Two, ‘garden cities’, New Towns and the fiscal basis of development. The ‘smart city’ – the subject of an RCUK cross-disciplinary initiative – will use reams of data generated in urban life to improve transport and land use. The UK is well placed to prosper in the global market for emerging city technologies; within the next decade the market could be worth £200 billion a year, according to a study by the Future Cities Catapult and Arup.33