The future of urban centres: An agenda for post-pandemic inclusive city renewal

This report published in May 2021 presents findings from research into the future of urban centres, with a focus on the UK’s key and core cities. It analyses the vital economic role they play, including their relationship with towns; the impact the pandemic has had on cities; and trends that could help cities to ensure local places prosper post-pandemic. A place-based inclusive renewal framework is proposed, and case study examples are provided throughout.

Date added 25 November 2021
Last updated 25 November 2021

This report presents findings from research into the future of urban centres, with a focus on the UK’s key and core cities. The report begins by demonstrating the vital economic role cities play, representing 32% of the UK’s population, 30% of jobs, 25% of businesses, and 27% of economic output (p. 10). The authors outline that, if productivity in key and core cities matched the national average, the national economy would be £89.4bn larger; whilst, if deprivation levels in these cities matched the UK average, 3.3million fewer people would be living in deprived neighbourhoods (p. 12). These cities are also crucial for surrounding towns by creating focal points for employment, business and civic life.

Next, the report assesses the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on cities. The authors outline how the crisis has presented a range of challenges to urban centres, such as health issues within the population (e.g. high Covid-19 cases), rising unemployment levels, declining high street footfall particularly in larger cities (smaller centres typically saw smaller reductions in retail activity), and the impacts of homeworking and related mobility patterns, which has led to what is termed a ‘Zoomshock’, with city centre service businesses serving the office worker market struggling as a result. As the authors suggest, the pandemic has further exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, with deprivation a particular issue within key and core cities, which has been further correlated with Covid-19 case numbers.

However, the report demonstrates how the pandemic has also opened up opportunities to improve our urban centres, with cities potentially becoming focal points of innovation and economic complexity, further adapting their high streets to new demands and purposes, and leading the path towards helping the UK transition towards net zero by becoming more walkable and energy efficient. The authors outline two crucial questions cities now face: Where will future prosperity come from? And, how should cites grow in a way which tackles the inequalities highlighted and exacerbated by Covid-19? To address these questions, and the three key issues of ‘net-zero’, ‘peak retail’, and ‘peak office’, the report concludes by providing a ‘framework for inclusive renewal’, places can adapt and adopt in their visions and strategies.