Young people leading 21st century resurgence in city centre living

New Centre for Cities report shows city centre living has boomed in Britain since the start of the century.

City centre living has boomed in Britain since the start of the century, with young people leading the move back into urban areas, according to a new report by the think tank Centre for Cities.

The report, ‘Urban demographics: where people live and work’, shows that the population of large-city centres in England and Wales has more than doubled between 2001-2011, with the number of residents aged 20-29 nearly tripling. This group now makes up almost half (49 per cent) of the total population of large-city centres.

One of the big factors attracting young people to city centres is the proximity and availability of jobs, with three times as many city centre residents walking to work as those living in suburbs or rural hinterlands. In many places city centre residents are paying significantly higher housing costs to enjoy this benefit, compared to those living in the suburbs.

As well as generally being younger than suburban residents, the report reveals that city dwellers are likely to be well-educated, single professionals, with just 22 per cent of city centre residents married or living with a civil partner.

Students have also played a major role in the resurgence of metropolitan living, and now account for a quarter of all residents in city centres – highlighting the influence of university campuses and accommodation in shaping city populations.

The report also highlights a number of other important findings which have big implications for the future of UK city centres, and how policy-makers can support their continued growth:

  • The rise in demand for city-centre living has put serious pressure on housing in many places – with the share of households in large city centres classed as overcrowded having increased by 69 per cent between 2001 and 2011. To sustain this growth, cities need to develop more housing in central areas
  • Small cities, which have fewer high-skilled jobs than large cities, have seen slower growth in their city centre populations since 2001. Government strategies to develop small city centres have focused on boosting retail on the High Street, but should also concentrate on attracting more high-skilled jobs and more residents
  • London has also seen slower growth in its city centre population than many places, with high housing costs pricing out many younger residents and students. Population growth has instead taken place in the capital’s suburbs, which have grown at twice the rate as in other large cities
  • People move away from city centres as they get married, start families or get older. In suburbs, residents tend to be either slightly older, or under 19 – suggesting that more families with children live in these areas. In the rural hinterlands, 45-64 year olds make up the largest share of the population, and there are twice as many residents aged over 65 than in city centres.

Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said:

“There’s been a lot of debate in recent years about the future of our high streets, but this report shows we need to look at city centres as places where people increasingly want to live and work, as well as being somewhere to shop. That has serious implications for any decisions about where to build houses, develop transport links and base public services and amenities.

“Policy-makers can’t take this resurgence for granted – it needs to be supported and sustained. For example, building more houses in city centres will help deal with issues like over-crowding and rising house prices, which could put potential residents off if left unaddressed.

“But the boom in city centre living also offers policy-makers big opportunities to spur on local economies. The best way to do that is by investing in our city centres, to attract more jobs and make them better places to live.

“In an era of continued austerity, sustaining the growth in metropolitan living is not only vital for cities, it’s also important for the whole country, because stronger city centre economies will generate more tax revenue for the national finances. This should be a priority for the Government, which can help cities by creating a City Centre Growth fund, to improve infrastructure for both residents and businesses in city centres.”

Mike Bothamley, Head of Real Estate at DAC Beachcroft, who sponsored the report, said:

“The return of young adults to our city centres is one of the key trends emerging from this valuable research, which also highlights the role that higher education and enterprise have played in this renaissance. However, common age does not necessarily imply common requirements and varying incomes within this group will have an impact on differing housing requirements in particular. I look forward to the second stage of research, which will highlight what informs decisions about where people of all ages choose to live and the important part that other elements such as shopping, leisure and transport, play in that dynamic.”


This is the first part of a major project which aims to understand who lives in different parts of cities, how this differs between cities, and why they choose to live there.

The second report, due to be published in November 2015, will use polling data and four case study cities to better understand the specific factors that guide people’s residential decisions.


For more information or to set up an interview, please contact Brian Semple, Press Manager for the Centre for Cities, on 0207 803 4316 or

Centre for Cities:

Centre for Cities is a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities. We are a charity that works with cities, business and Whitehall to develop and implement policy that supports the performance of urban economies. We do this through impartial research and knowledge exchange. For more information, please visit

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