Executive Summary

There has been something of an “urban renaissance” over the 10 years between 2001 and 2011. The suburban population of cities grew by 8 per cent over this time, from 28.45 million to 30.77 million, and are now home to 55 per cent of the total population of England and Wales. And city centres, which make up just 1.6 per cent of the total population of England and Wales, grew by 37 per cent over this period, from 0.66 million to 0.9 million residents.

But this growth has not happened everywhere – it has been driven primarily by the city centres of large cities, and by young, highly educated, single residents, sometimes referred to as ‘millennials’ or ‘Generation Y’. In some places, such as Sheffield and Newcastle, they are more likely to be students. In other cities, such as Manchester and Liverpool, they are more likely to be workers.

The city centres of smaller cities, however, have seen much slower growth over this period. Residents in these city centres tend to be older, less highly qualified, and more likely to work in lower skilled occupations. They are also more likely to own their home and to drive, rather than to walk to work.

Where people choose to live, who those people are, and why they choose to live there all have a significant impact on a wide range of policy areas. This report sets out a demographic overview of the city centres, suburbs and hinterlands of all 59 cities in England and Wales, and shows how these demographics have changed between 2001 and 2011. It offers some general reflections for how we might understand these trends, their implications for policy-making, and some questions for further analysis.

Does the importance of being close to employment opportunities differ at different points in a person’s life?

  • Large-city centres on the whole have strong economies as well as good amenities. Should strategies to encourage city centre living in small cities reflect this and focus on strengthening the employment base of their city centres, as well as providing amenities?
  • How can policies that aim to create ‘mixed’ communities in certain neighbourhoods take account of the fact that different people have preferences for different places – and that different factors drive their residential decisions?
  • A significant driver in the growth of city centres has been the presence of students, and not only professionals. Should decisions of where to locate universities and university accommodation be made with consideration of their impacts on the growth and make-up of city centres?
  • What does the policy focus on home ownership – which will predominantly affect suburbs and hinterlands – mean for the housing agenda in city centres?
  • The distance over which people commute and the method by which they travel are closely related to the proximity of their home to their workplace. How can cities ensure that policies aimed at encouraging sustainable transport are in line with commuting patterns?

The report is the first part of a major project which aims to better understand who lives in different parts of cities, why they choose to live where they do, and how this differs between cities. It aims to support national and local policy-makers in developing policy that is informed by a better understanding of how people live and work in the 21st century.

The second report in this project, to be published in November of this year, will use polling data and city case studies to better understand the specific factors that guide people’s residential decisions.