Cities need strong economies and higher consumer spending power to provide a range of high street amenities.
When we think about where to go out to eat and drink, bustling cities often come to mind. But why? This blog explores what cities have to offer. Across the country, cities offer similar day-to-day options but diverge in their capacity to sustain a wide range of amenities.
Cities offer a richer set of food and drink options than elsewhere in the country
Cities offer a niche set of food and drink amenities. Of all the places to eat and drink in Britain, 58 per cent are in cities. Given that 54 per cent of the population lives in cities, this means a city resident has access to more places to eat and drink than someone living in a smaller town or the country.
Why can cities support a more expensive, diverse range of options? The answer is found in their density and scale.
In urban locations, businesses can cater to a large enough set of customers to sustain more specialised, unique, and expensive options. Think of popup eateries, experimental cocktail bars, and Michelin-starred restaurants. The advantage of locating in cities is the increased access to consumers and spending power.
But what’s most interesting is how the type of amenity varies when comparing cities and other parts of the country. We see the same pattern across all amenities, including shopping, leisure, beauty, and sport, but will focus on food and drink options to illustrate this point. Cities’ range of options can be characterised in three ways:
1. Cities offer similar numbers of day-to-day options
Chances are, you have eaten at a café or had a pint at a pub this week. These cheaper, more day-to-day options are available at a similar level across the country.
The data shows that the spread of cafes, pubs, and fast food places follows population. In Britain, 46 percent of the population lives in nonurban areas and 54 percent lives in cities. Looking at fast food, 41 percent of fast food places are in non-city areas and 59 percent are in cities. This split also holds true for cafes.
2. But on top of this they sustain more specialist options
Cities offer access to a similar range of cheaper, day-to-day options as the rest of the country, but more access to specialised and premium options.
More expensive food and drink options tend to cluster in cities. Bars and restaurants provide more specialized, premium substitutes for more everyday food and drink options like pubs, fast food, and cafes. More than two thirds of bars and restaurants are in cities. This is higher than the share of the total population within cities. The clustering of these types of options is even more apparent in city centres. 21 percent of all restaurants as well as 45 percent of all cocktail bars are in city centres.
3. Cities are also able to offer a wider range of cuisines
The tendency of cities, and especially city centres, to offer more expensive alternatives can also be looked at through variety of options. 40 percent of British restaurants are in cities, leaving 60 percent for less common cuisines including Indian, Caribbean, and Argentinian. Compare this to the rest of Great Britain, where the variety of cuisines are less diverse. In non-urban areas, British cuisine makes up more than half of the variety of food on offer.
But only strong city economies can support a full range of options
The ability to sustain a range of options depends on the economic strength of the city. Strong economies offer more, better-paying jobs. This then creates the spending power necessary to support a greater range of options. We see that stronger city economies are able to offer both a base level of everyday food and drink options as well as a bonus range of more expensive and diverse alternatives.
The positive relationship between cities’ economic strength and a bonus option such as restaurants demonstrates this. Cambridge has the highest share of high-skilled workers and highest number of restaurants per population. Weaker city economies are unlikely to provide the spending base for their workers to enjoy a more expensive and diverse food and drink offer.
Cities with stronger economies house a richer set of amenities, with many ‘bonus’ options for consumers. So, without a strong economy, a city cannot offer consumers a full range of amenity options that includes day-to-day as well as specialist and premium options. The limited spending power in weaker economy cities means that it is difficult to house more than the necessities.
This has implications for policy. Consumption-led strategies that increase the number and quality of amenities do not address the fundamental reasons why these economies are struggling. Rather, a more qualified workforce will attract businesses that provide high-skilled job opportunities and boost the economy. Increasing the consumption offer in cities can then follow and bolster these economic improvements.
Investments in amenities and culture have many public benefits such as widening participation in the arts or developing children’s interpersonal skills. These policies should be a part of each city’s development plan. However, they should not be the lead tool to spur economic development. Without a strong economy, these investments are unlikely to be sustainable.
You can read more about our recommendations in our report, What’s in store? How and why cities differ for consumers.
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