Policy-making in cities must be based on a sound understanding of where people live and work.
Different parts of cities are home to different types of people, at different stages of their lives. A better understanding of where people choose to live, who those people are and why they live where they do helps policy-makers to make more informed decisions – such as where to build new flats and houses, how to improve transport infrastructure to better connect people to jobs, and how to provide public services that meet the needs of residents.
Our report Urban Demographics: Where people live and work is the first part of a major project that aims to better understand the profile of residents who live in the 59 cities of England and Wales. As we stand on the cusp of substantial local government reform, with more powers devolved to cities and city-regions, better knowledge of the nature of our cities and their surrounding areas is crucial for informing their policy decisions.
The report shows that there are clear differences between the types of people who live in city centres, suburbs and hinterlands. The typical resident of a city centre is aged between 20 and 29, single, and well-educated, with 54 per cent of residents holding at least A-level or equivalent qualifications. They tend to live in flats, and walk, rather than drive, to work. And city centres have been the fastest growing parts of cities over a 10 year period, growing by 37 per cent – a growth that has been driven primarily by those in employment, but also by students.
Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2011 data
In comparison, the residents of suburbs and hinterlands tend to be older, and are more likely to be married or in a civil partnership and living together. They are also more likely to hold lower level qualifications and to work in low-skilled occupations than residents in city centres. And they are much more reliant on cars than residents in city centres.
These differences illustrate how residential preferences change, away from city centre amenities and towards the space found in suburbs and hinterlands, as people get older and start to form families.
But there are also significant differences between cities. The overall trends seen in city centres are primarily driven by the centres of large cities. The residential populations of city centres in large cities have more than doubled over the 10 years between 2001 and 2011. Whilst the fastest growing group were students, the share of people in the top three professional occupations nearly tripled over this period.
The increase in the share of jobs in the city centre over this time has been matched by an increase in the number of city centre residents who also work in the city centre, and with more people working closer to their workplace there has been a substantial increase in the number of people walking or cycling to work.
Small- and medium-sized cities, however, have seen much slower growth in their city centres. Although the number of high-skilled jobs increased over the 10 years, this was exceeded by the growth in low-skilled jobs. And with fewer jobs located in the city centres of these cities, residents tend to be more likely to work outside the city, and are more reliant on cars for these commutes.
Source: NOMIS (2015). Census 2001 and 2011 data
These trends raise some significant questions for how we develop urban policy in England and Wales. In particular, the divergence between large-city centres, which have been able to develop the balance of jobs and amenities that attract young, highly qualified professionals and students, and the city centres of small- and medium-sized cities, is striking. For example, it suggests that policies that only focus on retail and amenities will not be sufficient to attract new residents into city centres. Rather, cities should look to support the businesses and jobs that support amenities, and which in turn attract and retain residents.
The precise factors that influence why people choose to live where they do – and how this varies across people and places – is still not well understood. The second report in this project, to be published in November 2015, will explore in more detail the factors that drive these choices. Complementing further data analysis with polling data and city case studies will enable us to unpick the factors that play into residential choices in different cities and parts of cities across England and Wales.
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