The UK’s largest cities and towns are where we come together to work, live and play. The pandemic has reminded us that, with the benefits that come from city life, there also come risks. But the lessons from the 6,000-year history of the city are clear: they survive, adapting to and overcoming the challenges of disease, conflict and economic change.
Our research has shown the extent to which the pandemic has impacted people’s day-to-day lives, demonstrating that those living in cities and large towns have been hit the hardest by Covid-19.
The beginning of the pandemic back in March 2020 and subsequent introduction of national lockdowns saw a dramatic fall in mobility and public transport use in UK cities as millions of office workers quickly shifted to working from home.
That said, while it is too early to predict the long-term effect that the pandemic will have on urban places, we consider the recession brought on by Covid-19 to be very different to previous ones and so we should expect the UK economy and many of its cities to experience a sharp bounce back.
Now, with the economy gradually starting to reopen and the Government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions in full swing, it’s likely that we’ll see changes in UK cities over the coming months.
The proportion of people able to work from home is often overstated. Our estimates suggest that people able to work from home are a minority in every single city and large town in the UK. London, Reading and Edinburgh have the highest shares of workers able to work from home – more than four in ten. Meanwhile, in Barnsley, Burnley and Stoke just two in ten people can work from home.
However, it is likely that the pre-lockdown working practices will change, with many people continuing to work from home for at least some of the week. However, this will not be a cost-free decision; many city centre shops and restaurants depend on custom from office workers and are likely to struggle if their weekday sales shrink.
While many have adapted smoothly to working from home, the benefits of face-to-face interaction are hard to replicate and working remotely means that we miss out on the spontaneous flow of ideas and the sense of camaraderie that being in an office creates. We will continue to need spaces to come together, collaborate and build relationships. Offices and co-working spaces are natural places to do this and city centres remain the most convenient places to locate them.
Covid-19 has undoubtedly shaken urban places to their core, but we should be cautious about rushing to the conclusion that the pandemic signals the death of the city.
Cities have always been centres of disease as well as prosperity. Density has its downsides as well as upsides and yet historically cities have survived and thrived, continuing to function as places where people gather to do trade, to learn and to have fun.
The more prosperous a place becomes; the more people head there to make their fortunes. This is even truer in the UK today where more high-skilled jobs are based in cities and large towns in the Greater South East than in the rest of the country.
Young people are likely to continue to head to cities to develop their careers and have fun. The number of twenty-somethings in cities’ centres tripled in recent years. Today, young people comprise half of the city centre population. This is unlikely to change in the near future.
While every part of the UK has been affected by Covid-19, UK cities and large towns have been hit the hardest, becoming unemployment hotspots. For this reason, they will play a particularly important role in creating jobs as we emerge from the pandemic.
Our research with HSBC UK examined growth patterns within the UK’s seven-year jobs miracle to inform how new jobs can be created as the Government looks to build back better and level up the country. This research identified that if patterns of the past persist, cities and large towns will be our main job creators post-Covid.
There are several things that national and local government can do to support their areas’ economic and social recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.
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This briefing uses the theory of economic complexity to show how the economies of Britain’s cities and large towns have developed over time and sets out the implications for how the Government should approach its levelling up agenda.
As the lockdown in response to the Coronavirus pandemic varies across the country, Centre for Cities tracks the recovery of high streets in Britain's cities and large towns.
As part of levelling up, the Government should create a City Centre Productivity Fund. This is how it would work.
This report looks at the economic performance of Southampton city centre in recent years, investigates the causes of it, and sets out what this means for the future direction of policy.
Access to workers, and the skills of those workers, are two big differences between large cities in the UK, France and Germany.
Some argue that imbalances in the UK result from London’s overperformance, rather than the underperformance of the country’s next largest cities. Making comparisons with European cities suggests this isn’t the case.
County deals will need to think about cities, mayors, and planning reform to make the most of the devolution agenda.
Researcher Guilherme Rodrigues analyses carbon emissions from across the capital to conclude that encouraging density will help cities reach net zero.
Switching to electric vehicles will help us on the road to net zero, but to reach our destination most of us will need to ditch cars entirely.
If net zero policies were targeted at our largest cities and towns it would get the Government a quarter of the way to meeting its net zero target.