The precise factors that influence people’s residential decisions, and how these vary across people and places, are not well understood. Policy makers have long tried to attract young professionals into city centres9 – often focusing on retail or residential-led strategies in order to do so – even though they have limited knowledge of whether these are the factors that attract young people to city centres.10

In fact, there are likely to be many reasons why young people come to city centres, and why families are attracted to suburbs. Cost of housing, proximity to workplace, availability of public transport, size, type and tenure of housing, local shops, schools, restaurants, leisure and cultural facilities, open and green spaces and safety are all likely to play a role – as are cultural ties to certain places, or previous knowledge of an area. Previous work has suggested that city centre living is driven more by factors such as convenience and proximity to shops and facilities than by leisure and cultural activities.11 Currently, we can observe these patterns, but until we have a more thorough understanding of what drives residential decisions we are less able to ultimately influence it.

However, the divergence between the types of people living in city centres, suburbs and hinterlands raises further questions for future research.

  • 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 employed residents. 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 second part of this project, to be published in November 2015, will use polling data to delve more deeply into these questions and others.