The role of cities as places of consumption is currently a prominent topic among policymakers. As national and local governments look to revive weak economies and breathe life into empty high streets, questions are being asked about what cities should offer consumers and why some are struggling to do this.

Providing new and improved amenities continues to be an important part of local economic development policy. Building new museums or hosting programmes of cultural events, such as the UK City of Culture, are considered tools to spark economic growth in weaker cities.

At the same time, many cities are tackling the decline of their high street. Councils are in the process of designing policies to reverse the closure of shops, restaurants and local businesses that has left some town and city centres with large numbers of vacant properties.

Cities play a significant role in the national economy. In Britain, cities cover nine per cent of land, but are home to 56 per cent of businesses, 59 per cent of jobs and 63 per cent of output. Within this, cities play an important role as places of consumption. Their restaurants, theatres and shopping centres attract people from within and beyond their borders to spend time and money. Any policies designed to shape and improve a city’s offer to consumers must be based on a full understanding of this role.

This report explores what cities offer consumers. It shows the amenities currently provided for city residents, workers and visitors and how this varies across the country. The reasons for this variation are shown by exploring the link between the underlying strength of a city’s economy and its amenities.

Box 1: Methodology

This analysis is built up from three parts of each city: city centre, suburb and hinterland. It also makes a distinction between four types of cities: London, large cities, medium cities and small cities.

City centres are defined based on all the lower super output areas (LSOA, the lowest geography available from census data, roughly equating to a neighbourhood) that fall within a circle of:

  • London – radius of 2 miles;
  • Large cities – radius of 0.8 miles;
  • Medium and small cities – radius of 0.5 miles.

Suburbs are the rest of the Primary Urban Area, a standard statistical geography which reflects the continuous built up area of a city.1

Hinterlands are the areas around a city that are within commuting distance. They are bespoke to each city, and are dependent on the average distance travelled by those who live outside of the city but commute into the city. In Plymouth, for example, the radius used is 56 km; in Bradford it is just 30 km.

The majority of this research is built from census data from 2011 and, where comparable, from 2001 in order to understand the demographics of these areas. For a full explanation of the data used, refer to the appendix.

Box 2: Use of data

This work contains statistical data from ONS which is Crown Copyright.

The use of the ONS statistical data in this work does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data.

This work uses research datasets which may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates.