What drives successful city centres?

So, what is it that drives successful city centres?


Is it all about the retail environment, culture, housing or regeneration? And why do people want to live and work in city centres?


Some of the answers to these questions have emerged from a recent report produced by Centre for Cities. The report looked at the demographic profile of 59 cities across England and Wales and then honed in on four case study cities – Manchester, Brighton, Sheffield and Swindon. 268 city centre residents across these cities were asked questions about why they live where they do and their responses can be seen in the chart below.




Not surprisingly, it is the lure of restaurants, shops, leisure and cultural facilities, public transport and the proximity of the workplace that draws people in but you would be wrong to believe that this is the only thing a city needs to guarantee economic growth.


Reading between the lines of the report, the growth we are seeing in city centre living is largely driven by people following jobs and universities. The growth in restaurants, pubs, bars, amenities etc then follows as a by-product of the population growth.


Sheffield is a great example of this. Between 2001 and 2011 the city centre population in Sheffield more than doubled. However, 75% of this growth is accounted for by students moving into the city and attending university there, rather than drawing new working residents in. This contrasts with Manchester, where over 50% of the city centre population growth is made up of employed residents moving into the city.


According to the Centre for Cities ‘ a successful city centre is more likely to come about as a result of the long-term, incremental contribution of a range of factors and initiatives. In Manchester, the significant role that the city centre plays in the city’s overall economic geography is a result of a number of things: a highly skilled workforce; a built environment that can support high knowledge business growth; an industrial cluster of financial and other high knowledge activities has arisen over several years; and a shared vision for the role that it plays within the city region, which drives investment towards a single goal.’


In light of this, regeneration alone will not be the only catalyst for success. It will certainly play a part but equally as important is the location of the university, the influx of new employers in the city, the opportunity for jobs, how skilled the workforce is and an overall vision by local authorities and developers to create cities that people want to live and work in.


1 December 2015
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