A Recessionary Mirror Across the Pond

Having spent a good deal of our time examining the path of the downturn and recovery within America’s own metropolitan areas, it’s great to see other organizations doing the same–and doing it with cool technology. In that vein, be sure to check out City Tracker, a new website from the U.K.’s Centre for Cities, which provides interactive maps, tables, and charts showing how that country’s major urban areas (more akin to our wider metropolitan areas than our central cities) have performed economically over the last 20 months.

So who’s up, and who’s down? Like in the United States, everywhere appears to have suffered to some extent, and there’s quite a bit of variation in performance. As per usual, there’s something of a North-South divide. Most of the better-off places on the map lie in England’s Southeast and Southwest regions, including cities with educational and professional services specializations like Cambridge, Oxford, and Bristol. Like New York, London has been affected by the heavy toll on the financial sector, but its sheer size and diversity have shielded it from more severe economic impacts.

In England’s northern regions, including the Northwest, Yorkshire and the Humber, and Midlands, medium-sized urban areas appear to have been hit especially hard. Cities like Bolton, Wigan, Rochdale, Hull, Leicester, and Middlesbrough all post high rates of joblessness and few vacancies per job seeker, as the recession has accelerated the longer-run decline of these once-mighty manufacturing centers. On the other hand, the very largest cities in the North, such as Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, and Newcastle, have suffered, but not as greatly as their smaller, less diversified neighbors.

Overall, City Tracker provides a compelling illustration for the U.K. of what we’ve found to be true in the U.S. context during this recession–what a metro area did before the downturn has had a big impact on its performance during the downturn. But it also suggests that geography need not be destiny, if public policy plays an active role in facilitating the physical and economic transformation of large metropolitan centers. Across the Atlantic, then, may lie some lessons for American policymakers contemplating the uncertain future of our battered industrial Midwestern cities.