Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The future of the city centre

  • Written by  Professor Bob Giddings
  • Published in Opinions
The future of the city centre
31 Aug
2018
City centres in the UK and other countries, could be on the cusp of the biggest upheaval since the Industrial Revolution. Professor Bob Giddings asks who they should be for and what should happen in them

The city centre is changing – what will it mean for you? Join the debate about how to shape our future at a special symposium at Northumbria University, Newcastle on Tuesday 11 and Wednesday 12 September. For more details and to register for tickets, click here

As the 20th century unfolded, cities in the developed world evolved from an industrial base into commercial activity. However, the world recession from 2009 exposed the underlying trend that electronic systems were changing demand for city space once more. Outside capital cities, the need for city centre offices fell as increasingly flexible working patterns, fuelled by the wireless revolution, generated places of work in cyberspace; and an unsettling image of empty shops began to pervade city centres. Much as the early 20th century pioneers had done, urbanists in the 21st century were starting to look around them and ask – what is a city for?

Theoretical perspectives may involve past, present and future; but the emphasis for those looking to answer this question will be on visions for the post-industrial, post-commercial and post-retail city. This theme and the related sub-topics will enable the development of future city models and will help to contextualise urban change. Business development, community activities, health and well-being will all influence and be influenced by their development.

An all-too common sight in city centres today as the role of the space changesAn all-too common sight in city centres today as the role of the space changes

The role of the city centre as a place to live is of particular interest, especially in the context of changing demographics and the potential support or conflict with other city centre uses. Aspects to be considered may also include: The nature of urban design, urban form and the re-use of the built heritage; loss of a distinctive built environment and sense of place. This loss is lamented by many citizens, and strategies are needed for the re-introduction of distinctive places.

These issues are set to be debated at a time when governments, communities, businesses, artists, entertainers, historians, sociologists and others are all re-evaluating their interactions with cities. Consequently, a cross-disciplinary appraisal of the changing nature of cities can explore provision for cultural events; and different forms of creative industries – the arts and entertainment that may offer vitality.

Thus, a number of city layers could be observed. These might be regarded as separate city models, but it is likely that various of them could be evident simultaneously. For example, there may be two principal groupings of people – incomers and indigenous populations. In the first group, the layers include the tourist experience which presents a sanitised version of the city centre as a kind of virtual heritage. There is also the university city, in which transient and large populations impose themselves. Additionally, there is the dormitory dimension. Traditionally, this has been home-to-work commuting. However, with the reduction in demand for office space and work opportunities, this may be translated into home-to-culture commuting.

Will city centres become less about places to work and more about arts and culture?Will city centres become less about places to work and more about arts and culture?

Within the indigenous grouping, ageing demographics might impose particular residential needs on the city centre. The digital society is generating a small number of affluent middle classes, who maintain significant incomes without the need to employ others. They can influence the city centre through their corporate lifestyle choices.

Finally, there is an underclass – no longer in demand for employment and forced onto the streets by the housing market. All of these layers have spatial implications for the city centre.

City authorities are starting to realise that structural changes are happening in city centres, and are responding by establishing core groups of officers to consider these issues. However, even balances between the public and private sectors are shifting. Numbers of former city council officers now work for private sector consultancies as the size of city councils is diminished, primarily by budget cuts. It has become clear that many roles established for local government in the 20th century, are weakened or no longer exist.

Who will take the lead in ensuring an greener future for city centres?Who will take the lead in ensuring an greener future for city centres?

This opens another debate about how much of this activity can be transferred to the private sector. Even if it can adopt a long-term strategy, the private sector does not have democratic authority. The whole notion of cities being governed ‘for the people by the people’ is increasingly open to question. The government may point to elected mayors as a new form of city democracy, but in fact they are an anti-democratic construct that does not address the needs of the people they are supposedly representing.

Democracy is currently in flux and so are city centres. This unsettling period of change upon change may become a permanent state. At present, there appears to be a drift. There is little consideration about what the city centre should be for. The loss of considerable commercial and retail demand seems to have taken the authorities by surprise. There is little indication of who is able to provide leadership. In the last century, it was the local authorities, but their enervated circumstances has left a void in direction. It is no longer clear who should be undertaking which roles at a time when leadership will be essential to manage the dramatic changes that are about to be visited on our city centres.

Professor Bob Giddings is the Chair of Architecture and Urban Design in Northumbria University’s Department of Architecture and Built Environment

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in OPINIONS...

Opinions

The reliance on outsourcing for processing UK immigration cases is…

Opinions

Why avocados, coffee and citrus fruit are driving a need…

Opinions

What lessons can we learn from the build up and…

Opinions

Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti the way in which…

Opinions

Professor Stephanie Barrientos is a researcher at the Global Development…

Opinions

Andrea Rasca is the founder of Mercato Metropolitano, a vibrant food market…

Opinions

Kate Robertson is the co-founder of One Young World, an…

Opinions

Professor Amin Al-Habaibeh, professor of intelligent engineering systems at Nottingham…

Opinions

Professor Saffa Riffat explains the potential of Floating Deep Farms…

Opinions

It’s time to listen to the children, says Marco Magrini

Opinions

In October 1985, consultant mining engineer Chandra Durve and Dr Edward…

Opinions

Innovative efforts and passionate activism by tomorrow’s generations are making…

Opinions

Gary Fuller is an air pollution scientist at King’s College…

Opinions

We’ve reached a critical juncture in the illegal poaching of…

Opinions

There’s an unexpected issue with post-Brexit Britain that could dramatically…

Opinions

Using computer simulations, cultural evolution researcher Alex Mesoudi analyses the…

Opinions

Architect Kelvin Campbell presents the case for ‘making massive small…

Opinions

Tim Brookes is the founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project …