5 November 2009

Urban abandonment - not just Detroit?

Inspired by Jo Guldi's post Bulldozing Your Neighbours: Development Plans in the Rust Belt, her longer piece at the Commonweal Institute and a general buzz around this topic in the US, I want to do some thinking about urban depopulation - in the UK.

The urban population is expanding. Cities now contain over 50% of the world's population, and 90% of UK residents live in urban areas. Nationally it's a story of growth, up from 79% in 1950 and forecast to increase another few percentage points by 2030. But is that growth evenly spread? I very much doubt it.

Post-industrial Detroit has seen its population halve (some nice representations of this at the Map Scroll blog). Zero demand leads to near-valueless housing, demolitions, and whole streets being abandoned. So what about Britain's post-industrial cities, the ones that really aren't my City, the ones the national media don't report on? I'm sure I've heard something about terraced streets in Manchester being demolished, of vacant housing in towns I couldn't even locate on a map (Burnley? Wolverhampton?). What's this story? I want to find out.

An ONS 'People and Migration' report on The UK's major urban areas provides the closest thing to hard data: population decreases between 1991 and 2001 in Liverpool and Glasgow (both -2.6%), Greater Manchester (-1.6%), Tyneside (0.7%), and West Midlands (-0.5%). It's based on Census data and has quite a lot of methodological detail, giving a suggsetion of how to dig down to census sub-division level to see trends at a neighbourhood rather than city scale.

The problem is that the ONS website isn't user-friendly, and I haven't so far come across any decent datasets on housing demolition or vacant housing (and I'm going to have to work to get the population change by district). So, to start with, a call for information - are any academics working on this for the UK? Where'd I find the statistics I need? Where should I be looking?

More to follow...

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