Northernlands 2 - Cities can, and will, bounce back
Tom Bridges explains why cities will still be a hub for productivity but there will be a switch from retail to knowledge as the driving force
This transcript comes from the captions associated with the video above. It is "as spoken".
The COVID-19 crisis poses huge questions for cities. Throughout
history people, businesses, knowledge-producing
organisations such as universities, professional
institutions, business have and investors have been attracted to
cities because of the concentrations, the densities
and the flows of knowledge, ideas and opportunities that
urban areas create.
The close networks of face to face collaboration have
enabled this, but all of this is now challenged by a new
dangerous communicable disease.
The requirement for physical and social distancing and the
experience of mass working from home poses huge
questions for the future of cities, city centres, transport
networks, the office. Why force people to locate and coalesce in
dense urban centers? Why force them to use public transport
to get there when there's a risk of disease and they can work
from their own home. But I believe that cities
can and will must bounce back. That is because it is in cities
that we can drive the productivity, the innovation and
the creativity needed to build a stronger economy for the future
and to do so sustainably and inclusively. And I will explain
why in this talk.
So why is density and face-to- face contact so important? Lots
of people with the advent of the Internet, email, advanced
communications, predicted the death of city. We would no
longer have to come together. We could all work from home
remotely. But actually the opposite has happened as the
economy has become more complex and more knowledge-intensive
face-to-face contact has become more not less important.
There's a number of reasons for this and they're not new.
As humans, we are hardwired to tell stories, to build
trust, to build relationships, and to do so face-to-face.
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari tells the importance of
how in the cognitive revolution people telling stories, gossiping
enabled humans to cooperate and organize in
ever larger numbers and to develop new technologies and
new systems of organizing society.
And that process has accelerated in recent years, particularly
with the emergence of the intangible economy, which Stian
Westlake and Jonathan Haskel have written about.
Competitive advantage is no longer primarily gained from
natural resources, and fixed capital assets such as
factories, machinery, plant, premises. Increasingly in the
modern economy, competitive advantage comes from intangibles
such as knowledge,
creativity, software, data and that makes those knowledge
spillovers really important and knowledge spillovers happen best
when people can meet face-to-face. Look at Arup's office in Leeds,
it was built in the 1830s as a flax mill. It then became a
distribution warehouse for transport by the waterways
and now it houses a number of
professional services firms. It is almost built embodyment
of the growth of the intangible
economy. Bruce Katz is written about Innovation
Districts and about how people innovate today and he says
people no longer want to drive to their out-of-town office park
where they keep their ideas secret within their buildings.
They want to share ideas in the hyper caffeinated spaces between
the buildings in urban areas. They want to collaborate.
They want to compare. They want to compete alongside each other.
Smart people want to work close to other smart people.
Employers and businesses want to be near knowledge intensive
knowledge producing functions such as universities and
teaching hospitals, and they want access to a skilled and
creative workforce from across a
wide area. We see this in Leeds City centre where,
you know, where the knowledge intensive business services -
KIBS for short - have grown rapidly and over 50% of the jobs
in Leeds City centre or in those KIBS functions compared to only
25% across Leeds City Region as a whole and Leeds City centre has
experience very rapid growth in those and really important high
productivity KIBS jobs over recent years including compared
to other core cities.
The transport network has been critical around this. It enables
it supports those densities. It allows firms to access those
skilled people from a white hinterland, and it enables
people to access more productive jobs; to be able to move job
without moving house. That's why we've seen such huge increases
over recent decades in rail use into Leeds Station. It's the
busiest station in the North of England. It's now used by over 30
million people a year and that has grown rapidly over recent
years, and that growth continued through previous recessions.
The nature of clustering has changed as well. We've moved
on from the very specialist clustering that Alfred Marshall
wrote about to a concept of related diversity, where
actually what matters, particularly in cities, is not
necessarily deep domain expertise and concentrations in
one particular area, but it's about a mashup and integration
of different areas of expertise.
We see that, increasingly, in Leeds. The economic
success of Leeds. And in recent years has been built on the back
of financial and professional services. And those remain
really important parts of the Leeds economy. But in recent
years and up until Covid, we've seen rapid
growth in sectors such as softwar, radio and TV
production and broadcasting, data and technology,
professional and scientific sectors, the creative
industries. And that diversity and those inter-relationships
between those sectors has become really important.
We see that as a professional services firm located in Leeds.
For example, when we needed to solve the
challenges of the Grade I listed Temple Works building in
Holbeck - the structural engineering challenges. We did so
by sending drones into the
building. We used a gaming engine to build a VR model
bringing together a number of different technologies and
disciplines: traditional engineering, architecture,
software and gaming, immersive tech and robotics and that's
happening across the economy as a whole, and cities bring those
different functions together.
Cities also and business parts also provide the office.
And there's been a lot written in recent weeks
about the potential death of the office. There's a risk that WFH
working from home becomes the new normal. The finance teams
have got an eye on how they can reduce property costs,
employers mindful of life-work balance, are seeing a new future
where people work from home
much more and the property sector has been
surprisingly quiet. Indeed, I would say spineless and
supine in fighting back for the future of the
office in the face of such fundamental questioning of one
of its core products.
But I think
our experience as an employer and I think the experience of
many others that I talked to is that the inefficiencies and the
problems of mass working from home are becoming increasingly
apparent. Lucy Kellaway has written about the importance of
the office as a place to learn, as a place to collaborate, as a
place to have a separate identity from your home life.
As a place that's important for workers mental health and we
are seeing, as indeed many others have seen, that those things are
really suffering in the context of mass working from home.
I think that offices remain really important. The office
will be back in it's time for the property sector and cities
to start fighting the corner for the office. Its function
might change in the future. It may be less around providing
banks of desks more around providing space to collaborate
to innovate and to build relationships. But offices
I think are really important.
I think the third reason why face-to-face contact and cities
are so important is it is in cities where we have the best
prospects of achieving the rapid innovation to address some of
the big societal, economic and environmental challenges that we
face both here in Leeds, in the UK and globally. And those
challenges have been brought to the fore as a consequence of covid.
And the need, and potentially the ability to
innovate rapidly is also come to prominence. Look at the huge
acceleration in progress in vaccine development or the
transition to drone technology for delivery or the accelerated
reallocation of road space from cars to pedestrians and
cyclists. The crisis has shown we can innovate rapidly across
the public, private and voluntary sectors. And actually
it's in cities where
the institutions of the talented people to enable us to do that
are brought together. There's a real focus and we saw this in
the government's R&D road map published in the last few days
on a mission-focussed approach to industrial strategy. What will
be our equivalent of the moon shoot to provide that call to
arms, that guiding force, that catalyst for collaboration
to drive innovation.
Cities also are the home to innovation districts where
knowledge producing organizations such as
universities, such as hospitals, cultural organisations,
enlightened developers who are willing to take a long term view.
Entrepreneurs, investors and firms that undertake R&D are
coming together in city centers or in well connected
urban nodes and the out-of-town office park, the science park also
remains important, and many of them are also retrofitting
themselves and to become perhaps a bit more like city centers
with public transport connections and a more diverse mix of users.
But we're seeing the rise of innovation districts
globally and also here in the UK. In Leeds there's a
fantastic opportunity around the redevelopment of the LGI.
And bringing together the Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust,
some of our universities, an our business spaces in the city.
I think cities are also really crucial to our ability to not
only kick-start the economy post covid and to create jobs - which
will be really important - but in the perhaps overused phrase
"build back better" to put in place the foundations for a more
sustainable, more productive and more resilient economy for the
future. I think it's in cities and it's because of some of
those factors that I've talked about where we can really drive
innovation and productivity. But we can also do so
sustainably. At the right density served by public
transport and inclusively creating jobs that are
accessible physically, but hopefully also in terms of
skills for communities... many people who live in
close proximity to where those jobs can be created.
So cities are so crucial to our economic future. They're so
crucial to the COVID-19 recovery. They're so crucial to how we can
build back better for the longer term and I think the
disadvantages of remote working are becoming so apparent that in
the future we will see an increased focus on how we design
cities to enable collaboration, to enable
interaction and to enable us to create and startup and scale up
the high growth businesses, the new products and processes that
we need to be competitive. The future of cities is not going to
be about retail. It needs to be around knowledge intensive jobs
and production. I'll end with a historical perspective
because cities and pandemics have a long history.
Michael Pye in his book
"The Edge of the World" about the North Sea and
how that drove innovation, art, civilization and urbanism,
talks about how it was in response to pandemics that
social organisation, regulation, and city planning
was introduced laying the foundations for
the success of cities like Antwerp and then Amsterdam.
And data has been always important in terms of how cities
have been able to respond to public health crises. In 1854,
John Snow painstakingly and meticulously mapped the cholera
outbreak in London and in doing so identified the water pump that
was the source of that outbreak, and in doing so led to the
introduction of sanitation of clean water and the
incredible engineering feats by Bazalgette in building the
sewage system. In 1842 the Leeds Improvement Act focused on
improving the health, the well being, the cleanliness of the
people of Leeds and in 1869
George Gilbert Scott built the new Leeds General Infirmary
and was advised by a nurse and a social reformer called Florence
Nightingale. In fact, you could argue, it was one of the
original Nightingale hospitals.
So public health and cities
have always been inter-linked. Indeed, the growth of
enlightened 19th century city government in the UK was
inextricably linked with the desire to improve the health and
well being and sanitation of our cities. But over time, their
health system and how we plan and govern cities became disconnected.
The health system became fragmented across acute
care, social care, public health and primary care.
And it was only recently when Public Health Departments
were brought back into cities. But as the UK's government's
response to COVID-19 has shown: the relationship between how
we plan and manage public health at a national level and at a
local level has become problematic; it's become, and to
some extent, dysfunctional. And data or a lack of data and a
lack of open data has been a big part of that.
I know one of the strap lines for ODI Leeds is open data
saves lives. Well the experience of the past few weeks has shown
how cities and local authorities not having ready
access to the data they need may well have cost lives.
So cities have been able to adapt and change to public
health crises in the past, and they can do so in the future
And I think it's really important they do
adapt and change in the future.
As Ed Glaeser said, we've built the modern world around
proximity. And COVID-19 has made the costs of that
closeness painfully obvious. We can either reorientate
ourselves around distance, or we can recommit ourselves to
waging war against density's greatest enemy: contagious disease.
In my view we can, we must and we will win that war. We will
adapt our cities to enable them to thrive again. And that is so
important because it is in our urban areas that are so crucial
to our economic future.
Director City Advisory, ARUP
Tom is a professional in city strategy, urban and regional policy and planning, transport, economic development, regeneration, and city governance and operations. He is a chartered member of the RTPI.
Tom re-joined Arup in January 2018. Tom leads Arup’s City Advisory practice, advising on city and regional strategies for economic development, inclusive growth, infrastructure, skills and innovation, supporting clients on funding and finance, socio- economic advice, housing, and regeneration. Tom is the Leader of Arup’s 400-strong Leeds office.
He was Chief Officer Economy and Regeneration of Leeds City Council 2012 to 2018, responsible for Leeds City Council’s economic development, property and regeneration functions. Tom led the work to produce the Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy, and the Leeds City Region high-speed rail growth strategy. He oversaw the South Bank Leeds and Leeds Innovation District projects which will double the size and economic contribution of Leeds City Centre. Tom also helped develop the Northern Powerhouse strategy, producing proposals on education and skills.
Nothernlands 2 is a collaboration between ODI Leeds and The Kingdom of the Netherlands, the start of activity to create, support, and amplify the cultural links between The Netherlands and the North of England. It is with their generous and vigourous support, and the support of other energetic organisations, that Northernlands can be delivered.