The United Kingdom's continued growth and prosperity requires urban areas to overcome many challenges. For instance, the improvement of city dwellers' mental, physical and social health. But just how can cities become cleaner and healthier? How can they become better environments? How can they support good growth?
The economics consultants at WPI Economics have contributed to recent reports on this, exploring a vision for how our cities could evolve by 2050 and how thriving and vibrant cities support the broader economy.
Looking at the future of cities from a planning, resilience and health perspective, there is a clear case that cities of the future need to:
Making cities more fun, more active, cleaner, less stressful and less lonely will mean a more innovative and productive population in every sector of the economy and in every community. But action is needed to turn vision into reality, to protect our cities and the health and well-being of smaller communities. Some of the changes require legislation, but others can be achieved with the support of technology and by leaning into existing socioeconomic trends.
Tackling the issue of housing is an area that requires new thinking, as the lack of affordable housing is a major constraint for healthy cities of the future. The vision shared in the report is one where homelessness is tackled through the ‘Housing First’ model. Social housing availability increases, and quality is also addressed. One of the ideas put forward is the creation of specially designed housing which is efficient, affordable, and exciting for younger and older people - with good standards achieved throughout the whole housing stock.
One of the things that can hold cities back is the complexity of the challenges they face. Instead, taking a holistic view of the future of the city could support a systems-level change in how this vision could be delivered, with the aim of building a better understanding of the interconnectedness of people and the environment. This would mean the creation of a systems-level approach to overcoming complex challenges that would be too big or too complicated for one organisation or sector to tackle on its own.
This is no doubt challenging to do, but the benefits are clear: nurturing our cities to be healthy, inviting and productive is essential to the growth and levelling up across the country.
Turning to “Levelling Up”, cities have a critical part to play in ensuring that the Government’s agenda stands a chance of success now and into the future. Within ten years, cities could contribute an additional £42 billion to the economy if their growth is supported to exceed national average city growth rates. Cities could also contribute an extra £21 billion a year further (to make a total of £63 billion) if all cities were equipped to grow at the same rate as London.
If this opportunity is missed, the country could suffer from lost economic output. Prosperous cities across the UK can benefit communities north and south, so it is clear there are serious risks in failing to recognise the role of cities in supporting wider economic success. The vision of the future should be one where health, wellbeing and prosperity can go hand-in-hand.