Smart Cities

Stats and the City: why it pays to count your way around urban Britain

By: SA Mathieson
Published: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 10:35 GMT Jump to Comments

The UK’s cities are odd, as a class and individually. Increasingly, however, the data is available to understand them better.

The leaders of cities from around the world have been meeting this week at the World Cities Summit in Singapore, bringing together the leaders of Bandung, Barcelona and Beirut, to name just three that start with the same letter.

Singapore has developed a world-class economy since breaking away from Malaysia in 1965 (and Britain two years earlier), something that has been easy to track given its status as a country. But it is possible to use data to understand Britain’s cities, too.

It’s a statement of the obvious that cities have a higher population density than largely rural areas. Until you study the data it is not so obvious just how dramatic the difference is: London has 52 people per hectare (100 metres squared), while Wales has just 1.5, according to the Office of National Statistics’ analysis of the 2011 Census.

Cities are found at the extremes of all kinds of official datasets. National Statistics produces workplace-based gross value added figures, roughly equivalent to gross domestic product for an area’s workplaces, for 193 areas of the UK. The UK-wide figure for 2012 was £21,674. London’s was £37,232, and if you break it down further, inner London west (including the City and Westminster) totted up £127,127, nearly six times the national average.

Everyone knows London is rich, but the same pattern is visible on smaller scales. The second highest gross value added in the UK is the City of Edinburgh’s £35,614, 74 per cent higher than the Scottish average of £20,423. Leeds generates £24,770 a head, compared with £19,149 across all of West Yorkshire. Cities are the places where regions and counties go to work, as well as countries.

The differences are demographic as well as economic, and here substantial disparities between cities are in evidence. 80 per cent of England’s population identified themselves as White British on census day in 2011. Across London, the figure was 45 per cent, while in Newham 17 per cent ticked White British, 14 per cent British Indian and 12 per cent apiece British Pakistani and Black British African.

Leicester recorded the same White British figure as London of 45 per cent, but Derby – less than 40 miles north – saw 75 per cent of people identify as White British. Carry on up to Tyne and Wear, a bigger urban area than both the Midland cities, and the figure was 92 per cent. Those migrating to Britain over the last few decades largely chose to live in cities, but by no means every city.

Cities can also change fast on the basis of local political decisions. The decade to 2011 saw a modest increase, of 14 per cent, in the number of people cycling to work across England and Wales.  But in London, cycling to work more than doubled, from 77,000 to 155,000 adults. Even that disguises huge differences, with a 45 per cent increase in outer London and a 144 per cent hike in the centre.

Geography plays a part – central London is particularly compact and congested – but so does politics: London’s congestion charge and public rental bicycle scheme cover the centre, not the suburbs.

The other top cities – and they are all cities – that recorded big growth in cycling to work are known for their environmentalism, led by Brighton and Hove (up 109 per cent) and Bristol (94 per cent). Other big cities like Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle are in the top 10, but Birmingham – hitherto more of a motor city than a cyclists’ paradise – is conspicuous by its absence.

For suppliers, all this should reinforce an old lesson of selling: know your customers, particularly the big ones. Cities are almost always more productive, not least because people tend to work there even if they live outside, but vary a lot in other ways: some but not all are ethnically diverse, some have yet to embrace people turning up to work in sweaty Lycra.

Differences can create opportunities: Birmingham’s Cycle Revolution plan includes a cycle loan and hire scheme. Data can help suppliers gear up for the likes of Brummie Bikes with their customers, rather than puffing along behind.

The Making a Difference with Data programme will launch in Birmingham on 26 June.The launch is sponsored by CAPITA and the programme is being delivered by Boilerhouse Media in partnership with Leeds & Partners, Digital Birmingham, Manchester New Economy, Sheffield City Council, West Midlands Academic Health Science Network and Birmingham City Council Smart Commission.

The MADwDATA programme brings together public and private sector policy and decision-makers in health, social care, housing, economic development and policing, together with representatives from transport, education and the third sector, to explore how the city’s data assets can be harnessed and shared to improve social and economic wellbeing.




The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.



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