First in a new series of hopelessly late, but hastily written commentary…

Leuwig, Swaffield and Hartwich think they’re some brave radical thinkers, but in reality, are nothing of the sort.

Instead, they continue the trend of trumpeting a world in which “human beings are worth less and less.”As Daniel Davies points out, the report focuses on GVA instead of GVA-per-capita. The authors are more concerned with the competitiveness of cities rather than the well-being of its vulnerable populations.

Liverpool comes under significant flack in Cities Unlimited but their recommendation of migration out of Liverpool is already taking place according to a IPPR paper that they actually cite, with a 3% drop in population from 1996-2004 and a 19% increase in employment from 1995-2004. However, in 2007, around 15% of Liverpool’s population is still unemployed, and 30% of working age residents have no qualifications-amongst the highest in the country. I don’t see how encouraging migration whilst not concentrating on urban pockets of deprivation is a suitable policy.

Demographic change gets a small chapter towards the end of the report, when it should be a key focus for something which purports to be so forward-looking. It’s not clear that nations like Britain will be significant players with the global demographic changes suggested to take place within the next forty years.

The report also makes a large gamble on London’s ability to remain the world’s premier global financial city, which is not necessarily guaranteed in the long run. A shift in the regulatory environment or competition from competing global financial cities such as KAEC (King Abdullah Economic City) and the Qatar Financial Centre could lead to decline in the City of London.

I found a certain level of dishonesty in their proposal to move control over regeneration to local authorities, suggesting that Labour’s government has over-centralised executive power by providing no historical context whatsoever. Local authorities lost control over spending during the Thatcher government, whilst the EU has been strongly promoting localism in regeneration efforts. What Leunig and Swaffield choose to overlook are the real innovations of the Livingstone administration. Implementing the congestion charge whilst gearing policies to ramp up urban density as per the Urban Task Force report leads to real economies and ecologies of scale. The authors chide city authorities for not learning from other cities across the world, but they overlook the fact that the GLA took transnationalism to a new level by forming a partnership with Venezuela, as well as being a participant in the Clinton Climate Initiative. Both of these transnational partnerships have fallen apart within months of Johnson taking power.

If we really want to talk about localism, we need to go beyond just electoral politics and think about civic renewal as the key to urban regeneration. The authors state at the outset that a future Conservative government will not look keenly on regeneration funding, but say that elections are a crucial part of making local authorities more capable. But, this is still low intensity democracy, with an emphasis on efficiency rather than well-being – as a result, the authors get terribly hung up on improving the Audit Commission’s website. A radical step towards localism would involve intensifying local participation in executive decision making itself with innovations such as Participatory Budgeting? Of course, this reeks of all the South American leftist politics that we’re cutting off ties to.

All in all, for a report that plays loose with facts, Cities Unlimited is dull, unimaginative, and patronising to boot. You’ll learn more about the urban poor from a HBO cop show than Johnson’s favourite Exchange.

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