Lessons from successful ‘turnaround’ cities for the UK
In this essay, part of our Navigating Economic Change series, the authors explore how cities can reverse long-term economic underperformance and move towards a new trajectory, looking at seven cities across five countries that have faced severe economic shocks but managed to break away from the resulting cycles of decline and transition to a more successful development path.
What are the necessary ingredients for a city to reverse long-term economic underperformance and move towards a new trajectory? Improving the economic prospects of post-industrial cities in particular has long been a pressing issue in the UK and beyond. In the UK’s post-Brexit era, against the backdrop of ongoing debate about ‘Levelling Up’, there is a vigorous discussion on this issue even if it hasn’t translated into meaningful policy action.
This paper seeks to shine a new light on this issue by learning lessons from abroad. It examines the characteristics of seven turnaround city-regions across five countries which have all faced severe economic shocks but have managed to break away from the resulting cycles of decline and transition to a more successful development path. These cities are Dortmund and Duisburg in Germany; Bilbao in the Basque Country of Spain; Lille, in northern France; Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia; Windsor in Ontario, Canada; and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, USA. Importantly, the experiences of these turnaround cities provide insights into the challenges facing the UK’s Levelling Up agenda and the governance reforms required to increase its chances of success. The individual details of each city are complex, but in the next section, we provide pen-portraits of each city and its turnaround experience. The third section then sets out six common themes emerging from these case-studies which are instructive for the challenges facing UK city-regions. The fourth section suggests five changes which are required to help city-regions in the weaker parts of the UK prosper. The fifth section discusses the endemic barriers in the UK’s governance systems and the key aspects of the system which need to be reformed to take on board the lessons from the turnaround cities.
The Navigating Economic Change essays are written by a range of leading economists and national experts and reflect the views of the authors rather than those of the Resolution Foundation, the LSE or The Economy 2030 Inquiry.
They have been commissioned and edited by Gavin Kelly (Chair of the Resolution Foundation and member of the Economy 2030 steering group) and Richard Davies (Professor at University of Bristol and fellow at the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance).