English Regions or City-Regions?
Protagonists for City-Regions are often much less sympathetic to the rationale for the English Regions as such. But perhaps it’s all a matter of differential scales. City Regions could well choose, to their mutual benefit and that of their hinter-lands, to collaborate on some of the much bigger strategic things without fear of damage to historic and local identities.
The debate about City-Regions vs. English Regions shows no signs of resolving. The recent launch of a campaign for an Elected Mayor in Liverpool (and some other towns and cities) has if anything exacerbated the differences between those who support regionalism as such, and those who support city-regions within England, or presumably, come to that, anywhere else.
Whilst there are obviously some areas where people may not ever agree, I do however believe there are a number of areas of common cause between the protagonists for each ‘side’, if the issues are looked at in a particular light.
The meaning of ‘regionalism’
For those who take a strongly anti-regional line the main problem seems to be that they perceive this as inevitably favouring one stronger city over other cities in the region… indeed, they may even take the view that there is no such thing as a region, as a way to circumvent such a perspective entirely.
In this view the real issue is the power of one place over others, and the expectation that, given half a chance, this place will take unfair advantage, at significant cost to other towns and cities nearby.
On the other hand, to at least some people who would support a regional persepctive alongside a city-focused one (and there are few regionalists who don’t also favour the healthy growth of cities per se), the underlying issue is connectivity. Who will make the case for, e.g., good road and rail connections between different cities within the region and, even more importantly, the way that very large centres of population – especially the metropolis – connect with the region at all?
Taking this perspective, there may be surprising commonalities even with towns and cities in other regions. For instance, Birmingham shares with the northern cities the issue of getting traffic up and down the country – and has in fact begun exploring solutions to this problem with them.
Size is the basic issue
Evidence elsewhere in Europe suggests that a population of between 7 and 10 million can be effectively self-sustaining in terms of producing all the requirements for modern society. But no U.K. city outside London is of this size – which means that English cities must necessarily be inter-dependent in some respects. For instance, (genuinely) Big Science can never happen just with the resources of one city, any more than can ‘Big Medicine / Technology’ and so forth. There are plenty of win-wins in inter-city collaboration for science and industry, just as there are endless reasons why the more ambitious aspects of tourism are often best promoted on at least a regional basis (see quote in New Start magazine from the English Regional Development Agencies).
But what the size issue doesn’t mean is that cities have to lose their identities, or that there must be ‘regional centre’ cities wicih will effectively dictate to all the other places in a region what they may and may not do. This maintenance of identity and self-determination provides one of the strongest cases for elected mayors or similar – provided always (a big proviso) that such leaders are well-informed, brave and sensible….
Unique identities, shared strengths
This is a rather optimistic view, but maybe there will come a time when people generally can see that there is indeed strength in commonality when it comes to the big things (massive inward investment, the knowledge economy, large-scale infrastructure etc.), but that with this does not need to come loss of identity for individual places and smaller areas within a geographical location such as a ‘region’ of England. Rather the opposite.
Perhaps it’s a matter of confidence. When we, smaller-city citizens across the nation, are confident that our own patch is well-recognised and well-defined, it will be easier to agree with our neighbours on shared strategies for the bigger things. But how to develop that confidence from where we’re at now is, however you look at it, a challenge and a half.
Posted on December 18, 2005, in Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Liverpool And Merseyside, Politics, Policies And Process, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.