Home > Research and expertise > Research highlights > Economy > Phoenix cities rise again


Phoenix cities rise again

Researchers identify the European cities which have fought back from industrial ruin 

Cities which were brought to the brink of ruin just 20 years ago after the collapse of manufacturing industry are completing an extraordinary comeback.

A study of seven major European cities - including Sheffield and Belfast – has found they are successfully rebuilding their environment, economy and society from a low point of industrial decay and unemployment.

bilbao-tram_200x267All seven have adopted a similar pattern of place-making to haul themselves back onto the world stage using tactics which included bidding for high-profile sporting and cultural events, cleaning and renovating decayed streets, restoring major landmarks, training citizens in new skills and mixing funding from public and private sources.

Now the former industrial giants are developing high-tech businesses, halting the population drain from inner-cities and, in some cases, have already seen new jobs overtake  jobs lost in manufacturing.

The research project, A Tale of 7 Cities, is produced by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at LSE. Researchers have spent more than  two years studying in detail the cities of Belfast, Sheffield, Leipzig, Bremen, Bilbao, Turin and St Etienne and are now preparing their final report.

They say that, in the midst of world recession, other cities which fail to learn the lessons of the magnificent seven may find themselves brought to their knees.

Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy at LSE, said: 'These seven former industrial cities have proved far more resilient than many people dared hope. During the 1980s and 90s they lost up to 80 per cent of their manufacturing jobs and this led to polarised neighbourhoods, crumbling city centres and creaking public transport, schools and healthcare. Their very future was in question.

'To fight back they adopted multiple strategies which didn't only focus on their economy but also involved improving the urban environment and helping their disadvantaged populations back to work. It's clear that cities cannot recover without mixing all three of these elements.'

The research project has already produced an interim report, Transforming Cities, and a book, A Tale of 7 Cities, which tells the stories in words and pictures of how all became industrial giants in the 19th century but were brought to the brink of economic and social ruin as those industries collapsed during the 1970s and 80s.

Research found three crucial things which all the successful cities got right.  First, all are developing high-tech industries, replacing or renewing obsolete infrastructure. Belfast for instance has installed the world's first commercially-viable sea turbine near its former shipyards and in Torino they are developing hydrogen-powered scooters in a city that's long been famous for car production.

Second, they combined investment with bottom-up community-backed projects. For example, Sheffield set up JobMatch and JobNet to help new industries recruit locally and create new skills in local steel-based communities, while Bremen supports community enterprise and social development through its Living in Neighbourhoods project targeting the 10 poorest parts of the city.

Finally all understood that modern cities only work with new mass transit, traffic-taming and people-friendly spaces. Saint-Etienne has developed easier commuting to nearby Lyons (which has much higher property prices) and Bilbao has built a modern metro system, connecting the high-density city centre with its satellite towns.

And with the world gripped by recession, the CASE team suggest that other cities which fail to learn the lessons may be brought to their knees. Professor Power said: 'These once "desperate" cities have the infrastructure and flexibility to survive current global turmoil better than their "rust-belt counterparts in the USA which were also devastated by the decline in manufacturing but have existed in an urban policy vacuum of the last decade.

'The European survivors have forged ahead in technology, the use of urban space, bottom-up investment, public transport, skills and the environment.'


Useful links

The interim report Transforming Cities Across Europe| [PDF] published in May 2008.

A Tale of 7 Cities: a practitioner's guide to city recovery is written by Anne Power, Astrid Winkler, Jorg Ploger and Laura Lane. The booklet, priced at £15, features around 100 original photographs, interviews and testimonies from people in each city who worked to regenerate them. Copies of the booklet can be ordered from L.Lane@lse.ac.uk|  

The whole project has been funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Academy for Sustainable Communities and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (now Communities and Local Government).

For full details of Professor Anne Power's research and publications see her profile in the LSE Experts Directory: Professor Anne Power|

Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion  |