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And what implications does the growth of cities as almost separate states have on the extra-urban areas – are cities concentrating too much money and resources? Cities and extra urban areas are invariably connected but the prosperity of cities isn’t necessarily at the expense of other areas. Social science can follow, track and trace such connections and networks through an understanding of social pattern and economic development.

There seems to be momentum behind devolution of cities but differences in how to deliver it – what are the implications of the different models? Cities are so different that we should be wary about a one-size-fits-all approach to policy interventions. Successful policy innovations have the capacity to reflect and to learn so that they become more effective, and this requires appropriate checks and balances. This is the tension between bureaucratic

Cities nurture social life that can be both parochial and globally connected

As immigration continues are cities seeing a trend for multicultural integration, or are there clusters of monocultural communities? What factors influence this? This is not an either/or phenomenon. Migration is one of the major drivers of change in the city. Strangers see the city and its possibilities differently. But the tendency to maintain cultural distance sits alongside the city’s capacity for mixing up new and old, arrivals and long-term residents. Cities nurture social life that can be both parochial and globally connected. What is important is to recognise why

“ Devolution needs to recognise

the tensions and different interests that exist within a city

different people are drawn to cities and also to encourage a healthy debate about how cities might be shared in future.

Will the growth of cities affect our sense of identity? We usually talk about national (or cultural/religious) identity, not local-level identity – but people in London for instance seem to have some pride in their city. Could the growth of cities generate a new sense of community identity, or are modern city-dwellers generally too transient? The British Citizenship survey for many years demonstrated how people feel more intensely as we scale down the geographical scale at which we examine the city. Local politicians are generally more trusted than national politicians; people tend to feel things are better in their own neighbourhood than in the city as a whole. And notwithstanding the scale of flux and change in a city such as London, at moments of crisis – as in the wake of the 2005 bombings – these city solidarities can be powerfully expressed by those who live and work there.


and political worlds. We need to examine how the tensions between different scales of city organisation – the city region, the metropolis and the local neighbourhood – all require different processes of governance. So devolution needs to recognise the tensions and different interests that exist within a city to design a system of governance that can be more flexible than the nation state but still works in a wider political context. How much power do city authorities actually have when it comes to shaping city development in real terms? For instance, if some inner-city areas are sliding into deprivation and neglect, is it possible to turn this around through purely political measures? Or are we at the mercy of the ebb and flow of people, communities and economy? The autonomy of cities differs vastly across the globe. The constitutional position of the city and the city regions in the USA, Germany, China or the UK are all very different. The UK is notoriously centralised but this does not mean that to counter this all metropolitan areas should be accorded the same powers and degrees of autonomy. The spirit of experimental policy intervention must come with a sober recognition of the finite rationing of major public investment and the inevitable emergence of new patterns of urban hierarchy.

What are the threats to towns and cities? There are numerous threats to towns and cities but resistance to change is not an option. Cities must develop the capacity to evolve as historical, ecological and economic circumstances demand. The future of any metropolis depends on its capacity for flexibility and adaptation. n


Professor Michael Keith is Director of the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and Co-Director of the University of Oxford Future of Cities programme. He is currently the co-ordinator of the ESRC portfolio of investments and research programme on Urban Transformations.

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