Here's how China's ancient capital Nanjing is trying to emulate London's creative economy

Nanjing during the city's mid-autumn festival in 2014. Image: Getty.

Autumn is a busy time in the calendar of London’s creative economy, beginning with London Fashion Week and the London Design Festival in September, and leading into Frieze Art Fair and the London Film Festival. This is a time when London’s designers, artists and makers converge, and when London promotes itself to the world.

But it also a time when other cities are trying to harness London’s international profile and promote their own creativity.

The mayor is well aware of this and, post-Brexit, is keen to use this period to present London as an open city, welcoming people and investment as part of his London is Open campaign. He will no doubt be pleased to be welcoming Chinese cities such as Nanjing, which is exhibiting as a strategic partner of the London Design Festival as well as organising events across the capital.

Nanjing is not alone in using London as a platform to establish its brand on the world stage. In June this year Shanghai ran an “Amazing Shanghai in London”  campaign, bringing businesses and celebrities to help reinforce its profile of the city. 

Nanjing lacks Shanghai's stature. But it was China's capital during the reign of the Ming dynasty, and in the modern era, it developed an economy founded upon industry: cars manufacturing, petrochemicals, iron and steel.


Contemporary Nanjing has an economy which is more than 60 per cent services, however. It's increasingly trying to follow London's path in diversifying its economy and to make the transition from manufacturing to high-value services, such as creative industries.

Participating in the London Design Festival is certainly one route. But can cities like Nanjing really realise this transition? And should established cultural capitals feel threatened by their rise?

London is about much more than just the commercial creative industries, of course. It is also a centre for education, and in recent years unprecedented numbers of Chinese students have taken courses in London. Indeed, their numbers have increased over 150 per cent in the past five years, with creative arts now second only to business studies as the subject of choice.

The relationship is symbiotic. London reaps the benefits of attracting international talent and income, and cities like Nanjing can welcome home a newly skilled workforce. 

The question is whether cities like Nanjing can develop their own education offer and grow talent at home. After all, it's been a centre for education in China for over 1,700 years, and in 1907 Nanjing University was the first modern university to be established in the country.

This history is clearly an important foundation for building a knowledge economy. But successful urban economies such as London’s are built on being globally fluent, attracting international talent and capital in order to create the best ideas, as well as having a tradition in educational practice. China’s total international student population is still under half a million -- there is still significant room for growth.

Nanjing may be an important pioneer amongst Chinese cities in developing this international outlook: it claims to have undertaken 2000 international commercial projects in the past 30 years. Significantly, the Nanjing delegation in London will also include the CEO of Sanpower Group, a Chinese conglomerate with interests in the energy, media and telecoms, and which recently acquired House of Fraser and Hamleys.

Sanpower will be making a donation to enable the restoration of Kew Gardens Pagoda (based on an original Nanjing design). It's work in London highlights the ambitions of Chinese businesses to go global.

For now, London is rightly still perceived as an open and international place for others to build their international profile by dint of association. But it is clear that this position is not guaranteed. When the pace of global urbanisation, the economic might of Chinese industry, and the ambitious outlook of its city leaders are all considered, one has to ask: how long will it be before London seeks to promote itself in cities like Nanjing?

David Adam is the founder of Global Cities.

Nanjing Week in London is taking place from 20-26 September. You can follow @nanjingweek on Twitter.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.