Here are three common myths about modern-day cities

London's rapidly changing skyline. Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty.

Urbanisation is often touted as a solution to the world’s various ills. It’s been heralded as a fix for issues such as poverty, mass migration, and climate change. Cities will make our societies healthier and more productive. Cities will make us happy. Cities are our inevitable future – or so we’re told.

While cities can vastly improve the way we live, and many of these ideas are important, there are several myths caught up in the current hype. Claims that there is a “global shift” towards living in cities, that urban economies abound with productivity benefits for all, and that cities will continue to grow and prosper, are all misleading.

By busting some of these myths, we can get to grips with the real pros and cons of cities, and the role they’re likely to play in our future. Here are three.

1. We’re entering the urban age

In 2008, the UN announced that, for the first time in human history, 50 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. Ever since, the statistic has been cited over and over as evidence of a global shift toward urbanisation – the dawn of a new “urban age”.

Many are still living the country life. Image: Steve Slater/Flickr, CC BY.

But these declarations disguise the many varied and diverging trends across the world’s different regions.Over 40 per cent of the world’s countries are still more rural than urban, and 18 per cent have a smaller share of people in cities, compared with the year 2000.

In both developing and developed regions, cities have grown larger in size, but they have also become less dense. This fact suggests that, in places where urban growth is occurring, cities are not just expanding – they’re transforming.

2. Cities are more productive

It’s also taken for granted that city economies are more productive, and leave us better off economically. This is true in the sense that urban centres are more productive in terms of their per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP): in London’s case, this premium sits at around 15 per cent, compared with the UK average.

The problem is, we’re not comparing like with like. Urban firms aren’t just better, more productive versions of their rural counterparts. In fact, their model of providing specialised, high-value goods or services is only viable in places with large populations. So, urban economies have a fundamentally different structure to rural ones. Outside of a city, many urban firms wouldn’t simply be less productive – they would be out of business.

Taking care of (urban) business. Image: westen30/flickr.

For example, corporate tax lawyers need a large population of local firms to generate enough work in their specific field. Niche businesses – dare I say it, cereal cafes – can only exist in big markets with a large number of potential consumers.

And not all sectors benefit from the urban premium equally. Education, emergency services and retail cannot specialise in the way that knowledge-based sectors can. As a result, workers in these crucial sectors don’t see much of the added value that supposedly comes with being part of an urban economy.

3. Big cities are here to stay

History shows that cities are not stable systems. Cities are more likely to go through a “boom and bust” cycle than experience long-term stability, as they struggle to adapt to impacts of recessions and conflict.

One striking example comes from North America: of the ten largest US cities in 1950, eight had lost at least 20 per cent of their population by 2010, after they failed to adapt to economic and political shifts.

Derelict in Detroit, one of America’s dying cities. Image: Thomas Hawk/flickr, CC BY-NC.

Even successful cities frequently encounter problems. Some of the world’s most “liveable” cities, such as Sydney, Vancouver and Auckland, are struggling with overheated real estate markets, as urban property becomes an attractive financial investment.


Increasing resilience to economic slumps, political change and new technologies one of the toughest challenges facing governments and city-dwellers today. Security and prosperity can only be ensured with careful investment and planning, together with strong communities and robust economies.

Clearing away the myths around urbanisation is crucial, if we’re to understand the more nuanced forces that are driving urban growth, and shape the future of our cities for the better. Let’s trade in blind enthusiasm for a clearer vision of how our world is changing – and what governments and citizens can do to forge an urban future that works for all.The Conversation

Jenny McArthur is a PhD candidate in infrastructure investment and urban economics at UCL.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Like this sort of thing, do you? Why not like us on Facebook, too?

 
 
 
 

Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.


At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook