What big challenges is West Midlands mayor Andy Street facing?

Andy Street gives his victory speech. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Europe’s cities.

The Centre for Cities, as regular readers will know, recently launched its new metro mayor data dashboards. These, if you’ve not had the pleasure, enable you to sort through some of the data on each of the newly en-mayor-ed city regions, and see how they compare to the national average. That, in turn, should give some insight into the kind of things clogging up the in-trays of the newly elected mayors.

So – let’s start with the big one. What kind of problems will be facing Andy Street in the West Midlands?

Well, for one thing, the region is facing a bit of a skills gap. The proportion of the population with no qualifications has fallen in recent years (it was as high as 20.7 per cent in 2001); but it’s still at 15.5 per cent, nearly twice the national average (8.3 per cent).

The region’s schools are performing below the national average, too. (Progress 8 is a way of measuring pupil progress in any individual school; the details don’t matter too much for our purposes.)

On the upside, it has significantly more apprenticeships than the national average – a result of the region’s industrial heritage, one assumes.

You can see that in its unusually high goods export numbers, too:

(Services don’t look so hot.)

The region’s earnings are rising steadily, but still lower than the national average:

The West Midlands has significant unemployment problems, too:

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Okay, let’s get onto the good stuff. One big area of responsibility for the new mayors will be public transport. In the West Midlands, one of Britain’s most car-based areas, there’s clearly a huge job to do on that score.

For one thing, the number of bus journeys made in the conurbation has basically been in free fall:

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So, better bus franchising should be high on the agenda.

More depressing, in some ways, is that the number of light rail journeys has basically flatlined.

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Anecdotally, they started climbing last year after the Midlands Metro was finally extended into Birmingham city centre.

The region’s air pollution is slightly higher than the national average:

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Which isn’t too bad, for an industrial area – but probably does suggest that getting people out of their cars might help.

So, to sum up: more skills, more trams, better buses and better schools please, Andy. Now get to work.

You can explore the data yourself here.

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

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This app connects strangers in two cities across the world. But can it tackle urban loneliness?

New Delhi, in India, where many of Duet-App's users come from. Image: Ville Miettinen

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people”. Olivia Laing, The Lonely City

Our relationship to where we live and the spaces we inhabit define who we are and how we feel. But how often do we articulate the emotional impact of this relationship, whether this be loneliness, frustration or even civic pride?

“When I moved to a new city, started living alone, wanted to drink less, stay indoors more, and when I realised that I cannot make any more best friends.”

A new social network, a simple app that connects two individuals from the UK and India, aims to counter some of these issues.  Over the course of a year connected pairs receive one question a day through the app and their responses are exchanged with each other. A simple interaction that gradually builds a series of one-on-one relationships and invites users to imagine, over time, the other person living their life.

Distant geographies are an implicit part of the experience, therefore many of the questions nudge users to explore correlations between their physical and emotional landscapes. The data shows us that many of the Duet-App users are located in populous urban cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Manchester, Leeds and London, places that can just as often discourage feelings of belonging and place-making as much as they foster them.

“I had thought I'd never be able to live here again. but here I am living again at home after almost a decade living elsewhere. Living in Mumbai is a contact sport, and I can't do without it's chaos and infectious energy.”

Mumbai, India. Image: Deepak Gupta

In general cities are getting bigger and spreading wider at the same time as our communications are increasingly being conducted online and via digital gateways.

There is a sense that much of our online personas project an idealised version of ourselves; we increasingly document and express our daily lives through a filter and we are not always comfortable with a spontaneous expression of ourselves. Duet-App seeks to foster alternative digital relationships that through their anonymity allow us to be more honest and free.

“I feel a lot of people assume that I always have a lot going on for me and everything's always happy and amazing. I wish they could appreciate... how much of my own anxiety I swim in every single day. I appear and behave “normal” on the outside, calm and composed but there are always storms going on in my head.”

In exploring the responses to the questions so far, those that often garner the most replies relate directly to how we feel about our personal position in the world around us. Often these questions act as provocations not only to share responses but to reflect and articulate our thoughts around how we feel about what we are doing in the here and now.

Manchester, another popular city for Duet-App users. Image: Julius 

“Sometimes I feel sad about it [getting old] because I saw how easy it would be to feel lonely, and the fact that the world is set up for able-bodied young people is a bit of a travesty.”

Although many social media platforms allow for distant engagement and access into the lives of others we are in the main still curating and choosing our friendship circles. Through Duet-App this is randomised (and anonymised) with the intention of bypassing the traditional mechanics of how we broker online relationships. While directly exploring the digital space as a place for intimacy.


“Where do you go for peace?

“Well the internet, really. I do some mindless browsing, peek into the fandoms, listen to a few songs. Calms me down.”

Snapshots into the lives of someone existing and playing out their lives remotely can highlight shared concerns that break down preconceptions of how life is lived by others. Prompted by the reflections of a stranger exposed to our lives, digital relationships can encourage us to address the physical space we inhabit and the effects that the cities we live out our lives in have on our own well being. 

Catherine Baxendale is director of Invisible Flock.

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