Australia vs the UK: How do mid-size cities perform?

The Gold Coast, Queensland. Image: Getty.

In late June, the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) published two new reports analysing the recent performance of Australia’s regional cities, and outlining a plan for future growth based on the City Deals model currently in use in the UK. As the chief executive of the RAI, Jack Archer, pointed out, big and small cities face different challenges and have different needs:

“In the big cities it’s all about big licks of cash to try to reduce congestion; in small cities it’s all about smart investment to enable new business and population growth.”

This is true on both sides of the globe, for countries with a federal system – and for those that are highly centralised, like the UK.

Focusing on policies that are tailored to the different needs of different cities to drive growth in more places can lead to high returns. While extensive data is more readily available for larger cities, it is equally important to understand the performance of small and mid-sized ones. It can also be helpful to compare the performance of cities internationally.

So what does the data on economic growth and industrial structure show for those smaller cities within Australia, compared with the UK?

1. Proximity to large cities is good for smaller ones, but not sufficient for growth

Although using two different time frames and slightly different metrics makes it hard to compare cities from the two countries, it is clear that mid-sized cities both in Australia and in the UK benefit from connections with expanding large cities. But is it enough to drive medium city growth?

Mid-sized cities close to London perform better than other cities. Between 2009 and 2013, cities like Oxford, Reading, Crawley and Chatham all had an average GVA growth rate above 15 per cent, and it is plausible to believe their success is at least partly related to their proximity to the capital. GVA growth rates were positive everywhere in the country, with the exception of Luton (-1.36 per cent). The national average was just above 11 per cent, but cities outside of the South East tended to see slower growth rates.

GVA growth and population in small and medium sized UK cities. Image: Centre for Cities.

Contrarily, Australian mid-sized cities are spread across the nation, and while many of the bigger cities in this group (e.g Gold Coast, Newcastle and Geelong) are located close to capital cities, they did not all experience strong economic growth. The cities with the highest growth rate in Australia are those experiencing a mining investment or ‘sea-change’ boom.

Despite being pictured as lagging behind metropolitan cities, the 31 Australian regional cities actually perform as well as the larger cities. Looking at Gross Value Added (GVA) growth rates between 2001 and 2013, only one city (Latrobe) had negative growth, and most cities experienced growth in line with the national average of approximately 40 per cent from 2001-2013.

But the real growth winners were cities in Northern Australia including Gladstone (110 per cent) and Mackay (95 per cent), which have seen high growth rates driven by the mining investment boom; and the cities close to high performing metropolitan cities like Perth and Brisbane.

GVA growth and population in small and medium sized Australia cities. Image: Centre for Cities.

2. Cities on both sides of the globe have seen a growth in services, and a decline in manufacturing

A common trend among Australian and UK mid-sized cities is the shift towards new economy industries (finance, education, health and professional services). Growth in services has been consistent across urban Australia, accompanied by a decline in importance of manufacturing.

This is similar to the UK experience, particularly for cities in South East England, where the percentage of private knowledge intensive business services in 2013 was, in most cases, above 15 per cent.


Although all cities are shifting towards new industries, each city is still unique in its nature. As these findings show, specialisation and proximity to big successful metropolitan cities have an impact on the success of mid-sized city economies.

And these are only two examples: many other factors such as demographic make-up, size and industrial composition will also affect cities’ economic growth.

All these differences underline the importance of having a city-based approach at the heart of domestic economic policy. City and growth deals have given local authorities in England the powers and flexibility to address their unique needs. Following a similar approach could offer Australia the chance to unlock further economic opportunities and balance growth across the country.

To find out more about how Australia could learn from the UK experiences see the report: ‘Blueprint for Investing in City Deals: Are you Ready to Deal?’ or you can contact Dr Leonie Pearson, Great Small Cities Program Leader – Regional Australia Institute.

Elena Magrini is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose website this article originally appeared.

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.