The north-south divide in England's unemployment rate is basically the size of a chasm

Barnsley Main Colliery, which closed in 1991. The town now has one of the lowest youth unemployment counts in the north. 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 Britain’s cities.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We made a terrible mistake with this piece. While we originally talked about the rate of unemployment benefit claims among the young (e.g 16-24 year olds), due to a screw up, the data we used was actually that for the general unemployment benefits claimant rate. Ooopsie.

These things happen – but we pride ourselves on our accuracy, however belated, so we've edited the piece to reflect that fact, and published a separate piece on the actual youth unemployment rate. Apologies. 

I have a problem. It isn't a huge problem, in the grand scheme of things – it’s certainly tiny, compared to one I'm actually meant to be writing about in this post – but it's a pain in the bum nonetheless. It's this: I am running out of ways of expressing quite how shocking England's north/south divide is.

When you spend any time looking at data on Britain's cities, you see, this is a theme that comes up rather a lot. It doesn't feature in everything, of course, but it features vastly more frequently than it would in a country that wasn't quite so ludicrously divided as this one.

And so, more often than not, when I write these blogs, I have to talk about it. House prices? North south divide. Population growth? North south divide. Productivity? Oh, there we go again. Public investment? Sit down, this may come as a shock.

It's appalling how often you can spot this divide in the data. It's insane, when you realise that, in 2011, at least, South Yorkshire had lower GDP per capita than Slovakia.

I'm a lifelong Londoner, and pretty much as out a touch a metropolitan liberal as you might find, yet it is a source of constant bafflement to me that we've all just accepted this chasm down the middle of the country as if it's a fact of nature. Why do we put up with this? Why is there not more rage?

Anyway. Rant over. Let's look at some numbers.

This week, we're looking at unemployment as expressed in the "claimant count" – that is, the proportion of the workforce claiming out of work benefits. The claimant count is not a perfect measure – those with working partners, or financial savings, are no longer eligible for Jobseekers Allowance, so aren't counted. But it gives a snapshot, and best of all, it's recent: this data is from January 2016.

Let's see what it reveals – whether there might be any, I don’t know, geographical patterns in this data, or something?

Here's an interactive map. You can hover over the dot to get the data for each individual city.

My god, there's a shock. The lowest claimant counts are in the south. The highest are in the north. Well who could possibly have seen this coming?

That map, if anything, downplays the extent of the divide. Here's the same data as a bar chart. We've coloured the bars by region ("Greater south east" is London, plus the South East and East of England regions).

Click to expand.

The vast majority of southern ones have relatively low unemployment. The vast majority of northern cities have relatively high unemployment. The Midlands and Wales are in pretty poor shape, too, while Scotland is fairly divided.

Two questions arise from all this. The first is, what is going on in Barnsley, to make its unemployment rate is so much lower than most of the north?

York, the other northern city doing pretty well on this measure, is rich. Barnsley isn't. We're at a bit of a loss to explain this one, as it seems are the local papers – but do write in if you have any insights.

The other question is more existential. It's this:

Why has one half of this England never risen in armed revolt and attempted to kick the living crap out of the other half? What is wrong with this country?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric, and tweets too much.

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Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.

The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.