The seven most interesting maps and charts from the Centre for Cities’ latest survey of urban Britain

Slough. All will become clear. Image: Getty.

Yesterday, while everyone was distracted by the chaos surrounding Brexit – again – the government sneaked out some remarkably crappy financial news for councils. Again.

In some ways, this was not the best timing, as the Centre for Cities had just published the latest edition of Cities Outlook, its annual report of the state of Britain’s cities, and well, the news is, hmmm. One key fact to summarise the report’s tone: in 2009-10, the last year before austerity kicked in, only four of the 62 cities it analyses, spent most of their budgets on social care; now, more than half of them do.

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So, we’re stuffed.

The report includes a whole bunch of other upsetting facts:

  • Since austerity began, Britain’s cities have seen a total funding cut of £386 per head, compared to £172 in the rest of Britain. (A quick note here: by “cities”, the report means Primary Urban areas, groups of councils representing their economic footprint.)
  • The largest cuts were in the north, where they averaged 20 per cent of their budgets. Oooh I am surprised.
  • Actually surprising, though, was that London also saw huge cuts: despite being home to just 16 per cent of the population, it swallowed 30 per cent of all council cuts.
  • Other southern English cities, by contrast, were less badly hit; they’ve also been more likely to find other sources of money, such as charging for certain services.

Taking these last three together, it’s hard to avoid a sneaking suspicion there’s some politics going on here. What London and northern cities have in common is Labour dominance; most southern cities are Tory. The motivation here is not necessarily quite as naked as that suggests – it’s likely that populations that tend to vote Labour will have other things in common, too – but nonetheless, it feels a lot like a government that’s protected its own voters while attacking everyone else.

But you’re not here for the stats are you? You’re here for the maps. So here are some of the best ones.

Towns need successful cities

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This one shows the productivity of cities (the bigger blobs) and unemployment in towns (the smaller ones). What do you notice?

For me, it’s the tendency for colours of nearby blobs to be the same: in other words, highly productive cities tend to have low unemployment towns in their hinterland.

The message here seems to be: stop suggesting that economic policy is focusing on cities at the expense of towns. They need each other.

Pretty much everyone’s seen a spending cut

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By my count, there are exactly two cities that have seen spending rises: Oxford and Luton. In every other city, spending has been cut.

Generally, the biggest cuts – those shown here in lighter colours – have hit northern cities such as Doncaster, Wakefield and Liverpool. The very worst hit of all has been Barnsley, where spending has fallen by over 40 per cent.

Cities are under more financial pressure than the rest of the country

On both social care and other services, spending on cities is tracking lower than it is in the rest of country.

Jolly good.

There’s no obvious correlation between the state of a city’s economy and the depth of its cuts

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I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but the striking thing here is the lack of a pattern: heavy cuts fallen on both thriving and struggling cities. Hmm.

Some councils are getting commercial

This is more common in the south, though there are notable exceptions (Oxford, Blackburn) to the pattern:

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“There are questions about whether it is advisable for the public sector to be moving into property investment or charging f or a greater share of the services they provide,” the report says. Quite.

The most productive city in Britain is not where you think

You’re a CityMetric reader. You probably have some idea of the economic geography of Britain, right? There’s a north/south divide, Scotland is doing its own thing, there are pockets of productivity in the historic university towns, but basically all economic activity pointing towards London?

Well: from this year’s Cities Outlook I learned that, in 2017, Cambridge was less productive than… Basildon.

More strikingly still, the most productive city of all in Britain in 2017 was...

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..Slough.

John Betjeman must be turning in his grave.

You can read the full Cities Outlook 2019 report here.


 

 
 
 
 

Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.


The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

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