Which city is the UK’s start-up capital?

You too could work in an overly-instagrammable but not actually that functional start-up office. Image: Start Up Stock Photos

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.

Flat whites. Beanbags. A ‘zen zone’.

You know what I’m talking about. Millennial-ridden, top-knot-sporting, entrepreneurial-spirit-embodying start-ups, popping up all over the place building new businesses, apps, technologies, solutions, and gargantuan fortunes.

Start-ups: they’re the cool new thing for a developed Western city to have, with YouTube ‘spaces’ and Google ‘creative zones’ taking up space from King’s Cross to Tottenham Court Road.

But though London hogs the spotlight, is it really the UK’s start-up capital?

Image: Centre for Cities.

A simple look at the map of business start-ups per 10,000 people in 2015 shows that for the most part it's quite predictable. 

London sits at the centre of a network of darker green dots – indicating higher densities of start-ups per capita – which almost universally thins out as it heads away in all directions; towards Norfolk, Exeter, Newcastle, and Manchester. 

But that isn't an entirely fair picture. Doncaster flashes a reasonable shade of green, and way up in Scotland, Edinburgh looks like it's doing not too badly either. 

Image: Centre for Cities.

And this does come through in the top 10: though London is far and away ahead, unlikely dribbles of outer commuter belt show up, too. Northampton had the second highest level of start-ups per 10,000 people in 2015, and Basildon – of all places – comes in respectably in ninth place. 

And then there's Doncaster, in sixth. Ed Miliband would be proud. 

To look at the change in how start-up friendly cities are, too, is to see London's total hegemony fade just a little. 


Image: Centre for Cities.

To take the actual change – as in the gross change – from 2004 to 2015 (the widest data offering available), Northampton surges out ahead. 

London, indeed, is left almost exactly on a par with Slough (come friendly bombs), and not all that far ahead of Doncaster. 

And there's Edinburgh – plucky little Scots Edinburgh – coming in seventh place ahead of infamous 'M4 Corridor' powerhouse Reading. 

Image: Centre for Cities.

Looking at the relative, rather than the gross, change also knocks London off the top spot. By looking at the percentage by which the numer of start-ups per 10,000 people has changed, London's growth actually looks a little sluggish. 

Northampton, Doncaster, Slough, Luton, and Glasgow all come in ahead. Edinburgh is almost parallel with London, and Middlesbrough, Liverpool, and Crawley follow not all that far behind. 

So even if London has the most start-ups in the country, perhaps it's not doing all that well at encouraging and accellerating that start-up vibe that brings them all flocking. 

But of course, 2004 and 2015 are a very long way away from each other. Facebook was barely a thing then, 'Brexit' was the preserve of proper loonies, rather than socially acceptable loonies, and we hadn't even had the crash. What a time. (Just don't mention the War). 

Image: Centre for Cities.

Back then, the picture looked a little more diverse. Exeter, the South Coast, Bristol, Blackpool and the northern edges of the 'Northern Powerhouse' all seem to be doing pretty well. 

Even Norfolk is sort of getting in on the action. 

Image: Centre for Cities.

But if you pick a year just after the crash – like 2010, for argument's sake – you can see things are hunkering down. Those green dots have become more concentrated in the south, with the green dots in the Northern Powerhouse fading markedly, and places like Exeter and Cardiff trickling away.

London and its army of green blobs is out in force. 

So for some reason, something about the post-crash economy and the start-up world of Internet 2.0 (or the Internet of Things, I lose track) has tilted the balance in favour of London and the south-east. 

And as we've name-dropped the Northern Powerhouse in here, it's worth also noting that Manchester – the supposed capital of Britain's great future hub – hasn't featured on any top ten list thus far. 

Go figure. 

Image: Centre for Cities.

But at least one nice thing is that you have to look really hard to see any evidence of start-ups actually draining away. Looking at percentage change from 2004-15, only nine cities seem to have seen numbers fall. Which, in the greater scheme of things, isn't actually that terrible. 

You go, Britain. Out and into the world with your zen zones and start-up beanbags. 

Or something. 

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To beat rising temperatures, Vienna launches a network of 'Cool Streets'

A Vienna resident cools off at one of the city's new Cool Streets installations. (Courtesy Christian Fürthner/Mobilitätsagentur Wien)

Over the past several months, Austria has recorded its highest unemployment rate since World War II, thanks to the economic aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no job or a suddenly smaller income – not to mention the continued threat of the virus – many Viennese will opt for a staycation this summer.  

At the same time, last year, Austria’s capital experienced 39 days with temperatures of over 30°C (86°F), one of its hottest summers in history according to the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.

Climate experts expect a similarly sizzling 2020 season, and city officials are now doubling down on efforts to combat the heat by launching a “Cool Streets” initiative as well as a new, state-of-the-art cooling park.

“As the city councilwoman in charge of climate, it is my job to ensure local cooling,” Vienna’s deputy mayor Birgit Hebein proclaimed at the opening of one of 22 new “Cool Streets” on 22 June.

“In Austria, there are already more heat deaths than traffic fatalities,” she added.

Hebein was referring to the 766 people the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security included in its 2018 heat-associated mortality statistics. The number was up by 31% compared to 2017, and in contrast to the 409 people who died in traffic collisions the same year.

The project includes 18 temporary Cool Streets located across the city, plus four roads that will be redesigned permanently and designated as “Cool Streets Plus”.

“The Plus version includes the planting of trees. Brighter surfaces, which reflect less heat, replace asphalt in addition to the installation of shadow or water elements,” said Kathrin Ivancsits, spokeswoman for the city-owned bureau Mobilitätsagentur, which is coordinating the project.

Vienna's seasonal Cool Streets provide shady places to rest and are closed to cars. (Petra Loho for CityMetric)

In addition to mobile shade dispensers and seating possibilities amid more greenery provided by potted plants, each street features a steel column offering drinking water and spray cooling. The temporary Cool Streets will also remain car-free until 20 September.

A sensor in the granite base releases drinking water and pushes it through 34 nozzles whenever the outside temperature reaches 25°C (77°F) . As soon as the ambient temperature drops to 23°C (73°F), the sensor, which operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., turns off the water supply.

The sensors were included in part to allay concerns about legionella, a pathogenic bacteria that can reproduce in water.  

“When the spray stops, the system drains, and therefore no microbial contamination can develop,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Health at the Center for Public Health at Medical University Vienna, in a televised interview.

Hutter also assured the public that there is no increased risk of a Covid-19 infection from the spray as long as people adhere to the one-meter social distance requirement.

But Samer Bagaeen of the University of Kent's School of Architecture and Planning notes that air cooling systems, like the ones used in Germany at abattoirs, have been found recently to be a risk factor for Covid-19 outbreaks.

“The same could be said for spay devices,” he warned.

Vienna’s district councils selected the 22 Cool Street locations with the help of the city’s Urban Heat Vulnerability Index. The map shows where most people suffer from heat by evaluating temperature data, green and water-related infrastructure, and demographic data.

“Urban heat islands can occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat,” as the US Environmental Protection Agency states.

A rendering of Vienna's planned park featuring a Coolspot, which is scheduled to open in August. Click to expand.
(Courtesy Carla Lo Landscape Architecture)

Vienna’s sixth district, Mariahilf, is such an area. The construction of the capital’s first “Cooling Park”, a €1 million project covering the 10,600 square-metre Esterházypark, is designed to provide relief. 

Green4Cities, a centre of excellence for green infrastructure in urban areas, designed the park’s main attraction, the “Coolspot”. The nearly 3.40-metre high steel trellis holds three rings equipped with spray nozzles. Textile shading slats, tensioned with steel cables, cover them.

The effects of evaporation and evapotranspiration create a cooler microclimate around the 30 square-metre seating area, alongside other spray spots selectively scattered across the park.

The high-pressure spray also deposits tiny droplets on plant and tree leaves, which stimulates them to sweat even more. All together, these collective measures help to cool their surroundings by up to six degrees.

The landscape architect Carla Lo and her team planned what she calls the “low-tech” park components. “Plants are an essential design element of the Cooling Park,” Lo says. “By unsealing the [soil], we can add new grass, herbaceous beds, and more climate-resistant trees to the existing cultivation”.

Light-coloured, natural stone punctuated by grass seams replaces the old concrete surfaces, and wooden benches meander throughout the park.

Living near the park and yearning for an urban escape close by, Lo says she’s motivated to ensure the park is completed by mid-August.

“If we don't do anything, Vienna will be another eight degrees Celsius hotter in 2050 than it already is,” Hebein said.

Vienna recently came in first in the World's 10 Greenest Cities Index by the consulting agency Resonance.

“There is no one size fits all on how cities respond to urban heat,” says the University of Kent’s Bagaeen, who points out that Vienna was one of the first European cities to set up an Urban Heat Islands Strategic Plan in 2015.

In the short term, prognoses on the city’s future development may be more difficult: Vienna votes this autumn.

Petra Loho is a journalist and photographer based in Austria.