Oxford vs Middlesbrough: on the urban geography of Brexit

Brexit is depressing so here are some kittens. Image: Getty.

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

Last week, I wrote – at surprisingly great length – about a map who showed Tory fortunes in Britain's cities during last year's elections. Short version: badly.

Medium length version: the party's strategy was to attempt to attract Leave voters by

a) pushing for a full-fat version of Brexit, and

b) being quite rude about Remainers.

Sadly – for a certain value of sad – this seemingly alienated more affluent Remainers without doing much to attract less affluent Leavers. Aww. Here's that map, from the Cities Outlook 2018 report, again. To its left is a map of the referendum result:

Click to expand.

You can at least see what the Tories were thinking. Those dark green dots in the left-hand map represent particularly leave-y cities, and – outside the Thames Estuary, at least – they're by and large a litany of Labour areas. A Tory party that could win Doncaster, Middlesbrough or Hull is a Tory party that would be pretty much unassailable.

In practice, of course, it didn't work out like that. What we actually got was a Tory party that made remarkably little progress in Doncaster or Hull, actually lost ground in Middlesbrough, and managed to place itself beyond contention in Oxford, Brighton and Exeter, so well done there.

It's also worth noting how the referendum itself played out across the country. Those really dark green blobs – where the Leave side won 63 per cent of the vote or more, effectively a lead of at least 25per cent – are largely smaller, post-industrial cities: places where the old industrial economy has died but which, unlike Manchester or Leeds, have struggled to attract service businesses that depend on deep labour pools.


But there is an exception to this rule. It's those smaller cities in the Thames estuary: Basildon, Southend, Chatham. There may be cultural factors at work here: Essex has long been thought fertile territory for the more jingoistic forms of Tory-ism, but that's a culture you can also find in northern Kent (but not, strangely, northern Essex, which is much more East Anglian in tone). As I've written before, for all the talk of the rich South East, wages and productivity also tend to be lower to the east of London. Since the referendum was a generalised "everything is not okay" sort of a vote, economics may well have been a factor here too.

On the other side of the fence, the most Remain-y cities in England and Wales tended to be university towns, big cities, or both. Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton are the obvious examples. But elsewhere in the country, Exeter, Cardiff, Liverpool, Leeds and York are all notably more remain than the cities around them.

There are two partial exceptions to this. Neither Birmingham nor Manchester look like particularly Remain-friendly territory on this map. My guess is that's a boundary thing: the Centre for Cities' definition of Brum includes Wolverhampton (sorry) and a number of other contiguous suburbs, and its Manchester contains every borough in Greater Manchester except Wigan. While the cities themselves have proposed, some of their suburbs have, like so many other post-industrial areas, been left behind.

Here's a quick chart before we go. This one plots the EU referendum result against cities; prospects for developing high-skilled private sector jobs. In other words, cities on the right of the chart are the most likely to boom, those on the left the most likely to struggle.

Click to expand.

The correlation screams at you. As the report says, the chart

shows a negative relationship between the referendum result and the share of jobs projected to grow which are high-skilled. The implication is that if patterns of job creation in the future reflect those of the past then the political divide illustrated by the referendum result will likely grow wider.

Or to put it another way: in places which voted for Brexit because their economies are rubbish, the economy is likely to get worse.

If anyone can think of any good news, please do write in. In the mean time, you can read the rest of Cities Outlook 2018 here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook.

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Park Life: on John Claudius Loudon, the father of the modern park

Arboretum et fruticetum Britannicum: an engraving from one of Loudon’s books. Image: Wikimedia Commons/public domain.

Where did parks begin? Where was the first park? Who created it?

These questions aren’t actually as unanswerable as they might first appear. If you’re talking about purpose-built public parks as opposed to private gardens or common land, there’s an at least plausible answer in Derby, which at the very least is home to what might be the oldest extant example in Britain.

The Arboretum was created in 1840 by Joseph Strutt, a public-minded (ish) industrialist. His intricately landscaped park was designed to give the workers (e.g. the ones in his own cotton mills) somewhere for recreation and exercise on the two half-days off he generously gave them.

Loudon. Image: Royal Horticultural Society/Wikimedia Commons.

Strutt may have paid for it, but the real credit should perhaps go to its designer, John Claudius Loudon: he even provided the name, having been the first person to apply the word arboretum to curated botanical gardens. You thought you were having fun in a park: Loudon was trying to trick you into learning about trees.

Loudon is a now slightly obscure figure, having been eclipsed by those he influenced. A pseudo-self-made Scot (his father was a farmer who was at least successful enough to ensure his kid got an education), by the time he was 30 he’d made a fortune introducing new farming and gardening methods to southern England.

At this point, not dissuaded by – for example – the Napoleonic Wars, he sent himself on a Grand Tour of Europe. This was to, in his own words, cast off “confining coil of insular thought”, but he was especially seeking to increase his botanical knowledge. Along the way he picked up a strain of social liberalism, particularly focussed on the importance of public, ideally green, spaces.


Practical efforts in this area were hindered by discovering on his return from Europe that a dodgy investment meant he was broke, and later through health problems that highly excellent 19th-century medicine eventually attempted to cure by cutting off one of his arms. But he wrote extensively, contributing to the Encyclopedia Britannica and publishing Encyclopedias, magazines and various other works of his own, primarily on the subject of landscape gardening, but also tackling the design of everything from pubs to cemeteries.

The preservation and development of green space within the city was something Loudon thought about throughout his life. In fact, his first published writing was a letter about the importance of public squares in London as “breathing zones”.

One of his most intriguing ideas in this arena was sadly never developed, or at least never documented, beyond an initial thought: a proposal to surround London with a ‘promenade’, a circular route around the city that would link, to his mind, its most important features. It would run from Hyde Park, south over Vauxhall Bridge to the (now vanished) Vauxhall Gardens, then through south London to Greenwich Park. At that point, Loudon got really ambitious, with a proposed Thames crossing consisting of an iron bridge big enough for ships to sail under. On the other side the route would run in some unspecified way to meet what’s now the City Road, run up to Marylebone and back down to Hyde Park.

This proposal, which he charmingly noted would be inexpensive “with the exception of the bridge” (no, really?), would provide a day’s tour (presumably horse-propelled if you actually wanted enough time to stop and see anything) of the most interesting gardens, scenery and objects close to London. He was clearly on to something: not only the importance of urban green spaces in themselves, but the fact that within a city they could act almost in concert. Today London has several orbital walking routes which link its parks – although massive garden-based bridges, not so much.

Loudon’s green belt plan. Image: BuldingCentre.co.uk.

In 1829 “Hints on Breathing Places for the Metropolis, and for Country Towns and Villages, on fixed Principles”, Loudon would go on to make an even bolder proposal: not just for what we’d now call the green belt, but green belts plural, alternating rings of city and countryside/garden which as a city expanded could keep going until they hit the sea. Although he accepted the grandiosity of such a plan perhaps made it unlikely (the fact that the following year he married a science fiction novelist feels contextually notable here), he emphasises that the important thing is the basic principle: that towns and cities should be planned in such a way that no-one has to live more than a quarter mile from some kind of park, garden or piece of countryside.

Loudon may have seen his legacy as his writings: three years after completing the Arboretum in Derby, he died having spent almost every penny to his name on publishing various expansive and expensive tomes to share his knowledge and promote his ideas, which might seem to have been a bit of fool’s errand given no-one much reads them now. But it’s at least highly probable that Ebenezer Howard, father of the garden city movement, had read Loudon’s ideas.

And while that Derby park may not be world famous itself, it was highly influential on the parks that came after it – including something called Central Park in somewhere called New York, for which the Arboretum was a direct inspiration. Loudon lives on.