Growing apart? Structural transformation and the uneven development of British cities

17 Oct 2018

Structural change is now widely considered to be an important aspect of national economic growth. The issue is not only relevant at the macro-economic level, but also has a direct bearing on the growth of regions and cities. In this article, we examine the relationship between structural transformation and economic (output) growth across British cities over the last half-century. During this time, the British economy has gone through a series of extensive structural transformations, most notably a historical shift from an industrial to a post-industrial structure. But also within the dominant ‘post-industrial’ economy, some service activities have been growing at a faster rate and appear to be more dynamic than others. We show how the structural transformations in the national economy have played out quite differently across British cities, shaping to a considerable extent their divergent growth trajectories over the past five decades. At a broad level, it is possible to distinguish between a number of distinct growth groups of cities, and these also display significant differences in the extent and direction of structural change and reorientation. While differences in structural change have been important in shaping city growth paths, other ‘city-specific’ factors also appear to have exerted an influence, and thus require investigation. Despite the importance of structural change on the growth trajectories of British cities, the most comprehensive analysis was undertaken some 30 years ago (see Hausner, 1987). This article seeks to fill this lacuna in knowledge.