Society and Culture

The State of our Cities

IEA authors make radical proposals to improve the state of our cities
The latest edition of the IEA’s journal, Economic Affairs, contains proposals by an expert group of academics and practitioners to improve life in our cities.

Professor W. Stanley Siebert of Birmingham University shows that UK cities are frequently unattractive places to live because of the lack of city amenities and the priority given to road use and road widening within cities. In the UK, strict licensing laws, compared with other EU countries, prevent the development of pavement cafes and other facilities. This can create a spiral of decline as people leave city centres and depopulation leads to crime and a further diminution in the attractiveness of city centres.

Research by Peter Watt (also of Birmingham University) and by Mark Pennington (University of London) shows how government control of the planning process and the public ownership of roads, streets and pavements leads to badly planned cities that do not provide the right kind of amenities for residents. Such policies also lead to the development of an atmosphere where nobody takes responsibility for city centre streets resulting in yet more crime and disorder. Stuart Neame (Vice Chairman of Shepherd Neame) shows that the current licensing system for city centre pubs leads to a violent atmosphere in many city centres at night and also shows that over-regulation is rapidly killing off community pubs.

The authors suggest a series of radical policies that will lead to change and re-population of our cities. Further de-regulation of licensing laws, liberalisation of planning laws, privatisation of pavements (and possibly roads) and road pricing in city centres would ensure that city centres could be dominated by amenities and not traffic. Road pricing may lead to reduced traffic and opportunities for beneficial pedestrianisation. These policies may seem radical. However, they are tried and tested. Many cities throughout Europe and in the US have adopted elements of, if not all, the policies suggested by the IEA’s authors. The results are city centres that are generally far superior to the city centres of the United Kingdom.

Read the full paper here.