Yesterday I travelled way up north to Aberdeen to hear about the Sustainable Urban Fringes project. For me the conference was a reminder that a city’s success isn’t just dependent on the strength of its urban core, urban fringes matter too. Businesses located in urban cores draw on the large pool of skilled labour urban fringes house and this helps them be more productive. Despite this, the conference also made me question the extent to which various stakeholders recognise, and seek to build on, these mutually beneficial links.
But urban fringes don’t just house workers – they’re increasingly providing lower skilled job opportunities too. As our report showed, lower skilled jobs are dispersing out into cities’ hinterlands whilst higher skilled jobs are becoming increasingly concentrated in city centres.
Greater Manchester is a good example as, although lower skilled jobs are available in the heart of the city, they’re also found in places to the east like the Kingsway Business Park in Rochdale as well as in places to the very south of the city region like the airport.
But does the dispersal of lower skilled jobs into urban fringes actually matter? Well with the latest figures recording an unemployment rate in the UK of 8.2 percent clearly every job is valuable. But, dispersal can make access to employment more challenging particularly because people with lower skill levels don’t tend to travel as far for job opportunities as those with higher skill levels and the cost of travel makes up a higher share of their income.
So the challenge for Greater Manchester is to ensure orbital links around the urban fringes enable people who live in places like Bolton and Ashton-under-Lyne to access employment opportunities in locations like the Kingsway Business Park and airport. More widely, for all cities it’s about recognising and understanding the links between urban cores and urban fringes and seeking to strengthen these mutually beneficial relationships.