The City-REDI REsearch SYmposium (CRRESY)

Published: Posted on


In mid-May, City-REDI hosted its biannual research symposium. The online event has seen a range of presentations from City-REDI researchers showcasing some of the diversity of research in the Institute. Below is the programme of presentations, accompanied by the abstracts. Readers are encouraged to contact the presenters for more information on their research.

City-REDI REsearch SYmposium
14.05.2021 – 13.00-16.30
Professor Simon Collinson
Dr Tasos Kitsos
Dr Abigail Taylor Promoting place attractiveness for economic competitiveness and well-being: a case of study of the role of universities in the West Midlands
Dr Magda Cepeda The meaning and measurement of productivity: managers’ perspectives and their implications for performance improvement
Professor Anne Green Megatrends
Dr Ted Pinchbeck The spatial impacts of a massive rail disinvestment program: the Beeching Axe
Professor Raquel Ortega-Argilés

Dr Pei-Yu Yuan

The Covid-19 Shock in European Regions: A Multilevel Hierarchical Approach Examining the Roles of Geography and Institutions in Shaping the Pandemic
Dr Tasos Kitsos Creative Industries and Housing Markets


Promoting place attractiveness for economic competitiveness and well-being: a case of study of the role of universities in the West Midlands

Dr Abigail Taylor

‘Place attractiveness’ relates to place-specific assets which contribute to local or regional desirability. These assets have been identified as important for regional growth and development (e.g. Rosen, 1979; Roback, 1982; Ullman, 1954; Brueckner et al., 1999; Glaeser et al., 2001; Clark et al., 2002; Clark, 2003b).

The scale of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenges it creates for the levelling up agenda, brings to the fore the importance of understanding the role of universities in supporting how neighbourhoods, cities, regions and pan-regions can promote themselves as attractive areas to work and live in. Existing literature tends to focus on either how universities contribute to economic development through their role in promoting innovation (e.g. Erkowitz, 2003; Benneworth et al, 2017; Harrison and Turok, 2017, Billing, 2020) or their role as anchor institutions (e.g. Goddard, 2018 and Konig et al 2020). However, less understanding exists of how universities’ roles in enhancing innovation and promoting economic development and well-being combine in place for the benefit of local areas, regions and pan-regions.

This paper will examine the role of universities in place attractiveness for economic competitiveness and regional and local well-being. It focuses on the labour market dimension of place attractiveness (i.e. how universities are contributing to upskilling, supporting individuals into employment, supporting businesses, and promoting business investment). Based on qualitative interviews with universities, colleges and regional stakeholders in the West Midlands, the focus is on experiences in a single region in the UK but the issues raised are of relevance to universities elsewhere in the UK and internationally.

The novel contribution is to examine how universities contribute to place attractiveness at the local, regional and pan-regional scale. The paper investigates the extent to which different types of universities have distinct roles in promoting place attractiveness in a specific region.

The meaning and measurement of productivity: managers’ perspectives and their implications for performance improvement

Dr Magda Cepeda

There are well-established and ongoing concerns about productivity at national and sub-national levels in the UK. Productivity improvement was a key focus for national and sub-national policy prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and although arguably in the short-term issues of inclusivity have risen up the policy agenda, it remains the case that productivity is a critical determinant of national and sub-national living standards: “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything” (Krugman, 1997).

Previous research (e.g. Green et al., 2018; Roper et al., 2019) has noted that there is limited/partial understanding of productivity on the part of many employers, with sector and firm size differences shaping managers’ perspectives on productivity. There are many measures of ‘productivity’ and this term is often confused with measures of efficiency. Many managers’ lack of recognition, use and measurement of ‘productivity’ suggests a disconnect between business practice and policy discourse on productivity. However, the use of performance metrics other than productivity suggests that most companies are interested in improving efficiency, quality, sales, profits, etc.

In order to help reduce the gap in understanding and measuring productivity between business practice and policy discourse, this study aims to add to the evidence on how employers think about productivity and how this varies between sectors and by the size of firms. Furthermore, this paper assesses what those differences in understanding and measuring productivity mean for policy and how this can contribute to improving regional productivity.

Using data from 300 firm managers in the West Midlands region (NUTS 1 area), a telephone survey was carried out across firms from four different economic sectors: Advance Manufacturing (N=95); Professional Business and Financial Services (PBFS) (N=106); Retail (N=60) and Hospitality (N=39).

The findings show that productivity is understood differently by managers; however, some commonalities are the use of efficiency, output and performance as synonyms. Other themes identified from managers’ perspectives about productivity were: ‘Output’; ‘Working’/‘Work hours’; and ‘Staff’/‘People’/‘Workforce’.

Our study reveals that the understanding of productivity by managers changes by context, as stated in previous research. Regarding factors influencing productivity, although some authors state that “managers understand which factors affect productivity” and therefore “they are able to contribute to it” (Lönnqvist and Laihonen, 2012), our research signifies that this is not always the case because actions to improve productivity do not always align directly with the definition understood by managers.

The findings suggest the variations in understanding of productivity across sectors lead to different emphases on what is measured and how. In turn, this leads to different actions to improve productivity by firms. A better understanding of the sectoral differences in what productivity means has important implications for policy and policy messages about productivity. Such differences need to be taken into account in focusing policy actions to improve productivity, both by the government and by employers.


Professor Anne Green

Megatrends are major movements, patterns or trends emerging that have a transformative impact on business, economy, society, cultures and personal lives. Examples include technological and demographic change and Net-Zero. This presentation draws on workshop discussions with regional stakeholders conducted earlier in 2021 on a series of topics including adapting to future mobilities, improving health and well-being, hybrid workplaces and the future of work, adjusting business models and operations, behaviours and values, changing functions and functioning of places, and business districts. On each of these topics, it identifies key impacts and areas of innovation to 2030. Cross-cutting themes emerging include digitalisation impacting on business models, the growth of hybrid working, greater remote working making place attractiveness more important, the increasing prominence of climate change and green considerations, the importance of demographic issues underlying behaviour, and the tendency for greater polarisation between people and places without ameliorative action. Megatrends combine to bring opportunities and threats. For example, in relation to business models and digitalisation megatrends point to an acceleration of business model adaptation and technology adoption, with changing mind-sets and growing capacity to take advantage of opportunities for innovation, geographical expansion of skills base and a changing balance of reshoring, offshoring and north-shoring. From a negative perspective, for some sub-groups of the population megatrends may lead to a nexus of deteriorating mental health, a lack of skills and take-up of digital and technology and a bypassing of local labour markets as businesses seek skills elsewhere leading to growing inequality and reduced social mobility. For policymakers there is an onus on mitigating such negative impacts while shaping policies that will help lead to desirable futures.

The spatial impacts of a massive rail disinvestment program: the Beeching Axe

Dr Ted Pinchbeck

This paper addresses an unexplored aspect of transport infrastructure investments: what happens when a transport network is dismantled? To answer this question, we study a unique policy that removed 42% of all lines and nearly 60% of all stations in Britain during the 1950s, 60s and 70s – a programme known as ‘the Beeching Axe’. Using semiparametric methods to control for historical pre-trends, and novel instrumental variables, we show that the loss of rail access caused a decline in population as well as the proportion of skilled workers and young people. A 10% reduction in rail access over the 1950-1980 period led to a 3% fall in population by 1981 relative to unaffected areas. Put differently, the 1 in 5 places that were most exposed to the cuts saw 24 pp. less population growth than the 1 in 5 places that were least exposed. Populations did not recover in subsequent decades.

The Covid-19 Shock in European Regions: A Multilevel Hierarchical Approach Examining the Roles of Geography and Institutions in Shaping the Pandemic

Professor Raquel Ortega-Argilés & Dr Pei-Yu Yuan

Prof Ortega-Argilés
Dr Pei-Yu Yuan

We examine the regional mortality rates associated with the spread of Covid-19 in Europe. In particular, we analyse the potential contribution of the country’s geographical, governance and institutional features in shaping the virus’s interregional spread and resulting local death rates. Our analysis covers and compares information from both pandemic waves from March to the end of November 2020. In a multilevel hierarchical regression estimation setting covering information from over 600 OECD-TL3 areas, nested within over 120 larger OECD-TL2 areas belonging to 21 national-level areas, our findings suggest that the excess local death rates for European regions are heavily affected by geographical and institutional features at the local, regional and national levels. Our analysis demonstrates that both national and large regional factors influence the excess deaths rates in small local regions and that multilevel rather than single-level models are appropriate methods for capturing these effects. We find that large metro areas and areas close to urban areas show higher excess deaths. In terms of institutions, greater national governance centralisation is associated with higher death rates, as are weaker healthcare systems, while higher local governance autonomy is associated with lower death rates.

Creative Industries and Housing Markets

Dr Tasos Kitsos

An established theoretical and case study literature discusses how the creative industries, and Creative City policies, may drive neighbourhood gentrification. However, this literature is inconclusive on the size of these links; whether or not creative activity drives neighbourhood change or follows it; the mechanisms in play; and differences across creative activities, notably the role of artists and ‘the arts’ versus other creative sectors. This paper seeks to clarify these questions by cleaning testing links between creative industries presence, changes in housing costs and residential gentrification. We look at a range of spatial scales, using rich UK microdata on house prices, rents and creative firms for the 2000s and 2010s. We also test differences across neighbourhood types, subsets of the creative industries, and combined housing market and socio-economic change. We find robust positive links between the presence of creative industries and subsequent change in time-consistent house prices at a range of spatial scales. Much of this is explained by change in historically cheaper areas across the UK and also the presence of creative producers rather than the arts. We find suggestive evidence that rent shifts follow different patterns, linked to richer areas and creative amenities. In London and Birmingham, we find that creative industries are also linked to processes of gentrification but have no link to rental market changes. Policymakers need to be aware of these nuances, in order both to design more targeted mitigation and to better convey potential impacts to local communities.

This blog was prepared by Dr Tasos Kitsos, Research Fellow, City-REDI / WM REDI

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI / WM REDI or the University of Birmingham.

Sign up for our mailing list

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *