Urban living – what’s Birmingham’s offer?

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Is living in Birmingham so bad? The answer is no according to a recent YouGov survey of Birmingham residents. But what makes the city so ‘liveable’? Here, Dr Rachel Mulhall provides some reflections.

Green Space – Perhaps surprising to those who don’t live in the city, residents of Birmingham refer to parks and open spaces as the feature that they most liked about the City. In particular, 60% of respondents aged 40 or above liked the open space the city has to offer. Birmingham has a heritage of parks and open spaces, with a history of the City purchasing green open spaces to provide free public access during the early 20th century to improve the wellbeing of city dwellers (see here for more details). This tradition has continued and Birmingham is the first ‘biophilic’ city in the UK – linking urban residents with the natural environment – with Birmingham now having 571 parks across the city and 3,500 hectares (around 13% of the city) of open space (see here for more details). Not only do green spaces provide respite from the bustling city, they also provide balance to the city. Environmental risks, such as heat, flooding and air pollution, are mitigated by parks and green spaces. As cities grow, green spaces will continue to be a vital part of urban living.

Connectivity – The connectivity of the city was also an important feature for males (46%), older residents (60+) (52%) and those in professional occupations (49%). Birmingham’s central location means the city is well connected to national infrastructure (road, rail, air) but getting around the city is also becoming easier. Birmingham was designed for cars – the infamous ‘concrete collar’ of the inner-city ring-road – has been segmenting the city and constraining the growth of the city centre for decades. With the redevelopment of large parts of the city centre, Birmingham is also becoming more pedestrian friendly.

Diversity – Cities have a diverse population and this is reflected in how people live in urban areas and what they value.  Shopping is a popular feature for females (46%) and 18-24 year olds (53%), reflecting the city’s status as a leading European shopping destination. However, the city has more to offer than retail. The cities emerging food scene, museum and library facilities and culture are also valued by the young (18-39). EU referendum remain voters liked the culture the city had to offer (34%, compared to 18% of leave voters), whereas the leave voters value the history of the city more (43%, compared to 26% of remain voters).

Cities are complex places that offer different things to different people, whether living, working or visiting. Cities are places of wealth creation and employment, but also places where people live and play. Urban Living Birmingham (see here for more details), a research project funded through the Urban Living Partnership, is questioning how we think about the city and what it means to live in urban areas. As the proportion of people living in cities continues to grow, what people want form urban living is increasingly important.


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