|The Structure of British and European Cities
We have already seen how Johnson’s model is a modification of the Burgess and Hoyt models to a British city
(Sunderland). Other models have been developed for British cities, which highlight both the similarities and
differences with North American cities.
This model was based primarily on Huddersfield, Nottingham and Sheffield – medium-sized cities in northern
England. Concentric rings reminiscent of Burgess and sectors reminiscent of Hoyt are both apparent, but what
helps make this model unique is that it takes into account the direction of the prevailing south-westerly winds
(shown by the arrow). Industry is located to the north-east, where the industrial pollution is blown away from the
more expensive residential sector in the west and southwest which is the cleanest sector with the best air
quality. Less affluent working-men’s houses are located close to the industrial sector, as these people are
drawn here for work since they cannot afford to make long journeys to work. The working classes outnumber
the middle classes 3:1 in this model and housing density is higher in the poorer neighbourhoods in the C and D
sectors (so there are 2 C sectors to one A sector).
Thus, social class is divided into sectors, a pattern driven by prevailing south-westerly winds and industrial
pollution and the ability of wealthier middle classes to coimmute further to work. The concentric zones, however,
are more a reflection of age rather than age and class as in Burgess’s model. The older houses are located
nearer to the city, as the city has expanded outwards over time as farmland is built upon. Thus, working class
sectors C will expand outwards due to the construction of new council estates, whilst sector A will also expand
outwards as new private housing is constructed. Expansion of sectors B will see the addition of some council
housing and lots of smaller private houses.
This model works best for medium-sized industrial cities dominated by a working class majority. Recently this
pattern is no longer valid, especially in southern England, the south-east and the Midlands where middle
classes are increasingly dominant. This transition of the working class to lower middle class has often involved
the sale of former council houses as well as the construction of small private houses on housing estates.
However, what defines working and middle class has been called into question. The most commonly employed
distinguishing feature is house ownership – middle classes own their own houses. However, increasing house
prices has seen more and more people effectively renting the houses they ‘own’ from banks and building
societies for increasingly extortionate rates, which often results in house re-possessions and people falling off
the middle class ladder. The competition among the upwardly mobile sections of society for ever better houses
has caused house prices to soar as these people buy a house, do it up and sell it for a profit to buy a bigger
and better house. Unfortunately, this has excluded many from the middle classes, including many professionals
– nurses, academics and teachers do not earn enough to easily take out a mortgage, especially in some core
areas such as London. Ironically the census defines social class largely by profession and these houseless
professionals are classed in the topmost social class! A similar trend is occurring in the better parts of North
American cities, such as West Los Angeles, where young professionals are being squeezed out of the region
altogether or else forced to share (which encourages them to further postpone having children) – clearly a
ridiculous state of affairs!
This model differs from the North American models not only because of prevailing winds, but also because of
the provision, especially in the past, of council housing for the working classes, which often occupied sites on
the edge of cities. The construction of council housing has declined in recent decades as governments
encourage people to take out expensive mortgages to ‘buy’ their own houses, but since many cannot afford to
do this council housing provisions will probably have to be increased in future. Part of the solution has been for
councils to buy private houses and then rent them out – a reversal of earlier trends. This also often leads to
mixed housing as these houses may be scattered among private housing estates. This naturally causes conflict
with the local house owners, but it seems preferable to having massive lower class housing estates with all the
problems they created in the past.
Another factor affecting British cities is their restrained growth. North American cities have sprawled
uncontrollably as private investors have more power than local authorities and also as the US has been unable
to control its immigration. Very rapid growth over recent decades has been a key feature in US cities. For
example, Los Angeles has sprawled uncontrollably, firstly because of the gold rush and later for the climate and
‘hyper-reality’ which attracts dreamers. The CBD is now almost unvisited by most people in their weekly lives
and the CBD is utterly undersized for such a large city. Instead, locals shop in local shops, which tend not to be
concentrated into complexes, accept for a few such areas like the Santa Monica Third Street pedestrian
shopping area, but are generally dispersed, creating what is essentially a vast transition zone stretching for
miles from the CBD and blending with the suburbs. Santa Monica is technically a separate city from LA but
cities surrounding LA have been assimilated into a single metropolis. In contrast, controlled development has
reduced the merging of British cities into metropoli (metropolises) by creating green belts that are protected
from construction, although green belts have diminished under pressure, this control has reduced urban sprawl.
Finally, it should be mentioned that many British cities are often much older than any North American city. Many
British cities have beautiful cathedrals or castles in their CBDs which have helped maintain these areas by
acting as natural tourist and leisure attractions and thus acting as magnets for gentrification. This contrasts with
US cities, in which the core is usually somewhat ‘sterile’ office blocks whose intervening streets fill with the
homeless as soon as the workers leave.
The Lawton Model, 1973
Lawton’s model was based largely on Liverpool and especially its development in the 19th century – it takes a
view of city structure as dynamic and incorporates these changes over time. Liverpool has undergone episodes
of prosperity and episodes of decay during its long history. In particular, it saw early success as a port city
supplying British colonies in America and parts of Europe in the 18th century. It exported goods manufactured
in the nearby industrial city of Manchester and prospered from the slave trade (in which goods and weapons
were traded with African tribes for slaves) and the cotton industry, shipbuilding, rope-making, pottery and sugar
refining (refining sugar imported from the colonies in the West Indies where the slaves from Africa worked) also
flourished, among others.
The concentric rings result from cyclical phases of expansion when the economy prospers and consolidation or
even stagnation during economic recession. Liverpool saw expansion and extensive building during the 1840s,
early 1860s, late 1870s and the 1900s. Like many cities it hit recession in the 1930s and followed a lesser
slump in the late 1970s and early 1980s with an intervening boom during the 1950s and 1960s during which
time many multi-storey residential blocks were built, which caused later problems as they deteriorated and life
worsened in these overcrowded communities. In 1928 14% of Liverpool’s population was in critical poverty and
overcrowding gave rise to slums. Liverpool was heavily blitzed in WWII and these areas had to be rebuilt during
the boom of the 1950s and 60s, during which time slums were also cleared. However, the slump of the 70s and
80s saw the Toxteth riots of 1981 as social tensions reached breaking point. Thus, we have a city, which like so
many British cities, underwent waves of growth and redevelopment when the economy boomed and stagnated
and then decayed during intermittent economic recession. Pre-existing patterns of land use contribute to
differences between sectors – villages and small towns may be absorbed as the city expands and engulfs them.
For example, in 1835 Liverpool assimilated Kirkdale as its perimeter expanded, and Frazakerly in 1904.
Arrows can be drawn onto the model reflecting patterns of migration (but these were omitted for clarity). These
include both migration from other cities or rural areas and migrations within the city. For example, during the
1840s many Irish left Ireland because of the potato famine and many moved to Liverpool. Additionally, at this
time, migrants entered Liverpool from the rural hinterland. These influxes boosted the local economy, making
expansion possible (as well as essential!). These immigrants initially entered the poorer housing near the city
centre, whilst others entered poorer working class housing estates on the city’s edge. (This is one crucial
difference – Burgess’ model of the North American city envisages poorer migrants occupying the inner city and
then gradually moving outwards over generations as they bettered themselves, but in British cities, cheap
council housing on the city’s periphery alter this pattern). More affluent immigrants occupied peripheral villages
just outside the city (and commuted to work in the city). These villages may have remained separate or become
incorporated into the city later on. For example, Kirkby and Skelmersdale were built as overspill towns (New
Towns). Indeed, Liverpool has seen extensive suburbanisation (expansion of the outer regions or suburbs of a
city) as people and industry have deserted the inner city areas more so than in any other UK conurbation (a
conurbation is a metropolis formed by the coalescence of two or more originally separate cities).
Hopkinson's Model, 1985
Hopkinson’s model was constructed with UK and Western European cities in mind. It incorporates both
concentric zones and sectors. The earliest factories were constructed in a ring around the old city (now the
city core) whilst more recent industry is located along railway lines. Inter-war residential development (the
period between WWI and WWII, i.e. 1920s to 1930s) extends from the CBD along main roads. Post-war
(1940s onwards) residential development filled in the spaces in-between the inter-wall residential areas.
The CBD is centred on an ancient (prehistoric or historic) site, usually defensive (such as an old bronze age
hill fort and/or a mediaeval castle) and remains as the historic and cultural heart of the city and as the
administrative centre. European city centres have retained more historical architecture than North American
cities, and indeed some European buildings may date back one thousand years or so. Consequently,
European inner cities remain to be more attractive than North American inner cities (filled with office tower
blocks) and so they retain more middle-class residents. This is especially true of the European mainland.
Ring roads encircling cities were designed to allow traffic passing through to avoid the city centre, easing
congestion. Although successful in facilitating transport, ring roads have tended to strangle those areas
external to the ring road whilst restricting expansion of regions inside the ring road. For example, the Broad
Street area of Birmingham degenerated as it was cut off from the city centre by the intervening ring road.
This has now been remedied by the Broad Street area redevelopment scheme. A further ring road is sited
In modern UK cities, main roads are now more important than railways for freight transport, with more than
90% of freight now travelling by road. None of the models we have considered explicitly incorporate another
modern phenomenon – the peripheral retail centres now so common. These include out-of-town regional
shopping centres – large complexes designed for pedestrian shopping such as the Merry Hill mall which stole
70% of the market from the central shopping area of Dudley. These centres are often linked to park and ride
schemes for easy access. Mann’s model could perhaps be extended to include these centres at the
outermost edge of its industrial/commercial sector. Also many suburban areas now have substantial
supermarkets or small shopping centres and entertainment centres, such as cinemas, which act as local
nuclei for investment. Retail warehouse parks are also now common place on the outskirts of British cities,
since these require extensive floor space and land is just too expensive for these ventures inside the CBD.
The nature of land use in the CBDs of British cities has also changed considerably since many of these
models were introduced. Post-WWII development saw the supermarket brand chains, such as Sainsbury,
largely replace the local grocery stores and butchers. As heavy industry declined from the 1970s onwards
(de-industrialisation) so the service industries, such as finance, administration and tourism gained in
importance. The out-of-turn regional shopping centres, such as Merry Hill outside Dudley (part of the
Birmingham conurbation), the Metro Centre 6 km west of Newcastle city centre (outside Gateshead) and the
Meadowhall outside Sheffield and several other examples have all stolen retail custom from their city centres.
These centres have the advantage of having been planned developments free from the tight space
constraints of the CBD and all are easy to get to, avoiding the congested inner cities.
Unfortunately, the least mobile members of society (including the elderly and poor) cannot easily reach these
supermarkets and shopping centres, especially the ones out of town and often basic essentials like fruit are
especially expensive from such places. In contrast, the local grocery stores often purchased and sold
cheaper groceries from local allotments which had the added advantage of being more or less organically
grown. Local small-scale retailers and producers lose out to supermarkets supplied by factory farms. The
phenomenon of supermarkets moving out of the crowded and expensive CBD into suburbs and out-of-town
centres is called retail decentralisation. Quaternary and quinary industries may also locate on the edges of
cities – including science parks that may locate near to college campusses.
So, the CBD saw much land formerly dedicated to heavy industry and accompanying dockyards fall into
disuse. Some of this land was given other to the retail industry, including warehouses, and office blocks but
now this has declined in importance. Add to this fact that many of those residents wealthy enough to leave
the inner city have moved to the more idyllic suburbs, where the air is fresher, crime is less and where the
housing is newer and children can be reared in a better environment and one is left with a deteriorating CBD.
Land fell into disuse around the Merseyside and London dockyards and landlords divide up inner city houses
into smaller apartments, such as duplexes, to allow property to let at a rate that is affordable to the poorer
residents and sustainable in terms of profit. Many of these properties are not well invested in, with landlords
either making a poor profit or investing their profits elsewhere and the residents can not afford to maintain
these properties and so these houses deteriorate. Often these inner city residential areas are occupied by
ethnic groups as immigrants frequently start off from a low economic base and have to work their way up
over generations. Additionally, once these communities appear they act as magnets to others of the same
ethnicity (whilst repelling those who feel as if they do not belong to these ethnic communities) and new
developments in these areas may comprise temples, religious schools, ethnic restaurants and ethnic
supermarkets to supply these communities.
Initially Italians and Chinese immigrants tended to form such inner city areas as Chinatowns and ‘Little
Romes’. There are many such suburbs in Birmingham that have seen more recent occupation by Asians and
British Asians, especially those of Pakistani origins, such as the Bordersley Green region of Birmingham
(whose population is 71.1% ethnic and 50.5% British Pakistani). About 30% of Birmingham’s population
consists of ethnic minorities. To what extent these communities filled areas vacated by the white indigenous
people and to what extent there has been a ‘white flight’ in Britain is hard to establish. (The ‘white flight’
occurred in North American cities as white people fled the blacks that took over the inner city areas). Over
time these areas may prosper as have parts of Chinatown in Birmingham, where many non-Chinese enjoy
the Chinese cuisine and provide additional income to the many restaurants and supermarkets there. Many of
the early Italian and Irish immigrants have moved on and dispersed throughout society as they gained
wealth. History suggest, however, that co-existing cultures tend toward integration in the long run.
Britain has seen wave after wave of immigrants adding to the sum total of what we know consider British
heritage. British mythology is compounded from multiple sources: principally Germanic, Celtic, Norse and
Christian (each in itself often compounded from multiple sources) and even religions may blend over time –
the New Age religion incorporates elements from all the afore-mentioned traditions as well as from Asian
traditions. Until such integration occurs, however, racial tensions and violence are inevitable, and this is often
fuelled, or perhaps excused by, religious differences.
Thus, many British cities underwent first urbanisation, as they grew from rural immigrants seeking work
around the turn of the industrial revolution. Urbanisation is the development of towns and cities and can be
defined as a concentration of population. This urbanisation cannot does not continue to its ultimate
conclusion with 100% of the populace living in large cities, rather an equilibrium is reached at which point city
growth slows down in relative terms, with about 80% of the population urbanised. (Of course cities may still
expand as the population enlarges). This was followed by a period of suburbanisation, as those that could
afford to, moved out from the inner cities to newer housing in the suburbs. During this stage, the city may still
grow, but the outer ring grows at the expense of the inner core which depopulates. There are many factors
which may spur suburbanisation, including better transport that makes it possible to commute to work in the
inner city, and anti-urbanism and anti-materialism as people shun the crime ridden, congested and polluted
inner cities and idealise the rural village life. (This was epitomised in the 70s British TV sit-com ‘The Good
Life’ in which one couple abandon city life and attempt to live a simple, self-sufficient and sustainable life in a
London suburb). Movements further a-field than the suburbs and out of the city altogether, into rural
surroundings, is called counter-urbanisation.