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Lessons from Turnaround Cities: Productivity Puzzles blog

The concept of “Turnaround Cities”, unique strategies and approaches adopted by cities worldwide to transform their economic fortunes, is explored in episode seven of season two of Productivity Puzzles, Turnaround Cities: Lessons learned for the UK.

Host Bart van Ark and his guests, Susanne Frick and Ian Taylor from the Blavatnik School of Government and Philip McCann from The Productivity Institute, examine case studies from diverse urban landscapes, highlighting the factors that contributed to their success and the valuable lessons they offer for urban development.

What are Turnaround Cities?

In the first segment, Philip introduces us to the concept of Turnaround Cities and explains why these cities were selected for the Resolution Foundation study Lessons from successful ‘turnaround’ cities for the UK. Susanne and Ian then share their insights on the specific turnaround experiences in the cities they researched. Susanne focuses on Duisburg, Dortmund, Leipzig, Lille, and Bilbao, highlighting both their shared characteristics and distinctive approaches. Ian, on the other hand, discusses the turnaround stories of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Newcastle in New South Wales, and Windsor in Ontario, shedding light on the similarities and differences among these cities.

Joining up urban and economic development strategies

Susanne takes the lead in the next segment, emphasising the importance of complementarities between urban and economic development strategies. She explores the concept of multi-layered urban regeneration and discusses how managing skill mismatches and capitalising on existing strengths can lead to successful economic strategies. The examples of Dortmund and Pittsburgh, in particular, illustrate the value of building on core competencies, rather than pursuing grandiose projects with uncertain outcomes. The team also delves into the question of whether targeting specific sectors always guarantees success.

Finance and long-term focus

Ian guides the discussion on finance and long-term focus, underlining the need for comprehensive strategies in promoting local economies. The guests explore the significance of complex ecosystems and the critical role played by access to finance, skilled workforces, business-friendly environments, and robust infrastructure. Drawing on the eight examples of Turnaround Cities, they highlight the importance of sustained, stable funding and a collaborative approach that aligns the efforts of various stakeholders.

Devolution and joining up

Philip leads the conversation on devolution and joining up, calling attention to the pivotal role of local and regional leadership in successful Turnaround Cities. The guests talk about how municipal governments and sub-regional associations have spearheaded local economic development initiatives and then draw comparisons between these governance models and the current devolution landscape in the UK, highlighting the need for empowered middle-level, sub-central governments and institutions that transcend individual devolution ‘deal’ areas. The discussion also addresses the challenges faced by economically weaker UK city-regions, particularly in terms of access to capital and private sector investment.

The experiences of these Turnaround Cities underscore the significance of integrated urban and economic development strategies, sustainable funding models, collaborative approaches, and effective governance structures. Their stories provide inspiration and practical insights for policymakers, urban planners, and stakeholders as they seek to unlock the potential of cities and drive equitable and sustainable economic growth.