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How will Brexit impact local neighbourhoods?

The shock waves from this week’s Brexit vote will have impact for years if not decades, and much of this will be felt through interactions, jobs and relationships in local neighbourhoods. Local neighbourhoods have always been a reflection of social, economic and environmental policy at the macro-level. They are the key spatial scale at which policy intervention hits reality. However in a digitally connected, new economy, global forces shape neighbourhoods as much as local ones. We cannot ignore the importance of this local/global dynamic.

Much of the Brexit ‘Leave’ campaign focused on a highly localised notion of “Britain First”: local jobs, local economy; local services. The Leave vote was also highest in neighbourhoods suffering from higher levels of deprivation and poorer service provision. Ironically, many similar neighbourhoods have been able to undergo substantial renewal and build local economies thanks to strategic support and funding from the EU.

In Liverpool, for example, £285m of European Social Fund has been invested in 1,260 local projects since 2000. This includes support for exhibition centres, industry and business facilities that will drive jobs and local economic growth. Similarly, The EU’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) enabled a further 24,767 new businesses to start or move into local areas creating 114,889 jobs in England alone.

Overwhelmingly is has been the poorer neighbourhoods who benefited from this EU facilitated regeneration, and it is now unclear if and how these initiatives will be completed.

Building community - again

Issues of urban disadvantage and inequality remain of significant importance. If nothing else the Brexit vote has highlighted Britain’s crisis of social cohesion.  Remedying this issue is hugely complex. Its drivers, causalities and improvements are too complex for this short statement. The point here is that improving social cohesion in local neighbourhoods is no longer a local issue but a regional and global one.

How we create and revitalise neighbourhoods that are not just “places for people” but urban environments that build trust, social cohesion and community is a core challenge for the next generation of city-making. The traditional urban planning processes that we have used for the past century have relied on a relatively static population, living in a physical location. It is assumed that social capital is built up over decades of people living in the same area. This approach makes it more difficult for neighbourhoods to adapt to change, and new arrivals.

Looking forward, we need to be able to plan for neighbourhoods that accommodate a much more flexible and transient community, while still enabling opportunity to build trust and connection with others.

Trends in the future of neighbourhoods point towards an increase in localism, particularly in the UK.  Localism being citizens connecting locally to tackle global issues, or utilising global infrastructure to improve local issues. Localism is a system that adds value to local economy, rather then extracting resources from it. Localism provides greater power to the local council and neighbourhood. Through this system of localism, public spaces generate new value through sharing, collaboration and local service provision; all of which is enhanced through greater online connection.

The Leave campaign has failed to understand that localism in the 21st Century is a global conversation, not a local one. Thriving neighbourhoods of the future will be able to achieve improved local outcomes if and when they are better connected to and supported by a global, and European economy.

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