London School of Economics Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) LSE
Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE)

Learning from Innovations in Weak Market Cities in Europe and the United States

Led by: Prof. Anne Power.

Researchers: Jörg Plöger and Astrid Winkler.

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LSE Housing has been directly involved in analysing the extreme problems of urban decay and successful approaches to regeneration in Europe and the US since 1987. In 1996, Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution and Anne Power of the LSE began joint work on cities, sprawl and regeneration. There was much common ground in problems and approaches: intense inner city decline; concentrations of low income minorities; loss of economic rationale; frequent social disorder; continuous fast-moving urban exodus and sprawl; growing environmental pressures; and lasting environmental damage. Brookings and LSE developed the idea of a 'weak market cities'[1] programme, combining policy and practice with development and research, to focus on these common concerns in Europe and the US, and to learn from successful recovery initiatives.


The programme will collect evidence on the urban, regional, national and international problems and potential of weak market cities in Europe and the US, and form two networks of cities that have regeneration lessons to share and disseminate. Our research aims to understand both the causes of decline and poor competitiveness and the drivers of recovery and regeneration of weak market cities. Our primary purpose is to advance the recovery of weak market cities by diagnosing the combination of problems that make recovery difficult, and the catalysts that have fuelled any measurable progress. Our basic framework will be sustainable development, to integrate economic, social and environmental imperatives in the regeneration of cities. We intend to promote successful policy and practice approaches to urban recovery internationally.

Policy And Practice Relevance

Raising urban competitiveness is a high priority among EU and American city leaders. Achieving social inclusion and minimising environmental impact must underpin competitiveness, yet there are sharply contrasting approaches in Europe and the US. Policy makers need high quality comparative research on the tools for urban regrowth in dynamic, competitive economies. The US lays a far stronger emphasis on market-oriented approaches, attaching lower priority to what Europeans call 'social cohesion'. We can learn a lot from the divergent patterns and ideologies. Urban environmental problems are pressing for imaginative solutions - transport, sprawl and density, energy use and pollution, waste and ecological footprints are major urban challenges. The Weak Market Cities project will open our eyes to problems from totally contrasting, sometimes competing perspectives. The lessons we learn will apply directly and indirectly to the urgent land use, economic, social and environmental problems in and around our cities. Both European and American cities will be able to draw on our findings.

Research Design, Methods And Analysis

LSE CASE's close partnership with Brookings forms the basis of this research. The programme will combine original and secondary research, and policy development using the experience of both teams. The project will establish two city networks, one US and another European, with seven cities in each. This outline covers the European half of the project.

The research will draw together evidence on weak market cities in general (literature review) and conduct case studies in seven European cities (two in the UK and Germany, one in France, Italy and Spain), in addition to seven US city case studies, which will be organised and funded by Brookings.

The approach will build on project-based techniques developed at LSE, and the Brookings 'urban diagnostic' model. These methods involve grounded learning and policy development, based on clear analysis using: large scale data such as censuses; live exchanges between practitioners, policy makers and researchers; preparatory case-based documentation; and residential workshop-style seminars, where hard evidence is dissected and debated in a restricted group to reach understanding at a policy and practice level.

In Year One, following initial research on potential case studies, we will bring together representatives from the seven European and seven American cities for an opening convention to help shape an agenda of primary research, site visits and policy development. We will research and write up brief city-level reports on each of the seven European cities, following visits and more detailed investigations, using Brookings' urban diagnostic model. We will produce a thematic overview report of findings from the seven cities, to present to EU policy makers. We will exchange Year One lessons in a network summit of the seven EU cities. The US network will follow a similar pattern.

In Year Two we will study specific projects in particular cities to inform the networks as a whole on innovative recovery tools: transport, housing, education, culture, industrial heritage, community development, cohesion, environmental regeneration, new technology, and renewable energy. We will hold two site-based European workshops, which will include site visits to innovative projects and city-level exchanges. These will result in six place-specific thematic project reports, feeding into an overview policy report based on the European case studies. This work will be matched by equivalent US work. Year Two will end with a round-up policy event and overview of key outcomes, drivers and directions for both networks (EU and US).

Year Three will deepen the comparative US and European work and feed into a major international policy direction for weak market cities, culminating in an international symposium, final report and cross-national book.

Core Questions

The project aims to answer the following key questions:
  1. What are the common roots of urban problems in weak market cities across the US and Europe? What are the drivers of current progress and continuing problems?
  2. What are the levers of change in weak market cities? What are the turning points and what is the focus of change? What characteristics do successful city regeneration programmes and projects share? What causes the failures? What are the fragilities and handicaps?
  3. At what different spatial levels do successful interventions occur, and at what level is action needed to make a difference?
  4. What is the role and significance of the regions and sub-regions in the progress and problems of weak market cities? What different regional patterns are there?
  5. How do urban inequalities and acute decline show at neighbourhood level in weak market cities? At what scale and with what severity? What policies/programmes combat this? How successful are they?
  6. What is the contribution of the public sector and what role does the private sector play in transitions? What are the key catalysts for change?
  7. What is the environmental impact of decline and recovery activity in weak market cities? How do different approaches to sustainable development affect city recovery?
  8. How do common patterns of ethnic change develop in weak market cities? How does this contribute to re-growth? How is integration handled? With what success?

1. We define 'weak market cities' as core cities that were once the economic, social and cultural hubs of their regions. They matured during the industrial era, when spatial attributes were key; since the end of World War II and the transition to the post-industrial era, however, they have lost their former rationale and are looking to find a new economic niche.