“… Now, if Britain was a typical country, you might expect it to have a second city of about five million, which is twice the size of Greater Manchester or the area around Birmingham.
I say this because it has been observed – very loosely it should be said – that the size distribution of cities within countries tends to follow a pattern in which the biggest city is about twice the size of the second city, three times the size of the third city, four times the size of the fourth and so on.
It is named Zipf’s Law after the American linguist George Zipf, who noticed that the frequency distribution of words in many languages followed that pattern.
For the UK, the implication is stark.
As the eminent economic geographer from the London School of Economics, Henry Overman, puts it: “These kind of arguments imply that the problem with Britain’s urban system is not that London is too big. Instead, if anything, it’s that our cities are too small.”
Our second tier cities in particular.
Having cities that are too small is potentially an economic problem because we know that big cities act as hubs which boost whole regions.
We know that cities are where a disproportionate amount of business gets done. And we know that, typically, bigger cities are more productive than smaller ones.
Hitherto, one might say that the lack of a proper second city has allowed London to divide and rule the rest of the nation. And the argument is even more powerful now that London has become such an obvious global centre.
It is as though Britain has a great world city but lacks a great national one.
So, if you believe this analysis, which second city offers the most hope for taking on the might of London?
Manchester or Birmingham are usually put forward, and the data suggests there is a logic to those two being on the shortlist.
However, there is an interesting alternative suggestion – Hebden Bridge. It is not a suggestion to take literally, but it does make an important point.
Hebden Bridge, nestling in the Pennines between Manchester and Leeds, is certainly one of the most interesting and flourishing towns in the UK. It was once declared the “fourth funktiest town in the world” (whatever that means) and is often said to be the lesbian capital of the UK.
The suggestion that it is Britain’s second city came from resident David Fletcher, who was active in the 80s saving the town’s old mills and converting them to modern use.
His point is that Hebden Bridge is an inverted city with a greenbelt centre and suburbs called Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.
His point was that the real second city of the UK is a northern, trans-Pennine strip that extends the relatively short distance across northern England, joining the built-up areas that lie second, fourth and sixth in the UK ranking.
Certainly, Hebden Bridge has attracted a lot of professional couples who are split commuters, one heading towards Manchester and one towards Leeds each morning. It is a place that allows both those cities to be treated as next door.
And maybe therein lies some kind of answer to the critical mass of London. It’s not a second city called Hebden Bridge, but a super-city that tries to turn the great cities of the north into one large travel-to-work area.
It would require a lot of physical infrastructure to improve links between the different centres. …”
aus: Evan Davis : The case for makting Hebden Bridge the UK’s second city, Mind the Gap: London vs. The RestBBC Two at 21:00 on Monday, 10 March 2014. (siehe ganzen Text auf BBC-Website)