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US study visit puts Leeds Southbank in focus

The Southbank and other regeneration projects were the focus of a visit by a group of academics and students from New England in the USA last week. A group from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia visited Leeds as part of a week long study visit to look at the issue of “spatial inequality”.

The group spent a windy Saturday afternoon on a tour which took them round Leeds’ Southbank, Kirkgate Market and Victoria Gate, led by Lee Arnell and Grace Ellinor from the council’s regeneration team. Later in the week the group met up with the Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Judith Blake, and the Chief Executive, Tom Riordan to discuss what they had seen and to set the regeneration of the Southbank in the context of Leeds’ Inclusive Growth strategy.

The trend towards growing spatial inequality has left behind vast areas of the United States, including hundreds of smaller cities that have been bypassed by the prosperity of recent decades. Many of these places have lost major employers unable to compete in global markets, or downsized through automation. This has led to population and economic declines, which in turn have contributed to the USA’s growing economic, social, transportation and political divisions.

The 2018-19 University of Pennsylvania School of Design Spatial Inequality Research Seminar and Studio is focusing on the urgent need to reduce the growing economic and social gaps between fast growing, large metropolitan areas, such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia, and nearby smaller cities that are losing their economic vitality. The university is investigating successful strategies that are being employed to close similar inequity gaps in Europe and Asia, and is looking into ways that innovations in other countries could be adapted to the USA.

Part of this study is a special collaboration with the UK2070 Commission led by Lord Kerslake. This independent commission is developing economic and infrastructure strategies to close the United Kingdom’s growing spatial inequality. The collaboration with this Commission provided the US visitors with an exchange of information and insights into how their counterparts in the UK are planning to address similar concerns. Their visit included field visits to successful urban regeneration and transportation projects in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield, as well as to the Peak District National Park.

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