Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 January 2022
In contrast to earlier epochs when land or minerals were the primary sources of wealth, it is urban activities that today are the principal foundations of economic prosperity. Cities that are able to facilitate the achievement by producers of high and rising levels of productivity are national assets, while those that are beset by problems of congestion, dysfunctional factor markets or social unrest risk can have a detrimental effect on the national economy. There are, consequently, compelling reasons for investigating the competitive position of cities and for trying to understand how the ‘competitiveness’ or ‘performance’ of cities can be enhanced.
A research programme launched in 1997 by the British Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) had as one of its core themes the elucidation of the processes that shape urban competitiveness. The Cities: Competitiveness and Cohesion programme – which, for reasons we can only speculate about, opted not to have CCCP as its acronym – also sought to investigate social cohesion in cities and to try to understand the linkages between the two themes. The programme comprised four large projects that undertook integrated case studies of major British urban areas (London, Bristol, the Liverpool/Manchester conurbations and the central belt of Scotland) and a variety of projects looking at more specialised topics. As part of the research programme, there were regular meetings of a ‘theme group’ on competitiveness which provided the opportunity for researchers from different projects as well as interested specialists not directly involved with the programme to meet and to develop thinking on the topic. The present volume grew out of these deliberations.
Competitiveness is, plainly, a sought after condition. But it is also a poorly understood concept, notwithstanding the fact that policy makers invest considerable amounts of time and resources in trying to promote it. The US, for example, has a Competitiveness Commission; under the auspices of the European Commission prominent business leaders came together to form a Competitiveness Advisory Group; and the UK has had a succession of competitiveness White Papers over the last decade. Impelled, above all, by the work of Michael Porter (1990), the expression ‘competitive advantage’ has leapt from business schools, through discourse on national economic performance, to acquire pride of place in many a local economic development strategy document.