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Time travel in the North West

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Living in cities, Project update, Regional meetings

Sir Mark Walport recently travelled to Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster, accompanied by lead expert Rachel Cooper and the Future of Cities team, to discuss the challenges and opportunities faced by the cities in the coming decades.

We met with representatives from local businesses, government and universities and heard how new data techniques are allowing researchers to 'time travel' to forecast the future of cities.

Being able to think across a wide range of scales, and understanding the socio-spatial and economic environments together is the key to the future of our cities and urban environments.


In Manchester, Sheppard Robson Architects hosted us in their 27th floor office in the City Tower in the Piccadilly Plaza.

View of Manchester skyline
View from City Tower in Manchester

Surrounded by spectacular views, we discussed the importance of Manchester’s historically engrained strong civic identity, which provides the city with the determination to succeed and the momentum to develop the city.  However, attendees highlighted that it is important that this sense of place spans the wider area in order for the city centre to be inclusive, not exclusive.

We also spoke to staff at Manchester School of Architecture who showed us one of their current projects around forecasting the future of the city using innovative data techniques.  The technique does not just represent existing data, but allows us to ‘time travel’ into the future to foresee potential scenarios, testing outcomes and helping avoid making mistakes. One of the main benefits of the work is that it enables people to visualise, not just imagine, the long-term future of cities; something that could be very beneficial to decision makers.


In Liverpool, we were told about the city’s population decline, which has left it with an infrastructure designed for a much larger number of people. This means the city needs to attract and retain more people, businesses and graduates with enticing employment and cultural sectors.

The main point - made in all discussions - was that people want to develop a ‘super-region’ in the North West, similar to the South East region. While this could lead to people moving from cities like Lancaster/Preston to Manchester/Liverpool, this migration would sustain the strength of the wider region. All representatives agreed that there was an issue with a ‘brain drain’ of graduates in the region, but thought that graduates would stay if they could.

While in Liverpool Sir Mark also visited the Liverpool Life Sciences UTC, which offers an innovative new model for education.


In Lancaster we discussed the Liveable Cities project and the work being carried out by Imagination Lancaster. We had an interesting meeting with local stakeholders, who agreed that as cities grow and technologies change, it is important to motivate and reward people to get involved in civic politics.

These 3 cities threw up a variety of urban issues to be faced in the coming decades. Each offered innovative and fresh ways of tackling them, highlighting that the North West has a lot to offer the country as a whole.

Do you live in Manchester, Liverpool, Lancaster, or any other city in the North West? We would really value your views on the future challenges and opportunities for the region.

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