Reputation and Economic Performance: The Competitive Strategies of Medieval English Town
By Catherine Casson
Paper given at the Economic History Society Annual Conference, University of Oxford (2012)
Introduction: Today, when English towns and cities face a decline in their established economy or competition from other locations, urban planners and developers often look towards retail and cultural developments as the solution for improving economic performance. For example, cities that played an important role in the Industrial Revolution, such as Leeds, Nottingham and Birmingham, have recently redefined themselves as retail and leisure destinations by investing in new museums, art galleries and shopping malls. Redevelopment requires a re-evaluation of a city’s attributes. Modern York, for example, is known for its narrow medieval streets and small boutique shops, but the city council are concerned about retail competition from Leeds and Hull and are therefore considering a major re-development near Clifford’s Tower to provide new larger units.
Research in urban studies, however, suggests that attempts to improve a town or city’s economic performance by parachuting in shops and galleries generate mixed results. Jacobs argued that success is not achieved just by buying-in facilities and expertise from other locations, but through ‘import replacement’ – replacing imports with domestically produced goods. Fujita, meanwhile, examined how dominant cities emerge when there is no restriction on the movements of goods, capital and people. He theorised that the cities that would rise to dominance would be those that produced a large variety of manufactured items.