But Would You Live There?

People's view of the modern city?
People's view of the modern city?
One of the images used in the focus groups
One of the images used in the focus groups
A poster for Milton Keynes preying on people's fear of cities
A poster for Milton Keynes preying on people's fear of cities
Project date
  • Publication
  • Research
Urban Task Force and The Department for Communities and Local Government
Associated team members
Associated documents

One of the arguments against the urban renaissance was always that people didn't want to live in cities - that professionals were imposing their urban nightmare vision on an unwilling public. We with MORI and Bristol University were therefore commissioned by the Task Force to undertake a series of extended focus groups to better understand people's attitudes to urban areas and how amenable these views were to being changed. The report published in 1999 as 'But would you live there?' concluded that a niche market for urban living was growing to such an extent that it represented a fragmentation of the housing market. The early 'pioneers' who had moved into city centres were being followed by 'settlers' who were more conservative in outlook but a much larger in numbers. While critics at the time accused us of talking-up the market, the explosion in city centre and urban housing since then has proved us right.

Five key themes emerged from the research:

The lack of a shared language: People have very different understandings of words like urban, suburban, city and inner city. We concluded that attitudinal research based upon views about different types of area needed to be treated with caution and that the words used in promotional material need to be chosen carefully.

Generic views and real places: People's generic attitudes to urban and suburban areas can be very different to their views of specific areas that they know or even areas that they see on a photograph. We concluded that images of real urban areas are much more powerful than the most sumptuous general images because people can relate to them and believe that things can change.

The sophisticated consumer: People are able to spot when they are being sold something. While we know a great deal about what people like and dislike about their housing and neighbourhoods we know very little about how these views are formed and shaped and to distrust the information that they are given as a result. They are least likely to trust information and promotional material from public agencies partly because of a lack of trust and partly because it appears less sophisticated than that of private companies.

Open to argument: We did however conclude that people can be persuaded to live in urban areas. Their views about where they live are based upon a balance of what might be called suburban and urban aspirations. There is scope to tap into their urban aspirations to tip the balance of individual decisions more firmly in favour of urban areas.

An aversion to risk: Unlike the early pioneers of urban living, the people at the workshops were averse to risk. They were not attracted by the excitement of urban living or by contemporary design. Rather they wanted to be assured that urban areas were not risky and it was safe for them to buy and live there.  

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