The Northern Powerhouse has the potential to redefine the economic, political, social and cultural development of the North of England. From my doctoral research on the cultural identity of the region I believe that one of the fundamental challenges for the Northern Powerhouse strategy is to work with the cultural complexity of the region. In terms of cultural identity, three key factors underpin this, providing ample potential to develop a responsive strategy that encompasses economic, political, social and cultural aspects. They each stem from the particular geographic conditions of the North through:
- its multi-centred urban structure
- the region’s relationship to waterways and
- its diverse material identities evident in the built environment
Multi-centred Urban Structure
The existing urban structure of the North is multi-centred. As such, no one city or urban area holds ascendancy. This presents an issue for conventional British regional strategies that tend to rely on London, a single centre structure, as an exemplary model. As an alternative approach, the multi-centred structure of the North presents an opportunity to develop a diverse and robust urban network that works cooperatively between urban areas and cities, raising the profile of the region in general.
Northern Powerhouse & Water
An intricate network of rivers and tributaries permeate the region, with cities located at major confluences and towns situated along water courses. While this creates flooding issues for the towns at present, the Northern Powerhouse presents an opportunity to redefine this relationship with water, potentially repositioning the region at the global forefront of innovation in urban water management. A new approach would begin to combine diverse functions from energy production, sustainable urban drainage, heritage development and sustainable transport infrastructures into a multifunctional strategy that resolves current issues while creating new opportunities for growth and innovation.
Diverse cultural identities exist in the North which are tangible through the built environment of the region’s towns and cities. This cultural diversity is fundamental to the historic development, civic pride and place attachment of the local populations. The varied culture and identity of the region should be reinforced through sensitive regeneration that reinvigorates this sense of civic pride avoiding the aesthetic replication between the towns and cities which is a major issue in the current regeneration of the region. Working with the variations in visual identity of the Norths towns and cities could underpin a regeneration strategy which would reduce homogenisation, while increasing civic pride and public empowerment.
Harnessing the complexity
The North of England is an urban kaleidoscope where an intricate pattern of cultural identities coexist. This diversity historically underpinned the economic and cultural strength of the region when the North was at the global forefront of technology and innovation in the industrial period. Through understanding and re-harnessing these complexities, and weaving this into the historic narrative of the region, we will be able to create a stable, strong, and most importantly, a sustainable North.