Sheffield is located in the North of England in the county of South Yorkshire, 40km south of Leeds. According to the 2011 census the city has a population of 513234, with an estimated population density of 1,395 people per km². The metropolitan area comprises four local authorities (Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley) with an estimated population of 1285600 inhabitants. The city has a GDP of 26645 USD per capita (2013), which is below the national average of 38514 USD.
Sheffield – Host City
Sheffield would be likely contender to host an international sports event in the UK. The city boasts a strong sporting heritage and has already held major events such as The World Student Games (1991) and was one of the venues for the European Football Championships (1996). It has been described as the UK’s greenest city – there are more parks per square km than any other UK city and also more than one-third of the city lies within the boundaries of the “Peak District” national park. Needless to say, the city would face a number of constraints which would need to be solved prior to the start of the event. Three issues that the city currently faces have been identified below:
1. Urban Degeneration – The topic of urban degeneration is particularly relevant in two key regions of the Sheffield: the Central Business District (CBD) and “Don Valley” area (formerly heavily industrialised district located on the North East of the city). Once a significant industrial centre, the iron and steel industries left Sheffield over 20 years ago. Many former industrial sites are derelict today. Furthermore a large out-of-town shopping complex has exacerbated the decline of the CBD.
2. Insufficient Public Transport – Car journeys within the city continue to increase, while usage of public transport has contracted. There are 245000 cars registered in the city and over 67% of all entries into the city are made by car. Criticisms have been made of the lack of bus provision (especially evenings and outside of peak times). The tram network is also seen to be insufficient, costly to run and has bypassed several major residential zones. Furthermore, Sheffield does not have a city airport – the nearest major airport is in Manchester, 70 km away, meaning any international visitors would need to make an extra journey to reach the city.
3. Gentrification – This is relatively new issue to the city. Previous urban regeneration projects have been criticised on the grounds of social exclusion. Traditionally working class and areas with social housing have been sold to private construction companies and remodeled in some cases pricing existing tenants out of the market.
Many would consider the problem of urban degeneration to be the greatest challenge that Sheffield currently faces and we will examine this in greater depth. As the city centre is often regarded as key to a city’s image, the topic of urban degeneration in the CBD of Sheffield of particular relevance.
Degeneration in the CBD
The opening of the Meadowhall shopping complex in 1990 has been accused of draining the city centre of shoppers and pulling traders out of the CBD. Meadowhall offers a vast array of high street brands as well as leisure facilities and attracts over 25 million visitors per year. Through Meadowhall’s situation next to the M1 motorway and public transport interchange, the centre is easy to reach from the city and surrounding region. Additionally Meadowhall offers extended opening times and free car parking, further adding to the convenience of the shopping experience.
The recent recession and rise of online shopping has also put pressure on classical shop-based retailers. Currently 26% of shop space in the CBD of Sheffield is vacant. On a national scale, this places Sheffield as the city with the 6th highest number of vacant retail properties. The variety of retailers has also decreased as discounters with lower overheads have moved into existing property on short-term leases. Consequently areas of the CBD are experiencing various degrees of decay which further act to deter potential visitors.
In order to reverse the decline, there are a number of measures which could be undertaken:
Park & Ride – One common complaint on public discussion forums is that car parking in the city centre is expensive. A park & ride initiative would allow visitors to the city to park outside of the city free of charge in a secure area and pay a small fare to use an express bus (with a dedicated bus lane) or tram to reach the centre. A park & ride model that has been praised is the scheme in Edinburgh. A Park & Ride system has a two pronged effect of reducing car journeys, congestion and associated emissions and also acts as an incentive for shoppers to visit the city centre.
Tax incentives – On a political level, government could award tax incentives for businesses located in city centres. Recently there have been calls for the freezing of business rates to encourage new retailers and also help maintain current stock.
Contained Communities – Drawing from urban design principles of Jane Jacobs, the identity of an area can be strengthened by mixing retail areas with both residential and commercial properties. By mixing land use in Sheffield CBD this could encourage more people to relocate to the CBD. Through the incorporation of residential property with commercial usage, this will help forge the creation of urban communities where citizens live, work and spend leisure time in the local area. Jane Jacobs’ humanistic idea that you should be able to see a city from your front-door, reflects a sustainable environment where people travel less in order to fulfill their daily needs. Such projects could lead to improvements in local environment as well as bring social benefits such as a reduction in crime levels due to an influx of new services.
There is currently a lack of housing in Sheffield, with local media suggesting that at least 1300 new homes will be needed every year for the next 15 years. In the context of a large sporting event, it is interesting to examine the legacy of the London Olympic games. The event provided the locality of Stratford and other areas of East London with a considerable uplift in the number of affordable new houses – over 30% of new accommodation built in conjunction with the Olympic village was dedicated to social housing following the event. East Village has incorporated social services such as schools and medical centres, with leisure, retail and commercial (office space) property – all within walking distance of residential areas. While such an extensive project would not be possible within the confines of the urban landscape of Sheffield’s CBD, a scaled down adaption of the core self contained principles would be a feasible option to reduce degradation within Sheffield.
Ideally all three suggestions could be integrated into Sheffield city centre however obvious financial and political constraints would play a pivotal role. By strengthening the position of CBD, other issues such as transportation and gentrification would also be addressed; a better connected CBD would encourage car users to turn to public transport and the integration of affordable housing and working space within the urban realm would act as a catalyst for population growth and regeneration.