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Donut-shaped cities and their implications

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PTR 444

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The future of cities post-pandemic has been on peoples minds a lot lately with the impact of increased home working and people moving to the countryside. To me, this is a great cause for concern since remote working is likely to continue long after the pandemic, and if people don’t return to their offices, there will be little reason for economic activity in city centres in the first place. Yes there will still be leisure and tourism in the city, but unless more people have the time and money to travel and visit, these places will eventually move out of the city with the people.

This made me think about whether there is such a term as a “donut city”, where the main economic activity takes place around the outskirts rather than the physical centre. Searching for articles about possible post-pandemic London scenarios, I stumbled across this article:


How COVID-19 could make our cities doughnut-shaped

In London, visitors to retail and recreation spaces fell by up to 76.7% during the hight of the pandemic.
  • The effects of COVID-19 on our cities are ongoing.
  • In the UK, the past few months has seen high street names such as Debenhams and the Arcadia Group go under.
  • Closures are concentrated in city centres, whilst smaller towns and suburban high streets are emerging stronger as people embrace shopping locally again.
  • As a result, our cities could take on a doughnut-like shape.
Following on from this, I began to search for whether an example of a doughnut-shaped city already exists and was intrigued to find this from an online glossary:


DOUGHNUT CITY

The term Doughnut City is used to describe a phenomenon that affects the physical shape of some cities of the North American Sun Belt. It consists of the concentration of urban activity on the ring road (where the newest and most advanced generation of housing estates and office parks are located) and the parallel physical disappearance of all that remains inside (the interior is affected by an accelerated process of obsolescence that leads to the demolition of a multitude of buildings). Viewed from a European perspective, the Doughnut City is a phenomenon that goes against nature. If in the cities of the Old Continent proximity to the center means an added value, in the Doughnut City quite the reverse is true: the most eligible urban areas are on the final periphery.

The first casualty of the "doughnut effect" is the historic city center, which was abandoned in the 1960s by a migratory flow of businesses, offices, and homes for the new suburbs that have arisen around the ring roads that were built in the United States in that decade. The next victim would be those very same suburbs that were deserted by the white middle class as new bypasses appeared. On these arose a more modern generation of office parks, residential areas, and shopping centers. History would then repeat itself: the suburbs abandoned on the first ring road would be occupied by emigrants, which would augur the start of a degradation process that would lead to fresh demolitions. The logic of the Doughnut City is therefore expansive: the central gap increases in size as the urban "mass" moves away from the core to the final ring road.

The Doughnut City par excellence is Houston. In the 1960s its downtown area was abandoned in favour of the suburbs that sprung up alongside Loop 610, the city's first ring road (in the late 1970s three times more offices were constructed beyond the downtown area than in it). When Beltway 8 appeared, the white middle class made for the new developments that arose along this second urban ring road. The suburbs abandoned on Loop 610 were occupied by Latinos and Asian emigrants. History is currently repeating itself, in this case with the construction of the Grand Parkway. The new mass of the doughnut forms the Edge Cities, which are already over 40 km from the old historic centre. The central hole is huge: in the late 1980s 38% of the downtown surface area had dematerialised; its buildings had been demolished and the resulting plots of land transformed into car parks.

So it appears there is such a term as a “doughnut city”. Now the thing to remember with Houston, like most American cities is that they were built around the car, so economic activity would shift to wherever has the easiest highway access. The UK is not so car-centric as a result of a less developed road network, but I fear that unless there are incentives to get people back onto trains and into central offices, city centres will hollow out with economic activity moving to suburban areas, making them unsustainably populated and congested with more reliance on private transport.

PS: As this thread is about donut shaped cities in general, are there any that exist simply because it has expanded around a natural obstacle that sits in the middle, such as a mountain or lake?
 
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yorksrob

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As well as turning years of GCSE and A-level geography on its head, this sounds like a fairly ugly phenomenum, akin to turning everything into dreary urban sprawl.

Hopefully our green belt legislation and less reliance on motor transport will help to prevent such things happenning here. Also, there's a time in peoples lives when they don't want to be stuck in a glorified suburb. Where will young people go to socialise and experience life without the city centre ?
 

PTR 444

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As well as turning years of GCSE and A-level geography on its head, this sounds like a fairly ugly phenomenum, akin to turning everything into dreary urban sprawl.

Hopefully our green belt legislation and less reliance on motor transport will help to prevent such things happenning here. Also, there's a time in peoples lives when they don't want to be stuck in a glorified suburb. Where will young people go to socialise and experience life without the city centre ?
This

People want to enrich their lives with culture, socialising and simply exploring new places. If everyone worked, socialised and shopped in their own suburbs all the time, life would be very dull and boring. I therefore believe city centres will bounce back after Covid, albeit with a much younger population than before.

Maybe this will also signal the turning point for London house prices starting to fall, and in turn cause a mass migration of young people to the capital. I mean it’s not like anyone who can afford to live there now would particularly want to go back if they can spend the rest of their working life doing their job remotely from a mansion in Cornwall.
 

satisnek

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I always thought that 'Doughnut City' referred to those places which were subject to extensive postwar expansion/redevelopment and had a large number of traffic roundabouts, such as Basingstoke and Redditch. Reputedly caused by people putting their coffee mugs down on the plans.
 

Bevan Price

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As well as turning years of GCSE and A-level geography on its head, this sounds like a fairly ugly phenomenum, akin to turning everything into dreary urban sprawl.

Hopefully our green belt legislation and less reliance on motor transport will help to prevent such things happenning here. Also, there's a time in peoples lives when they don't want to be stuck in a glorified suburb. Where will young people go to socialise and experience life without the city centre ?
Unfortunately green belt legislation is a bit flimsy and easily overturned. To meet house building targets specified by government, my town (St. Helens) , and others, are proposing to destroy substantial areas of green belt land in order to allow house building. Other areas have already been released to allow pollution / blight from heavy lorries serving new "distribution centres".

In the longer term, I think that the reduced demand for town centre shopping and (maybe) office space will see some town centre areas converted from business to residential use.
 

Purple Orange

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The doughnut city is something we have seen before and it’s called Manchester. Following WW2 and the economic decline during the 1970s, 80s & early 90s population declined in the immediate surrounding areas adjacent to the city centre, creating a doughnut of dereliction. However this was a very different effect to what Covid could present.

Some people believe that Covid means people will not go in to the city centres as much as they did. The issue here is what will cities offer people? The town centres will suffer like they always have done, but I don’t see that to be the case for the cities.

Will museums, theatres and music venues be popping up in local suburbs? No.

Will people work from home more? Yes

Will those same people also still have a place of work to go to every week? Yes.

Are more people living in city centres than before? Yes

Are people content with sitting at home all the time? Some are, some are not.

Will businesses downsize their office space? Probably

Will city centres become more financially viable locations for businesses to locate from large their out of town officers that they no longer need? Yes

Will people drive less? Quite possibly. A second car to get to work is a very expensive way to travel in to a city centre 2-3 times per week.

Will public transport numbered fail to recover? I doubt it. If people are not using public transport, they are driving and our roads are at capacity plus the expense of running 2nd cars.
 

21C101

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It sort of happened in London in the 70's. What is now zone 1 north of the Thames was prosperous. Zone 1 south of the Thames and zone 2 became the decayed inner city with 3-6 increasingly prosperous the further out you got.

Property in places like Stockwell, Dalston and even parts of Kensington was run down (and absurdly cheap).
 

Purple Orange

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It sort of happened in London in the 70's. What is now zone 1 north of the Thames was prosperous. Zone 1 south of the Thames and zone 2 became the decayed inner city with 3-6 increasingly prosperous the further out you got.

Property in places like Stockwell, Dalston and even parts of Kensington was run down (and absurdly cheap).

That seems a common theme for most of our cities, except the ‘zone 2-ification’ of the other cities either has not happened and is unlikely to happen, or has just started to happen relatively recently.
 

21C101

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That seems a common theme for most of our cities, except the ‘zone 2-ification’ of the other cities either has not happened and is unlikely to happen, or has just started to happen relatively recently.
And it remains to be seen in the post Covid world how long the zone 2 gentrification lasts in London.
 

Purple Orange

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And it remains to be seen in the post Covid world how long the zone 2 gentrification lasts in London.

I don’t see why Covid would stop that. This is a debate that has been raging for months but for the increasing densification of inner city areas to cease, it requires people to not want to live there. The pandemic won’t effect where people live, but how people interact with their local city centre. City centre amenities are not going to magically spring up in the suburbs and businesses with city centre offices will still need office space. People will still want to go to restaurants, visit other cities, go to museums, theatres, music venues. Next week I will be going to Manchester City centre for a few beers and we have struggled to find a place that has bookings left. Working from home may increase by 1-2 days per week, but the other 3 will need the required infrastructure to get people around the city.
 

ChiefPlanner

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And it remains to be seen in the post Covid world how long the zone 2 gentrification lasts in London.

"Gentrification" - lovely term , (coined by Ruth Glass) - sprung up in London in the early 1960's when the Clean Air Act made what is now Zone 2 a more amenable area (think Alan Bennet in Camden Town) - so a 40 year haul in this process which is very unlikely (as a double qualified Geographer) to be ever reversed. The benefits of a short bus / tube or cab UBER ride now ride home is important.

The challenge is , as I have said before , is renewing some of the cheaper built 1930's suburbs -where most of the infrastructure is there , but the housing standards are a bit below 21stC expectations - rather than foist everyone off to Bedwyn or similar.

Packing people into new build high density flats in parts of cities has proved to be a disaster in the last 18 months or so ......especially with no / little public realm of greenery and parks.
 

21C101

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"Gentrification" - lovely term , (coined by Ruth Glass) - sprung up in London in the early 1960's when the Clean Air Act made what is now Zone 2 a more amenable area (think Alan Bennet in Camden Town) - so a 40 year haul in this process which is very unlikely (as a double qualified Geographer) to be ever reversed. The benefits of a short bus / tube or cab UBER ride now ride home is important.

The challenge is , as I have said before , is renewing some of the cheaper built 1930's suburbs -where most of the infrastructure is there , but the housing standards are a bit below 21stC expectations - rather than foist everyone off to Bedwyn or similar.

Packing people into new build high density flats in parts of cities has proved to be a disaster in the last 18 months or so ......especially with no / little public realm of greenery and parks.
I think the air might have been a factor but these areas were highly popular in the first half of the century when it was just as bad.

By world war 2 the stock was getting old and as well as a lot of bomb damage many of the properties were too big for modern tastes and ended up either being turned into multiple bedsits or being replaced with council flats (helped in some places by the luftwaffe demolishing the old building.

Further out London zones 3-6 was ringed by 20s and 30s newbuilds which at the end of WW2 were modern, more spaced out, had more greenery and were much more desirable.

Hence the rot set in.

Zone 2 has largely been regenerated and parts of the outer suburbs are now at the age that major work is required and getting quite grim.

I think Zone 2 though faces a twin threat, people only going into the office two or three days a week so moving further out and crime. The latter has always been an issue in inner london where far more "working class" people have always lived than in the outer suburbs, but the tide of stbbings etc is starting to impact those in the wealthy enclaves enough to risk, combined with greater working from home and having had to live the last year or so of lockdown in the inner city, to risk a chain reaction.

I can see the vast quantities of "luxury" flats going up in places like Battersea and Wapping getting sold at knovkdown rates to councils and housing associatios, along with conversion of offices to same, to the horror of those who have bought one bedroom flats for £500,000 or so in those blocks.
 

ChiefPlanner

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I think the air might have been a factor but these areas were highly popular in the first half of the century when it was just as bad.

By world war 2 the stock was getting old and as well as a lot of bomb damage many of the properties were too big for modern tastes and ended up either being turned into multiple bedsits or being replaced with council flats (helped in some places by the luftwaffe demolishing the old building.

Further out London zones 3-6 was ringed by 20s and 30s newbuilds which at the end of WW2 were modern, more spaced out, had more greenery and were much more desirable.

Hence the rot set in.

Zone 2 has largely been regenerated and parts of the outer suburbs are now at the age that major work is required and getting quite grim.

I think Zone 2 though faces a twin threat, people only going into the office two or three days a week so moving further out and crime. The latter has always been an issue in inner london where far more "working class" people have always lived than in the outer suburbs, but the tide of stbbings etc is starting to impact those in the wealthy enclaves enough to risk, combined with greater working from home and having had to live the last year or so of lockdown in the inner city, to risk a chain reaction.

I can see the vast quantities of "luxury" flats going up in places like Battersea and Wapping getting sold at knovkdown rates to councils and housing associatios, along with conversion of offices to same, to the horror of those who have bought one bedroom flats for £500,000 or so in those blocks.

Yes - good points. Too many lifestyle dream apartments for a million or so all over London which are now hard to sell and will end up as distress sales. There needs to be a better focus on city realm and so on (even politics) - awful lot of people happy with their 1930's built houses (mine s 1934 and we are only the 4th owners - and a 50% railway connection !) - ignoring much of that legacy is madness but there needs to be a balance.

You can see why people left Brixton and Islington in the 1930's .......the world has changed all right.
 

tspaul26

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Will businesses downsize their office space? Probably
My employer is actually increasing its floor space (we’re moving to a new office building in the summer), in large part because it expects more people to work from home more often.

That is to say, it expects working patterns to change, but in such a way that we need more space suitable for collaborative working (big boardrooms, that sort of thing).
 

WestCoast

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I don’t see why Covid would stop that. This is a debate that has been raging for months but for the increasing densification of inner city areas to cease, it requires people to not want to live there. The pandemic won’t effect where people live, but how people interact with their local city centre. City centre amenities are not going to magically spring up in the suburbs and businesses with city centre offices will still need office space. People will still want to go to restaurants, visit other cities, go to museums, theatres, music venues. Next week I will be going to Manchester City centre for a few beers and we have struggled to find a place that has bookings left. Working from home may increase by 1-2 days per week, but the other 3 will need the required infrastructure to get people around the city.

Interesting thought - I'm in Glasgow's West End which is very much adjacent to the city centre and it's been busier than ever on the streets and in the parks recently, especially on the weekend*. People are actually still coming in from the suburbs to wander around. I also walked into the main shopping areas city centre over the weekend and even with non-essential shops closed people were wandering out and enjoying the city.

Purely an observation but I don't think the draw of the city will go away after Covid and millennials/Gen Z will still be drawn to live centrally for education, work and entertainment. What that means for property prices and real estate especially in places like London is perhaps the biggest question mark I guess.

*It is a lovely area though and has lots of green space, very much unlike Manchester City Centre where I previously lived. I'm certain that big cities need green space to make them liveable.
 

Purple Orange

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Interesting thought - I'm in Glasgow's West End which is very much adjacent to the city centre and it's been busier than ever on the streets and in the parks recently, especially on the weekend*. People are actually still coming in from the suburbs to wander around. I also walked into the main shopping areas city centre over the weekend and even with non-essential shops closed people were wandering out and enjoying the city.

Purely an observation but I don't think the draw of the city will go away after Covid and millennials/Gen Z will still be drawn to live centrally for education, work and entertainment. What that means for property prices and real estate especially in places like London is perhaps the biggest question mark I guess.

*It is a lovely area though and has lots of green space, very much unlike Manchester City Centre where I previously lived. I'm certain that big cities need green space to make them liveable.

Yes our cities need more green space. Manchester actually has a rather lot, but it’s not immediately obvious. Castlefield is a very liveable area of the city centre, plus city centre parks at Angel Gardens, All Saints, Mayfield, Hulme Park, Victoria North as it has recently been called and the Meadows, plus the regeneration of Ancoats & New Cross. This a rather large area, but the city centre connects it all.
 

WestCoast

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Yes our cities need more green space. Manchester actually has a rather lot, but it’s not immediately obvious. Castlefield is a very liveable area of the city centre, plus city centre parks at Angel Gardens, All Saints, Mayfield, Hulme Park, Victoria North as it has recently been called and the Meadows, plus the regeneration of Ancoats & New Cross. This a rather large area, but the city centre connects it all.

I was in Ancoats which I didn't much care for at the time but I can see how it's become more of a place to live rather than a building site when I was there. I still feel central Manchester is missing a big urban park you can feel lost in, if only Platt Fields had been closer to the city centre that would have fit the bill nicely!
 

Purple Orange

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I was in Ancoats which I didn't much care for at the time but I can see how it's become more of a place to live rather than a building site when I was there. I still feel central Manchester is missing a big urban park you can feel lost in, if only Platt Fields had been closer to the city centre that would have fit the bill nicely!
Yeah Ancoats is really good these days. As for parks to get lost in, you’ve got to look to Whitworth Park, St Catherine’s (however that will develop in the coming years), Peel Park & the Meadows and Hulme Park. A decade ago you would never call these city centre parks, but the city is touching them now. 5 years hence I expect they will feel consumed by the city centre.
 

notlob.divad

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As well as turning years of GCSE and A-level geography on its head, this sounds like a fairly ugly phenomenum, akin to turning everything into dreary urban sprawl.

Hopefully our green belt legislation and less reliance on motor transport will help to prevent such things happenning here. Also, there's a time in peoples lives when they don't want to be stuck in a glorified suburb. Where will young people go to socialise and experience life without the city centre ?
Not sure when you did your GCSE and A-levels, but when I did mine, donut cities where very much on the syllabus. In particular we looked at how Ring roads mainly motorway ring roads like M25, M60, and the prevelence of out of town shopping centres, like the Trafford Centre built on these roads, were having just this effect. The recent massive expansion of 'distriubtion and logistics' driven by home/internet shopping, again usually on major roads encircling cities will further add to this. For a long time cities have been turnign themselves inside out, with more employment and retail opportunities taking the cheaper land prices on the edges, and the centres being turned over for leisure and accomodation.
 

yorksrob

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Not sure when you did your GCSE and A-levels, but when I did mine, donut cities where very much on the syllabus. In particular we looked at how Ring roads mainly motorway ring roads like M25, M60, and the prevelence of out of town shopping centres, like the Trafford Centre built on these roads, were having just this effect. The recent massive expansion of 'distriubtion and logistics' driven by home/internet shopping, again usually on major roads encircling cities will further add to this. For a long time cities have been turnign themselves inside out, with more employment and retail opportunities taking the cheaper land prices on the edges, and the centres being turned over for leisure and accomodation.

Don't remember them. It might not have been recognised as a phenomenum then (or I might have just forgotten it).
 

Purple Orange

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Not sure when you did your GCSE and A-levels, but when I did mine, donut cities where very much on the syllabus. In particular we looked at how Ring roads mainly motorway ring roads like M25, M60, and the prevelence of out of town shopping centres, like the Trafford Centre built on these roads, were having just this effect. The recent massive expansion of 'distriubtion and logistics' driven by home/internet shopping, again usually on major roads encircling cities will further add to this. For a long time cities have been turnign themselves inside out, with more employment and retail opportunities taking the cheaper land prices on the edges, and the centres being turned over for leisure and accomodation.

I see this trend as having been in reverse over the last decade in some cities, where we are witnessing a renaissance of inner city living and some town centres are completely revitalised. Not all are witnessing this though, compare Stockport town centre with Altrincham town centre for a very different perspective on the world.
 

philosopher

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Not sure when you did your GCSE and A-levels, but when I did mine, donut cities where very much on the syllabus. In particular we looked at how Ring roads mainly motorway ring roads like M25, M60, and the prevelence of out of town shopping centres, like the Trafford Centre built on these roads, were having just this effect. The recent massive expansion of 'distriubtion and logistics' driven by home/internet shopping, again usually on major roads encircling cities will further add to this. For a long time cities have been turnign themselves inside out, with more employment and retail opportunities taking the cheaper land prices on the edges, and the centres being turned over for leisure and accomodation.
From the end of world war two to the 1990’s, this I think did happen, there was definitely a trend towards people and services moving to the suburbs, driven by increasing number of people having cars and new roads. By 1990 UK cities tended to have not great city centres, very run down inner cities but prosperous suburbs.

From about 1990’s the inner city and city centres have been revived somewhat, with their being a trend of people moving back into cities. Hence you got large scale gentrification of much of zone two in London and large new developments in city centres, such as the Bull Ring in Birmingham or Salford Quays in Manchester.

It does seem like that we could have gone full circle now with the suburbs being the place to be and the city centres and inner city being out of favour.
 

Purple Orange

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From the end of world war two to the 1990’s, this I think did happen, there was definitely a trend towards people and services moving to the suburbs, driven by increasing number of people having cars and new roads. By 1990 UK cities tended to have not great city centres, very run down inner cities but prosperous suburbs.

From about 1990’s the inner city and city centres have been revived somewhat, with their being a trend of people moving back into cities. Hence you got large scale gentrification of much of zone two in London and large new developments in city centres, such as the Bull Ring in Birmingham or Salford Quays in Manchester.

It does seem like that we could have gone full circle now with the suburbs being the place to be and the city centres and inner city being out of favour.

It will be interesting to see how London develops in this way. It’s inner city appears to not have much space for further growth on the face of it. I doubt we will see people move away, but growth could be smaller. As for the other cities, I think they are just getting started. More homes are needed and there are vast swathes of brownfield sites left to build upon. The cities themselves should certainly not be growing outward geographically that is for certain.
 
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