Reading cities: developing an urban diagnostics approach for identifying integrated urban problems with application to the city of Birmingham, UK

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For policymakers, planners, urban design practitioners and city service decision-makers who endeavour to create policies and take decisions to improve the function of cities, developing an understanding of cities, and the particular city in question, is important. However, in the ever-increasing field of urban measurement and analysis, the challenges cities face are frequently presumed: crime and fear of crime, social inequality, environmental degradation, economic deterioration and disjointed governance. Although it may be that many cities share similar problems, it is unwise to assume that cities share the same challenges, to the same degree or in the same combination. And yet, diagnosing the challenges a city faces is often overlooked in preference for improving the understanding of known challenges. To address this oversight, this study evidences the need to diagnose urban challenges, introduces a novel mixed-methods approach for doing so, applies (and critiques) the approach to the city of Birmingham, UK, and proposes a set of principles for the transferability of this new urban diagnostic methodology to other cities. The paper argues that applying a rigorous, explorative, diagnostic approach to ‘reading cities’ provides confidence that all critical challenges have been identified and,
crucially, identifies how they are interdependent, both of which have implications for how policymakers and decision-makers address a particular city's combination of interlinked challenges.


Original languageEnglish
Early online date19 Oct 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Oct 2018