The organisations wanted to work out how much time people spend in these cities, how this changes by time and day and the things they’re doing while in the city.
“Much of Centre for Cities’ work on the high street has shown how important city centre jobs are to the performance of retail and other local services around them,” Lahari Ramuni, researcher at the think-tank, wrote in a blog. “However, we know comparatively little about how these urban workers use the wider city centre.”
One of the big findings from the study was that Manchester had twice as many workers as Sheffield on a weekday (115,000 compared to 58,000), and they travelled further to get to work in Manchester.
Much of the research was not surprising but serves as a useful example of how data from mobile phones can be employed in everyday urban studies with ease nowadays.
Another finding was more people travelled to their place of work from Tuesday to Thursday than on Monday and Friday. Centre for Cities attributed this trend to the rise of working from home and part-time working.
“As well as providing a market for high street companies to sell to during the day, these workers also provide a market for bars and restaurants in the evening,” said Ramuni.
The organisation said the volume of people leaving the city centre was slower as the week progresses, with the “number of workers still in each city centre at 8pm being around 40% of the peak number of workers that are there on a Friday”.
Workers are also most likely to head into their city centre to get away from the office and have lunch between 12 and 2pm. Centre for Cities said this demonstrates “in part why the high street performs better in Manchester city centre than in Sheffield”. The author explained: “These scores also indicate that interest in Manchester is more skewed towards eating and drinking than in Sheffield, reflecting the move towards spending on experiences and also away from shopping in stores.”
And even when they’re not working, people head into their city centre on the weekends. Centre for Cities found that a third in Manchester and half in Sheffield visited the city centre on saturday and Sunday. In fact, people in Manchester were more likely to be interested in all leisure activities – particularly eating out and shopping. “While only profiling two cities, this data provides greater detail on the way that workers support the high street nearest to them, and why the performance of high streets varies across the country,” Ramuni concluded.
“Big data has the potential to offer both more detailed and more timely insights into the performance of city economies. We’ll be doing more work on this in 2019 when we look at the role that our cities play as places of consumption.”