The UK, as anyone in possession of an atlas cannot have failed to notice, is rather small compared to the US. One consequence: where the US has a handful of cities with populations of more than 5 million that serve as major regional centers, London goes pretty much unchallenged as the leading British metropolis.
This has not stopped smaller British cities from trying to attract business and investment, of course. Since 1995, eight other important English cities—including Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds—have banded together under the banner “Core Cities” in an attempt to raise their international profile and co-ordinate development.
Exclusion from such groups has not prevented rather smaller cities from trying to get in on the game too. Plymouth, the west country port from which the Mayflower set sail in 1620, recently held a summit entitled “An Economic Vision for Plymouth” to encourage regeneration and investment. “If cities were floated on the stock exchange, you could do far worse than invest a few shares in one West Country city,” the press release begins, rather optimistically. “Following on from the rebirth of cities like Manchester and Liverpool, there is another place that is now embracing regeneration at every level—and it is buzzing with the feeling that its time has come to truly shine.”
The release does at least acknowledge the scale of the task ahead (“Plymouth may not be the most obvious metropolis that springs to mind when you use words like ‘buzzing’ and ‘exciting’…”). Past attempts at rebranding some of England's less glamorous towns have not always been successful. In 2003 the Bedfordshire town of Luton, home of London's fourth airport, launched the EvoLuton campaign to showcase its businesses, educational facilities and community initiatives.
The results were not impressive: in September 2004, an online poll of 20,000 people voted it Britain's worst town. Its reward was top billing in the book Crap Towns II: The Nation Decides.