Defining localities and regions

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A sustained strand of CURDS research has involved identifying ‘where one place stops and the next starts’ by the analysis of complex datasets. Some of this work was recently part of our contribution to the Spatial Economics Research Centre: this built on a project to define Housing Market Areas for the National Housing & Planning Advisory Unit.

For almost 30 years CURDS has defined Travel-to-Work Areas for the government by analysing each new Census commuting dataset, producing the only official statistical boundaries defined by academics. Each advance in this regionalisation methodology prompts academic debate, as well as replication in other countries across the world. CURDS recently began research for Eurostat exploring the possibility of a ‘European standard method’ for defining labour market areas.

Much of the latest urban and regional policy thinking calls for policy action at the ‘functional economic area’ (FEA) scale and yet there is no established way to identify these economic ‘places’ in practice. FEAs aren’t unidimensional – they’re not reducible to labour market areas, for example – so the key challenge is drawing on more than one type of information when defining them. CURDS edited the government’s guide to FEA definition, and completed FEA mapping for several local and regional authorities, and continues to work at this research frontier.