Why do people move? Implications for a Viable Economy.

Why do people move, or not move? What impacts does moving have on places that people move to? What about the impacts on places that people have left behind? These were some of the questions we discussed at Steady State Manchester’s recent ‘Moving on up?’ discussion.


Migration is not a crime cartoon

(from openclipart, by “worker”)

At Steady State Manchester, we have developed policies and positions within the Viable Economy that begin to address the question of mobility.1 For example, we put forward alternative ways of thinking about migration and population, capital investment and localisation, and inequality and regional differences. Each of these incorporates mobility in some way. However, within these are different kinds of mobility. On the one hand, mobility can refer to the geographical process of moving around, or to a more abstract understanding of moving between socioeconomic classes, or to the flows of capital. These can likewise be understood at the individual, regional, national or international scales. Finally, there is a time aspect: are we considering the mobility of everyday life, or the longer-term and more permanent residential mobility?

In order to develop Steady State Manchester’s understanding of mobility, we view the physical mobility of people in the world as an issue with impacts on Mancunians, with clear implications from the global scale to the local. Indeed, the decision of people to move (or not) relates to questions of local infrastructure, global events, socioeconomic class and capital flows. For example, in Manchester, this can include a tram line linking the wealthy suburbs of the city, a refugee fleeing war-torn Syria and settling in Salford, a new bicycle lane connecting Manchester and Didsbury, global capital funding of massive new high-rise apartments, or a Northerner settling in London because “that’s where the jobs are.” Each of these involves the physical, spatial mobility of people, either in daily life or more permanent mobility, and occurring at both global and local scales. This phenomenon is also being repeated in urban areas around the globe.

To clarify our position on mobility, we sought to have a discussion with people from the Greater Manchester area about this very issue, which we hope to inform our advocacy, research and publications, but also to develop a clear position ahead of the new draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) publication in June 2018. The first draft of this document was woefully inadequate. Indeed, the Executive Summary resembles an out-of-touch plan to pursue ‘growth’ (mentioned 15 times), at all costs, barely accounting for the residents (4 mentions) or even people (6 mentions) impacted by this. A second draft is being written in response to over 20,000 comments, but we are preparing for the real possibility that this new spatial strategy will again inadequately reflect the long term interests of Greater Manchester’s people, let alone even consider limiting the economic ‘growth’ that harms the natural ecosystems and environment. A spatial plan for Greater Manchester ought to take account of the many reasons why people might make a ‘mobility decision’ to move to this area, or how likewise how an ‘immobility decision’ is reached. So, we felt that our understanding of physical, residential mobility – with clear economic, social and ecological implications – should be informed by the thinking of interested people from the Greater Manchester area.

The range of unique perspectives at the discussion provoked some stimulating conversation about mobility, and surely will contribute toward our organisational position on the GMSF – and on mobility more broadly, into the future. Below is a brief summary.
The first part of the evening was a brainstorm exercise in groups around the question of why people move, or don’t move. This generated considerable conversation both within and between the groups. At the end, each group recorded the reasons they came up with on sticky post-its, then put them all on a flipboard sheet. A wide variety of reasons for moving or not moving – what seems appropriately called a ‘mobility decision’ – were identified (see Table 1, below). Broadly, five categories of drivers emerged: economic, necessity, government policy, identity, and social relationships.

Table 1: A ‘mobility decision’: why people move or don’t move


Reasons to move

Reasons to not move

economic -for work or job opportunities

-education or study

-lack of resources


necessity -persecution/forced to leave

-escaping from civil strife/conflict

-climate change (flooding of low-lying land, desertification)

-age-related events (access to care, safety, particular accommodation needs)
government policy -forced displacement for development

-policies favouring gentrification

-social housing policy

-ease of transit links


identity -adventure

-hope for a better life

-culture (nomadic, or characteristic of society)

-uncertainty and risks

-fear of change or the unknown

-comfort where one is already

-membership of a cultural community

social relationships

-to start a family

-to be closer to family/friends

-love and family

-social contacts/network

-roots and support networks

Then, a second exercise asked the attendees to identify the outcomes for people moving, both on the places people move to and on places people leave (see Table 2, below). These included demographic, economic, socio-economic, and socio-cultural impacts.

Table 2: Outcomes of moving: Impacts on places people move to versus leave

Types of impacts

Places people move to

Places people leave

demographic -cultural diversity -depopulation, ageing population

-money sent home

socio-economic -bringing new skills/ knowledge/expertise


-investment and spending

-strain on resources

-‘brain drain’

-lower tax income

-loss of ‘social infrastructure’

socio-cultural -conflict

-local exclusion

-loss of diversity

-fragmentation of families

Following these exercises, we came together for a discussion about the outcomes of mobility in the case of Greater Manchester in particular, both now and in the future as more people are making the decision to come to this city-region. This led to the identification of some key challenges, included reckoning with the tension between development and equity, the role of speculative finance in development, a need to address safety and health concerns, the possibility of the loss of heritage, and the potential for regional integration. Finally, we discussed the global issues at play in driving these outcomes, including environmental damage to the global food system. We concluded that these need to be integrated into the GMSF. One attendee’s call for any policy to “start with the pavement” serves as a palpable reminder that these global issues driving mobility decisions have a tangible impact on the everyday lives of Mancunians.

Overall, this discussion illuminated a host of issues that ought to receive scrutiny in the new GMSF. While some have been considered by Steady State Manchester in our previous work, others emerged that present opportunities for further exploration and understanding. Over the next months, we plan to develop an alternative position for the GMSF that captures and incorporates the discussions had and insights gained at this fruitful event. Thank you again to everyone that was able to attend!

James Vandeventer and Steady State Manchester

1 By “mobility” we mean here the longer term movement of people from place to place to take up new homes and livelihoods, rather than the ability to move around a particular place.

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