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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to present a rare example of the roots of (comparative) urban failure. This acts as counterpoint to the more common preoccupation with investigating how and why some cities become successful. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The main methodology used is a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with a representative sample of the urban elite of the city being studied. The initial main source of key contacts was the City Centre Management Committee. Findings ‐ Analysis of the in-depth qualitative interviews showed that most respondents, whether from the public or private sectors, genuinely believed in, and spontaneously expressed the view, that negative parochialism was a pervasive drag on the future plans and aspirations of city leaders. The findings are triangulated with other evidence that this parochialism has endured for generations. Research limitations/implications ‐ Though the sample of respondents is small, it does represent a high percentage of the local urban elite. Other forms of data triangulation may be possible and could be helpful in corroborating the findings. Future research should seek to identify other instances of the problem. Practical implications ‐ Not all cities are highly publicised success stories nor deliver the environment that their residents deserve: but good intentions can be thwarted by negative parochialism. Urbanists need to be aware of the existence of negative parochialism and its implications for urban policy and practice. Originality/value ‐ By examining a rare-documented example of the roots of (comparative) urban failure, the findings are of value to all who seek to understand the functioning of policymaking in the urban arena.