The Attractive City: Urbanisation and London

16 Sep 2015, RT Hon Dame Tessa Jowell

The Attractive City: Urbanisation and London

London is a lot more attractive for those who live within half a mile of this hotel*, than it is for any young people who are trying to find affordable accommodation in the private renting sector. Those for whom the end of the tube line is the first point that they can call London but still afford to live in.

Those who are denied the ability to work in the centre of London because they simply can’t afford the fare to get there. The idea that London is a homogenously happy city basking in the afterglow of the Olympics and the diffused wealth that this city undoubtedly owns, is absolutely not true. That is why all the instruments of government needs to be brought to bear, in order to ensure that this very real risk of London becoming two cities; one of the very rich and another of the struggling, is not allowed to happen. How we can keep London an attractive city within which to live and work, is to ensure that it stays an OPEN city.

Today, London is still a diverse and tolerant city. This was perhaps never as well demonstrated as in the aftermath of the bombing of London in 2005, where 54 innocent people were murdered by four terrorists on our underground and on one of our buses. The perpetrators were fundamentalists, preaching a creed of hate and their random action changed the lives of hundreds of Londoners for ever. In the aftermath of that atrocity, with which I was involved in helping to organise the logistical and other support for those who were affected, there was not one single attack on a Muslim Londoner.

That is a measure of how, in the face of that kind of violence, London remains solid in its commitment and determination to be a city that celebrates its internal diversity.

We had a big and difficult job to do when we bid to host the Olympic Games. We were not the favorites, we were way behind to start with and we were hopeless outsiders for most of the race. But we decided that we had to take great risks in presenting the image of London that we wanted the rest of the International Olympic Committee to see.

So instead of parading our sponsors to show the financial security of the London Games, we took 22 young people, who spoke 20 different languages, from a school in East London and presented them as the face of London. I believe that the moment we won the games was when they were introduced to the serried ranks of the Olympic Committee and it became clear to all that they WERE the face of London.

Because that is what London is - uncompromisingly diverse, uncompromisingly tolerant, uncompromisingly open.

But to be an “attractive city”, that is a judgment which is made in the capture of a moment, or the short period of a survey – if you gain this status you can’t presume it will remain always or even to extend to everybody. It is a dynamic definition and what was attractive ten years ago will no longer be sufficient to be judged as either world-leading, or attractive, ten years later.

London is a young city but as the very important “Britain Thinks” study showed, it is the young people who are the most isolated and the most pessimistic in London today.

It is the Babyboomers who travel everywhere with free bus passes, who get reduced entry to theaters, museums and galleries and who are the people who enjoy living in London the most. They have probably paid off their mortgage and their costs have fallen. In between the very young and the older are the people who are bringing up children.

Many of these today assume that at some point they will have to move out of London. Now that, as you can see, is an unstable base from which to continue our confidence that London is a great city. That’s why we have to be constantly vigilant about the well being of its inhabitants and that this well being is shared across the population.

So, what did London do and what did WE do with the Olympics to try to create that vigilance with regards to well being? The first was to be clear about legacy; that spending such a very large amount of public money (some nine billion pounds sterling) on regenerating the east of London had to be for more than 60 days of sport.

What it actually did was to increase the employment levels in the very deprived boroughs in the immediate areas surrounding the Olympic park. It also created a new lung for London; the largest urban park in Europe for 150 years, in what is becoming the most vibrant digital quarter in London or indeed in any European city today.

So, the Olympics contributed to a global curiosity about London, our tourism revenues are rising exponentially - but it also created a new optimism in a part of London that had been characterized by deprivation and a degree of depression. Indeed the regeneration that the Olympics brought was probably represented by achieving in six years what would otherwise have taken about 60.

The lesson we can learn from this is that the process is dynamic. Anybody who tries to rest on the nostalgia of what is now nearly two and a half years ago, saying “We were a great city then and we can be proud forever about the fact that we are a great city” are missing the point.

A great city – an Attractive city - is built day by day. Every time you think that you have come close to the horizon of your ambition, there is another horizon that you have to work towards.

*Speech by the RT Hon Dame Tessa Jowell at the Lancaster Hotel, Bayswater on the 20 October 2014, for the SCC Urbanisation Forum.

To hear more about the global challenge of growing cities, join the Chamber on 17 September at Marriott London County Hall for this year's Urbanisation Forum.

Photo Credit: Marcus Holland-Moritz/Flickr

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