Is London over?

Saturday 22 October, 17.30 - 18.45 , Frobisher 1-3 Urbanism and its Discontents


Video and audio of this debate are available at the bottom of this page.

During this year’s London mayoral election, the position was widely called ‘the best job in the world’. From a political perspective, the claim is difficult to argue against. London is widely acclaimed as the best city in the world. Adverts for luxury apartments in once-unloved areas of the East End, aimed at wealthy foreign investors, provoke both mirth and derision when circulated online by locals. But such ads reveal a truth of London’s appeal as a global city - fuelled, in part, by the international success of its financial and creative industries.

Yet with the city’s population set to reach 10 million within a decade, and with property prices soaring much faster than incomes, there are concerns about how long London can maintain its success. In particular, many observe that the conditions which created London’s ‘flat white economy’ creative renaissance – cheap studio spaces, diverse social mix and preferential business rates – are being undermined by the pressures of the housing crisis, with property investors and rising business costs driving dynamic SMEs and young creatives further out. One of Sadiq Khan’s first acts as mayor was to launch the #londonisopen campaign to tackle the perception that Brexit will further damage London’s international standing. Is this a confident assertion of London’s genuine strengths, or an attempt to shore up London’s reputation in the face of emerging weaknesses?

Other cities, like Bristol, Glasgow and Belfast, sense an opportunity for cultural regeneration if they can attract creatives away from London, arguing that in a digital age proximity to the capital is no longer an issue. On the other hand, some observers express concern that the creative sector’s problems are not just confined to London. The Night-Time Industries Association and Music Venues Trust, for instance, blame a spate of closures of night-clubs and venues on a hostile licensing framework, rather than market forces. It is argued by many that London’s loss will be to the benefit of Berlin, Paris or Madrid rather than other UK cities with similar policies.

The rush to create cultural hubs both across the country and London itself highlights the extent to which the notion of physical creative communities arguably holds more power in the twenty-first century than ever before, promoted by those who cast envious eyes at the likes of Silicon Valley in California.

Will London struggle to maintain its creative edge or has it thrived on infrastructural and demographic churn? Is it inevitable that its success comes with the trade-off of sanitisation and gentrification or are its problems rooted in specific policies? Does responsibility for balancing its cultural sector with the demands of a financial centre lie with the mayor or with central government? Would London’s decline as a creative centre offer opportunities elsewhere?