Is London too much? Four centuries of debate

King James I lamented in the early seventeenth century: “soon London will be all England”. Then, as now, London’s population growth was both driven by and drove the capital’s economic prosperity. Before the end of the century, arguments would appear for what we would now call the ‘re-balancing’ of the country’s economy and population : 

“Now as to the Grandour of London. Would not England be easier and perhaps stronger if these vitals were more equally dispersed? Is there not a Tumour in that place, and too much matter for mutiny and Terrour for the Government  if it should Burst? Is there not too much of our Capital in one stake, liable to the Ravage of Plague and fire?…Will not the resort of the Wealthy and emulation to Luxury melt down the order of Superiors among and bring all towards Levelling and Republican?”

This was written by Robert Southwell to Sir William Petty in 1686, one of the many  fascinating extracts and fragments of how contemporary observers saw the coming of the Maxine age in Humphrey Jennings’ marvellous ‘Pandemonium’. Southwell’s argument across four centuries sounds some very contemporary concerns: regional inequalities; threats to resilience, both natural and man-made; conspicuous consumption by the ‘1%’.

Moreover, as the historian Richard Olson points out,  Southwell was responding to an essay by Petty in which he argued that by 1800, London’s population would rise to 5 million, exceeding that of the rest of England.

Hence, both London’s pre-eminence, and the debate on whether this is beneficial or the opposite, has  persisted for four centuries. That suggests to me that the issue will not be resolved any time soon. As a policy-maker, the more salient issue for me is how to craft a set of national policies which both support London’s growth and dynamism, and also use this asset to the benefit of the whole of the UK. 

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Any colour as long as it’s green

The Wall Street Journal tells me that Tesla has now overtaken Ford as the second largest car maker in the US by market value. General Motors is ahead but may now be glancing in the rear view mirror. 

Is this a “seismic shift” in the industry as WSJ puts it – a “growing belief that internal-combustion engines will be replaced by electric motors as the primary power source for automobiles”? Others disagree, seeing more hype than substance. Currently, Tesla produces fewer than 100,000 cars a year, compared with Ford’s millions. But are we on the brink of a major innovation-led change? 

Cities, Data and Digital Innovation: My new paper

My paper on Cities, Data and Digital Innovation is published today by the University of Toronto. You can read more about it here, and download the paper here.

I wrote the paper last year while on sabbatical at the University of Toronto. I enjoyed living, working  and writing the paper in Toronto. I hope you enjoy reading it.

BIG CITY, BIG IDEAS: Data Innovation and City Governance

Earlier this year, as part of my sabbatical at the Munk School of Global Affairs, I gave a public lecture in Toronto on the theme “Data Innovation and City Governance”. This was part of the University of Toronto’s ‘Big City, Big Ideas’ series, and I was following in the distinguished footsteps of speakers such as Richard Florida, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Michael Storper, Meric Gertler, and others.

You can view the webcast of my talk here.

London House Prices – a Borough Cartogram

Even though I am in Toronto I couldn’t resist looking at this excellent House Price cartogram for London. I agree with  Ollie O’Brien when he says ‘We like the simple, “grid of squares” concept and the addition of the Thames. Cartograms are hard to produce in a way that makes them familiar to an audience familiar with Google Maps, but with this concept, that challenge may have been met.’  I think I would go further. By limiting the cartographic verisimilitude, and producing a bold simplified map that works intuitively – red to green for prices, and compass points in the right place – it is in the excellent and radical tradition of Harry Beck, creator of the familiar London Underground map. Sometimes less really is more.

London to Toronto

First thoughts on arrival in TO:

1. BA is right that the 787 Dreamliner is much quieter than earlier jets, and the air seemed fresher etc. BA critics are right that the leg-room is poor.

2. Rapid transit to Pearson will start in May, not a moment too soon.

3. Presto smart card system will finally get rolled out across,TTC this year, not a moment too soon.

4. My sixth time in Toronto, but my first for an extended stay. As in London, palpable sense of economic and population growth, transit and housing issues to the fore. Immigration is a key driver of economic growth and vice versa.

5. I walked around West Queen Street West on Sunday, a classic gentrification moving frontier and according to Vogue (who am I to disagree?) the second coolest neighbourhood on the planet.

6. This city takes food and eating seriously.

7. Sunday afternoon was sunny and relatively warmer. At the first sign of better weather, Toronto residents are out in the parks and on porches, making the absolute best of it, a great (and I understand Canadian) characteristic.