Machine Learning, Innovation and Growth

Looking forward to this morning’s round table on machine learning and AI with some of London’s business innovators. We are co-hosting this event with the Royal Society. 

For more details of how the Mayor of London is supporting innovation, economic growth and skills, please see here.

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London in the mind

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…there was no Mayor of London, Greater London Authority or City Hall.  Bankside Power Station was just about to be re-born as the Tate Modern. The year was 2000, and I was teaching and researching at the London School of Economics. Together with my colleague Tony Travers, I became involved in an exhibition in the Oxo Tower, called “Our London, Our Vote” . The purpose of the exhibition was to help explain to Londoners what the role would be of the new Mayor and London Assembly, to be elected that May. As part of the exhibition, I put together some quotations about London for one of the display panels – quotations not from politicians and public officials but from writers, artists, poets.

Here they are below:

London “is an idea, almost a metaphysical entity in the minds of those who contemplate it”  A.N.Wilson

“We do well perceive in our princely wisdom that our City of London is become the greatest, or next the greatest City of the Christian World.”  King James I, 1615.

“When I was a child in Trinidad, the wharves were lined with cargo boats coming from and heading to the London docks. The clothes we wore, much of the food we ate, all the luxuries of life we associated with London”   Darcus Howe, journalist.

“Rain grey town/known for its sound/In places/small faces/abound”  The Byrds, Eight Miles High

“Unreal city/Under the brown fog of a winter dawn/A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many/I had not thought death had undone so many” T.S.Eliot, The Waste Land

“It is odd how one imagines that just because the sun is shining in London, it is shining everywhere else”  Hanif Kureishi

“Hell is a city much like London/A populous and smoky city”  Shelley

“If I had to sum up for you what London seems to me, it’s a community of unpaid extras in the most expensive theme park on the planet”   Malcolm McLaren 

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. 

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 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.

Cycle power

Films such as ‘The theory of everything” and TV series such as ‘Grantchester’ imply that Cambridge is cycle heaven. And indeed, there are a lot of people on bikes; Cambridge has I believe the highest proportion of journeys to work on two wheels. But the infrastructure and traffic management lags the reality by a long way. While cycling across Parkers Piece or Midsummer Common is undoubtedly a joy, most city cycling in Cambridge involves the familiar mix of potholes, disappearing cycle lanes and an apparently mystical belief in the efficacy of faded white lines on Tarmac to provide a cycle-friendly city.

This may be now changing. The’DNA cycle path’ South from Addenbrookes offers great views as well as a path surface whose colours reference the four nucleotides of the BRCA2 gene, and the cycle way alongside the guided busway is another fast convenient route into and out of the city. And in the last few weeks work has begun on a segregated cycle lane along Hills Road. It’s only about a mile and will terminate at the Hills Road bridge – but it’s a start.

Promoting cycling and walking is more than a transport policy; it is a way in which cities can say something about what sort of place they are, and what sort of place they want to be. These are not (just) quality of life issues; for cities like Cambridge (and London) their economic futures will depend on their ability to attract and retain ideas, investment- and people