Like good businesses, cities with a strong vision of their future thrive. Now is the time for London to build a shared vision for the future.
London’s future has rarely felt as uncertain, or as contingent, as now. Although the pandemic has seen a surge in community spirit across our neighbourhoods, and some local businesses have successfully adapted to the new normal, much of what defines London is in peril. Central London is still relatively empty as offices, theatres and other attractions remain in deep-freeze, and a lack of passengers threatens Transport for London’s very existence.
Coronavirus has upended much of what was assumed about London’s immediate future, but London was facing choppy waters even before the pandemic. The climate emergency has been intensifying. Yes, there was a temporary respite as we hunkered down, with planes grounded and road traffic dropping to its lowest level since 1955, but our need to avoid the havoc a warmer climate will bring remains the pressing cause of our times. There is also the apparent backlash against globalisation, bringing Brexit, declining trade, and perhaps much else to contend with.
Our population is rapidly ageing – watch this space for data from us on London’s ageing population soon – with potentially profound consequences to our economies and even our politics. And new, disruptive technologies and services are emerging and being adopted increasingly quickly, propelled even faster now by the pandemic. Just look how quickly we took to Zoom and online shopping. Technological changes will redefine how we live, how we work, and along the way challenge incumbents and create new concentrations of economic power.
These, and other global forces are set to shape our world. And in the UK a government elected to ‘level up’ the country holds sway, and may yet unleash further movements in the tectonic plates of our constitution. The last major reform to London’s governance, London’s mayor and Assembly, was introduced two decades ago. Tension between the mayoralty and national government has also ratcheted up in recent months, as a delayed mayoral election and the disappearance of commuters have opened new political battlegrounds.
Like good businesses, cities with a strong vision of their future thrive. London has prospered in recent decades, in part because the city’s leaders developed a new consensus of what a leading global city like London should be, including through the 1991 London World City report. New political structures, a growing globally connected population, smarter businesses, better transport, and neighbourhood renewal followed, alongside much envied innovations like the Congestion Charge and the Oyster card. With flourishing and diverse communities, and a cultural and economic reach almost without equal, London’s reputation as a top rank ‘world city’ was consolidated, even as pressures such as affordability and congestion piled up.
London now needs a shared vision for the future that balances and navigates these pressures, and strengthens the case for the capital. What do Londoners want the London of the future to be like? As London starts to recover from coronavirus, what should the city’s priorities be?
That’s why we at Centre for London are working with leaders from across the city including the Mayor, London’s boroughs, national government, businesses, universities, charities and community groups on London Futures, an ambitious, multi-year strategic review to shape London’s future to 2050 and beyond.
We will examine the state of London today, explore different scenarios for London’s future and involve Londoners in creating a new shared vision for the city.