By Claire Harding, Research Director, Centre for London
In this new series of London ideas, we’re taking a big picture look at how our city is doing in this strange and extraordinary year and what an optimistic future for London might look like over the next five to 10 years. We’ll hear from experts within and outside our city, people who are already putting ambitious ideas into action, and those thinking about the next big changes our city will see.
And we’d love to hear from you as well. You can share your thoughts with us on social media using #IdeasforLondon.
Our city is changing fast, and we want to be part of an ongoing discussion and debate. We will therefore be publishing three waves of new thinking every couple of months.
In this first wave of new ideas, we’re looking at the ingredients of London’s continued success. Over this week we’ll be publishing three other pieces from three different authors. Rob Whitehead, our Director of Strategic Projects, argues that the need for human connection will ensure London can grow and prosper as we emerge from the pandemic. And we also have contributions from Lord Vaizey, looking at how London will sustain its global, cultural role, as well as Darryl Chen on why we should look beyond the neighbourhood for London to continue to thrive.
The second wave, due to be published in the autumn, will look at London as a destination centre – the future of urban retail, what we can learn from other global cities on creating places people want to be, and how changes to what people spend time in London doing will influence and be influenced by the ways we get around. And finally, around Christmas, we’ll be looking at how London can balance moving towards a smart and sustainable future, while also retaining its character and heritage.
London’s big moment
It’s hard to write about London over the last 18 months without sounding hyperbolic. Unimaginable, extraordinary, unprecedented, shattering. Thousands of Londoners have died, hundreds of thousands have missed months of learning, millions have lost income. We seem to be past the worst now, but the fallout for our physical and mental health and our economic situation will affect Londoners’ lives for years to come. But as we emerge from the worst of the pandemic there are reasons to be hopeful.
“It’s been such a strange time that it can be easy to forget that many of the changes we are seeing have been long in the making – even if they haven’t been as visible as they are now.”
Campaigners have long been calling for an end to working culture meaning 9 til 5 in an office, simply because this doesn’t work for parents and carers. The shift towards online retail has been happening since the early 2000s: in this case, the pandemic has probably accelerated us to a place we would have been in a few years anyway. We’ve known about Brexit since 2016, although not of course about the form it would take (indeed, we still don’t quite know this). And, although the urgency increases every year, our knowledge of the climate crisis is not new.
This matters because we will not be starting from scratch after the pandemic. London and Londoners are already developing responses to our big challenges. Workers have been finding different ways to be parents, carers, friends, and employees – and still have time for the odd lunch with friends or an evening drink. Our city centre shops have already been reinventing themselves as sites for new experiences and product showcases, driving global sales from London for consumers in South Korea or Mexico. And we are global leaders in green financing and technology, with an educated and passionate young population ready to make a difference.
An optimistic future
Perhaps the greatest reason to be optimistic about change to our city is that we have ‘bounced back’ and changed so many times before – especially in response to the horrors of war and disease. Technological, social, and cultural change often intertwine: the 1950s welfare state combined with economic productivity led to rising prosperity and more leisure, helping create the generation of young people who drove the great musical and artistic movements of Britain in the 1960s – which then led to a rethink of the social and domestic worlds that they had been part of.
We already have the ingredients for London’s continued success at hand – but now is the time to decide who we are, and who we want to be, as well as to share our ideas and our values with the world, and to learn from other people and places. The rest of the articles in this edition of London ideas will give some ideas on how we can do this.
Claire is Research Director at Centre for London. She joined the Centre in 2020 and is responsible for our research programme. Before joining Centre for London, she worked at Coram Family and Childcare. Claire has also previously worked in mental health and local government consultancy.