Regular readers of this blog will by now be more than aware that we at Mediolana harbour a deep sense of attachment towards our city of incorporation. Nevertheless, we are not blind to at least some of its darker realities, and the news that the financial, legal and cultural capital of not just the United Kingdom but arguably Western Europe has suffered biological leakage to the tune of over 80,000 people in a single year does not remotely surprise us.
It is all too easy – and logical – to point the finger at the Brexit ‘decision’ and ‘process’ for this decline. But this allocation of blame is ultimately unsatisfactory, and fails to recognise the deeper, structural problems which have needlessly blighted life in London for far too long; in particular, if the following deficiencies continue to remain unaddressed, one of the most iconic urban areas anywhere in the world could slide into a permanent population recession:
- Bad value. The most obvious issue confronting London today is that it offers sensationally awful value for money when to comes to the bare necessities. Specifically, the cost of both public transportation and housing – neither of which are world-class, taken as a whole – is nothing less than an insult to the intelligence. Most people can only take so much of this before they begin to wonder whether there might not be a better way of doing things.
- Zero capitalism. Connected to (1), municipal and city-wide authorities alike have lost sight of the need of industry for reasonably-priced land and buildings. As copiously demonstrated in metropolitan units from Berlin to Barcelona, the manufacturing and creative industries of the future can flourish in unlikely locations – as long as they are not smothered by anti-competitive rent-seekers.
- No time this time. Compounding it all is a profound sense of time-and-motion sickness: in the insane rush to get to wherever it is they think they are going, Londoners – especially, though not exclusively, those in the professional classes – are readily exchanging quality of life for that extra bit of speed and purported glitz. Friendships, relationships and transcendence have been swapped for an even-faster smartphone. But the messages on the screen are getting increasingly contentless.