London – A Never Ending Story

181228 CITY SKY SCRAPER CONSTRUCTION - LANDSCAPE

The new “City of London”

London is now the only English region where more people are leaving than arriving from other parts of the country – only immigration is keeping the population steady.

According to Wikipedia, city is a large human settlement. It can be defined as a permanent and densely settled place with administratively defined boundaries whose members work primarily on non-agricultural tasks. Cities generally have extensive systems for housing, transportation, sanitation, utilities, land use, and communication.

I have called many a great city my home over the years – Copenhagen, Rome, Madrid, Sydney, Los Angeles…Birmingham (not Alabama) and London. I have swung by countless other metropolises on the way but, in the end, I chose to hammer my tent pegs into the vibrant and verdant London turf.

Several decades, a nuclear family and much career action later, I look at London and wonder what the hell happened?! I can still sense the muffled echo of 70s music, the 24/7 crazy madness, the cool challenges, delicious opportunities, the daunting jeopardy.

But today all around me, instead of exciting curiosity, I detect an exhausted scowl on our collective face, leaving me to wonder if all the great London quotes we know so well, still hold true, fashioned as they were, by fabulous Londoners throughout this city’s illustrious history?

Did Samuel Johnson ever scowl at London life? “You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”. Certainly no regrets there for Johnson, having relocated south from his native Lichfield.

Yet more than a third of a million citizens got tired of London in 2018, the largest number since data collection began in 2012. Surely, they can’t all be tired of life? London is now the only English region where more people are leaving than arriving from other parts of the country – only immigration is keeping the population steady.

So let’s look for a better answer. Do we need to swap Samuel Johnson for Jane Austen? The truth is, that in London it is always a sickly season. Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be.”

Our Jane penned those words a cool couple of hundred years ago, but she might as well have brought them into the world yesterday.

For London and we Londoners anno 2020 are in serious trouble, and not just due to the  Covid-19 pandemic. Far from bubbling along merrily, our city is slowly imploding but, in true Titanic style, the music keeps playing over at the Albert, while across in Hyde Park the deckchairs are being straightened meticulously.

Ever more gazillions of pounds are hoovered up by a shambolically delayed Crossrail project, while the existing London Underground is collapsing under the strain of five  million Londoners trying to get to work every morning, in order to create the wealth that pays for it all.

Gleaming apartment blocks, built for profit, not for people, stand empty while the numbers of homeless and poorly housed families go through the roof. Housing charity Shelter’s 2019 calculations estimate that 1 in every 52 people in London is homeless.  I know. Surely that can’t be right, you say? Go on, look it up. It is right.

How much more will it take before we get a grip?

Perhaps those 370,000 Londoners, who now leave town every year, just want their kids to be able to breathe some old fashioned fresh air? The kind of sweet fresh air we are breathing right now, courtesy of the Corona lockdown. That’s not too much to ask. Except that in London, in normal times, it is too much to ask. London typically reaches the legal air pollution limit for the whole year around the third week in January. Yes.

The Mayor of London’s figures show that more than two million Londoners live in areas exceeding legal air limits – including 400,000 children. Bizarrely, according to recent air quality measurements, one of Camden’s worst spots for air pollution is the leafy junction of swanky South Grove and Highgate West Hill. Here, the pollution level frequently reaches double the legal limit. And to think that I always imagined that once I got out of London and up to the top of Dick Whittington’s vantage point, I could start safely filling my lungs again.

But CO2 and especially the really nasty, but nimble NO2 don’t quite work like that. It’s all to do with the appliance of science, molecular weight and air currents. Apparently.

Nevertheless, we North Londoners who salute the old adage A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else” are so lucky to have scores of Green residents, who care deeply about our environment and the welfare of our fellow citizens.

And there never was a better time for rolling up our civic sleeves and start setting to work fixing our great city. Campaigners in the civic societies, the neighbourhood forums, the Transition Towns groups, the tenants’ and residents’ associations and the army of truly amazing unsung legends, all, in their own way, shine a light into the murky corridors of power, asking tough questions wherever decisions are made.

For “It is not the walls that make the city, but the people who live within them”, Wikipedia never mentioned the people. George VI did!

So, to all you community spirited people: Please don’t stop doing what you’re doing! London is a never ending story.

181227 W'LOW PK WS

Waterlow Park, Highgate

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