‘We love our city and belong to it. Neither of us are English; we’re Londoners, you see,” wrote Hanif Kureishi in his screenplay for Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. The film touches on a theme that has become even more powerful since its 1987 release – the idea that to be a Londoner is to transcend nationhood and, in particular, Englishness. Economically and financially, London has diverged from the rest of the country. Culturally and politically, there are signs that its 7.8m inhabitants are doing the same.
The Parisian arriving in London by train alights at a resplendent station. St Pancras, and the adjacent King’s Cross, make Gare du Nord look like a provincial hub. The surrounding area, once a ramshackle collection of properties, is gleaming with new hotels, offices and prime accommodation. It is a clear sign of how London’s economic geography has changed in the 21st century. The inner city has developed rapidly. Poverty is moving to the outskirts of the capital. As its core grows faster than its periphery, London is becoming more like Paris.
Not a single track has been laid for High Speed 2 and yet George Osborne is already talking about “High Speed 3″, an extension of the project to link Manchester and Leeds. In a speech on Monday in Manchester, the chancellor spoke of his support for a “Northern powerhouse”: a conurbation to rival London, connected by transport links such as HS3, and governed by independent mayors. It is an excellent idea.
Although there will be a temptation to see Mr Osborne’s speech as simply another part of the HS2 debate, that would be simplistic. It represents the coming together of different conceptions of the future for British cities – and as ever political necessities.
Boris Johnson’s speech on Wednesday night to the Centre for Policy Studies is receiving attention for his comments on cornflakes. In a robust defence of free market capitalism, the London mayor argued that it is the only way to ensure cornflakes, a metaphor for humans, can “rustle and hustle their way to the top”. As ever, it is a rollicking read, perhaps the best recent defence of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. As ever, on display is a rare example of honest vibrancy in a politician’s language. And as ever, Mr Johnson shows a tendency to come empirically adrift on a sea of his own loquacity.
Toronto may have a crack-smoking, citizen-baiting mayor whose chubby recalcitrance has caught the world’s attention but it remains the best city to be young. That at least is the finding of a new report from Youthful Cities, a (cough) Toronto-based organisation which has ranked 25 of the world’s big cities by their supposed youth-friendliness.
Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who likes to call people “brother”, has been elected mayor of New York City. The victory of the self-styled populist, whose campaign spoke of “a tale of two cities”, marks the beginning of the end of Michael Bloomberg’s tenure. But if Mr de Blasio means what he says, he also wants his triumph to mark the beginning of the end of an idea: that of the city as a luxury product.
After Detroit filed for bankruptcy some commentators decried it as an inevitable example of the failure of “big government”. However, as New York evaluates the legacy of Michael Bloomberg, whose 12-year reign comes to a close at the end of this year, and prepares to vote on his successor, there is an argument that the mayor has made the opposite case.