Let’s Learn from the Best
I recently found out that approximately 37% of Londoners were born abroad, making me quite a rare breed, a Londoner born in London! I’ve lived in south-east London my whole life and I’m immensely proud of my city. Its open green spaces, magnificent food culture and of course its diversity (London’s inhabitants speak 300 languages between us) are, I imagine, rather enviable to other city dwellers.
London is also an exciting place to live. The constantly changing landscape, cultural heritage and employment opportunities attract migration, not only from other parts of the UK, but from the world over. However, for all the positive effects it has had, and there are many, London’s fast paced evolution is producing great chasms in society that desperately need to be addressed.
London’s housing crisis, overcrowded transport system and autocratic power structure are viewed as some of the most serious challenges that lie ahead for the city. But, where should London look to when deciding how to tackle these challenges.
As a Londoner with Danish ancestry, who frequents the city of Copenhagen as regularly as my wallet can afford, you might expect me to join the bandwagon of Nordic Noir obsessives in the capital calling for London to undertake a Scandinavian makeover. After all, Copenhagen has long been touted as the model of modern urbanism, routinely swooned over as the international poster child for sustainable, thriving cities.
Well, quite the contrary. I’m proposing we learn from their mistakes.
Like London, home building in Copenhagen has been dwarfed by the growth in housing demand, causing housing costs to spiral out of control. Ørestad, a developing city area in southern Copenhagen, and other key housing schemes like it, were actively supported by Copenhagen’s City Hall, but they have fallen into two avoidable traps:
1. The construction of residential areas on the outskirts of the city that lack the density required to create the vibrancy found in central Copenhagen.
2. The loss of control of the areas affordability, guaranteeing clienteles comprised of the already well served rich.
London is increasingly falling into traps like these, with unaffordable housing and constant increases in the private rented sector both underpinned by a lack of home building, all of which, force those who are less well off to the peripheries of the city.
I want to see London adopting a truly progressive housing programme that makes use of brownfield sites in the city (there is enough space to accommodate up to 300,000 new homes). These new homes should be made truly affordable and a policy should be implemented so that lower socio-economic families either remain in or are reintegrated back into central London boroughs.
Surprisingly enough, Copenhagen have their own version of the notorious Garden Bridge, just with less flowers and more bridge. The Øresund Metro System, an underground line that will run under the famous Øresund Bridge, connecting Copenhagen with Malmö Central Station in Sweden, is set to cost taxpayers 1.4 billion Euros. Worryingly for City Hall, instead of guaranteeing an improvement to Copenhagen’s transport system, these eye-catching proposals have recently been uncovered as a disreputable vanity project.
I don’t want to see London waste any more public or private investment on vanity projects like the Garden Bridge or The Emirates Air Line. Instead, investment should focus on projects with tangible benefits, like extending the London Overground Line across south London to increase capacity on our overcrowded transport system. Equally, we need to introduce a sensible fare structure, with for example, lower fares for longer journeys to favour those living in outer London.
To achieve these ambitions and others, London undoubtedly needs a strong, inclusive and innovative leadership team. For too long there has been an unethical imbalance of power at City Hall. This, in part, was caused by the Greater London Authority Act 2007, which transferred powers to the Mayor without a matching enhancement of the powers of the London Assembly (the elected body responsible for scrutinising the Mayor’s activities). City Hall should no longer be a place where vanity projects are implemented and political points are scored, but instead, a place where Londoner’s views are well represented and decisions are made through compromise – now there’s something the Scandinavians do well.