I am Jane Thomas. I live in Sheffield and heavily involved in the Fairness Campaign amongst other things, but until recently worked in London for Friends of the Earth where I headed up the England Team.
What should a “good” city look like and what would good look like for London? Its value laden territory but most would agree that good would mean a place that is welcoming and attractive; culturally rich; free from fear of crime; well connected with appropriate and accessible public services.
I would add that there are three other important dimensions for a “good “ London. The first is that it should be fair and as much as possible free from the damaging inequalities that blight people’s lives. In the economic downturn since 2008 it is cities that have taken the biggest hits with austerity measures and now the biggest disparities in terms of wealth, health and access to basic services are seen in London. This social and economic divide sets to widen in the next 5 years. Whether London can be “good” when so many people are not able to benefit from its successes is a moot point. Evidence suggests that a socially and economically divided city damages not only the most deprived but also everyone else that lives there.
So a good London would have a minimum standard for health, skills and training, housing, education and transport. In particular the inequities in the housing market need to be addressed. The National Housing Federation recently published a report showing that the average London home cost £526,000 or roughly 16 times the average London salary. So you have a capital city where owing an average home is off limits for the average workers to live in. And that’s before you look at what’s happening in the private rented sector. It’s simply not sustainable.
The second point is about sustainability. London should be something we are proud for our children to inherit. It needs to be resilient to withstand seismic events including financial turbulence as well as the extreme weather and risk of flooding that threatens homes along the Thames valley. And urgent action is needed to curb emissions to address premature deaths from poor air quality.
Finally Londoners should be able to exercise their democratic right to vote, a right that has been seriously eroded by the speed and way this government has moved to Individual Voter Registration. London faces the prospect of nearly 7% of voters dropping off the register – that’s 415,000 people. The scale of disenfranchised voters is simply unacceptable, and has massive implications for our democracy and the outcome of future elections. I’ve written about it in detail here.
Good cities don’t have to be rich, but they should not be impoverished. And parts of London are -both financially and environmentally. If economic growth is the panacea and the way to a better future then we have to reimagine growth in a different way so that it delivers for all, not a small minority. You could do worse than look at some of this thinking for reimagining our capitol.