The first issue of Stamp, Big City, is all about London. A look at the Westfield empire, inequality in the city, a bit of history, and some stats on how London and the UK measure up to other world cities.
Photo by Jake Hinds on Unsplash
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
For thousands of years London has been a bustling port and fast-
growing city, filled with people from all over the world.
Its history is rich and brutal. From a distant outpost of the
Roman empire it became the seat of a huge empire itself. A tourist
attraction and global financial centre, the fact London's future is in
jeopardy hasn't stopped people arriving in their millions to visit and in
their thousands to stay.
There's a lot to do and see and buy in London. But it's
mostly a two hour round trip to get there - wherever it is,
everything seems to take the same amount of time - and
goodness forbid you want to buy a sandwich or a cup of
coffee once you get there.
I arrived six years ago and I'm just about getting to grips
with moving here. With being here.
So welcome to London. Big City is the inaugural issue of
Stamp, dedicated to unravelling some of the complications
Frustratingly there's no clear way to tell how many of the
British-born people living in London were born in London
itself or arrived in London from elsewhere in Britain. My
totally anecdotal view is that this number is high -
including myself, my family, many friends, colleagues,
and neighbours. We are of all ethnicities and British
nationality but ended up in London.
There's no guidebook for arriving in London.
For tourists there are the shiny hotspots but once the
wide-eyed newcomer effect wears off there's a grimness
that I found it hard to move on from. London is dirty.
London is vast. London is expensive.
Modern-style immigration control began in 1905,
prompted by a perceived growth in the number of
Eastern European Jews arriving in London fleeing
persecution by the Russian Empire.
Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash
The first time I went it was quiet, calm, and very civilised. "I could get used to this,"
I thought. I don't know what witchcraft had the place under its spell because of
course every time since it has been chaos.
My sister asked one of the kids in her class where they were going at the weekend.
"Big City!" he breathed dramatically, suffused with awe. He was referring to
Westfield Stratford City.
And for a little kid, it's easy to see why he would call it that. There's playgrounds,
shops, places to eat, the cinema... For a child, it must seem like a pretty great
microcosm. And for adults it's convenient. It doesn't have any of the essential
services of a city but it does have banks, hairdressers, and all manner of retailers.
For parents, there are better facilities than you might find elsewhere - childcare
options, child-friendly places, and truly great baby changing rooms. It's easy to get
It's also soulless. It looks like the other Westfield, it looks like all the other upscale
shopping centres - or they look like it. The floors are always shiny, the lights are
always bright. There are the essential "anchor" shops at either end - the big
brands positioned so people can orient themselves by them.
It's not an idyll for the retailers. It's a seductive promise of an idyll for shoppers
but often a crowded, stressful experience.
AN ENCOUNTER WITH
Image shamelessly stolen from Google.
Westfield is part of the
group, a Paris-based
commercial real estate firm.
The Westfield portion is
originally Australian and
recently came onboard.
The group has assets across
Europe and North America,
making it Europe's largest
property firm thought to be
worth around $72 billion.
159 properties including
93 shopping centres.
Across 13 countries.
With 1.2 billion annual visits.
700,000 children live in
poverty in London,
37% of all kids in the
Photo by Piron Guillaume on UnsplashTrust For London
Finding Your Creative Niche | CHC 2020
There are, in fact, two ways about it: London
is one of the richest, most prosperous cities
on earth, with a huge amount of resources,
assets, and incredibly wealthy people.
It's also home to some of the most
impoverished people in the country, many of
the most deprived areas in the country,
staggering levels of inequality and suffering,
and heartbreaking child poverty.
However, the bleaker side of that picture seems to be changing for the
better. 2015 statistics on the English indices of deprivation show that
the top five most rapidly improving areas - the areas with the biggest
reduction in deprivation from 2010 to 2015 - are all London boroughs.
Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, and Haringey were all in the 20
most deprived areas in the country in 2010 but are not in 2015. (The
fifth borough being Greenwich, which wasn't in the lower 20.)
This is great but there is a cloud to the silver lining. Firstly, this is all
Secondly, it doesn't do much for the people in those boroughs who do
live in poverty - children who will carry the repercussions their whole
lives, the stress and health effects for adults, disabled and other more
vulnerable people. They are unlikely to be celebrating the borough's
wins when their individual lives remain the same.
Thirdly, having lived in Tower Hamlets I can confirm Tower Hamlets is
a very strange borough, encompassing the neighbourhoods of
Whitechapel with its predominantly Bangladeshi population and
Canary Wharf, home of the skyscraping financial services.
It's projected to be the fastest growing borough in the years to come.
Huge housing developments in Canary Wharf bringing in bankers and
their bonuses reflect little on the lives of everyone else.
The area of Tower Hamlets I most frequented, and still do, is the
Whitechapel-Shadwell-Wapping strip. Whitechapel on the north end is
huge, bustling and runs down to Commercial Road where there is a
two-block depth of Shadwell. Over The Highway you enter Wapping,
where the street litter disappears, there are more parks, and quiet
reigns. All Tower Hamlets.
Whitechapel looks set for a wave of gentrification sweeping down from
Shoreditch. Shadwell has new housing developments and a sharp divide
between the largely white newcomers to London from the rest of the
UK and Europe, with the London-born Bangladeshi population mostly
living in the nothing short of US-style housing projects of council and
social housing literally set back from the roads and hidden away.
A rising tide lifts all ships and while I do believe that it's also easy, and
perhaps healthy, to maintain some scepticism. How much do the
bankers and the young professionals really contribute? Not enough, my
answer has to be.
Tower Hamlets seems to me a microcosm of London overall, and of
London to the rest of the UK. How much do the London elites,
billionaires, aristocrats, contribute to the troubles of the capital? Not
enough. How much does the vast wealth of London contribute to the
rest of the country? Not enough.
50% of London's wealth is owned
by the richest 10% of its households.
The bottom 50% own just over 5%.
English Indices of Deprivation 2015
Photo by Collins Lesulie on Unsplash
LONDON VS THE REST OF
Commentators like to say Brexit was
a strike against the political elite in
London by forgotten and left-behind
towns in the rest of the country. The
previous years general election would
have been a far more appropriate
time for such a display.
And on Brexit, London has been
leading the resistance. Under Sadiq
Khan's mayorship the insistence that
London is open for business, open to
all, and a welcoming and diverse
metropolis has been a beacon of hope
for many. Other large cities that voted
to remain have an example to follow.
The North-South divide is one thing
but in socioeconomic terms it's more
the South East-Rest of the Country
divide. In political terms, the London
elite are seen as distant from the rest
of the country. And, bizarrely, London
is seen as a land of wealthy bankers.
There are attempts to redress this
balance. The shift of institutions like
the BBC and ITV to the burgeoning
medialand of Salford have been very
Attempts at more regional
government have been less so.
It's always been my experience that
the rest of the UK has a certain level
of animosity to London. Which I've
always found perfectly legitimate as I
also believe London (as some sort of
monolith) has a certain level of disdain
for the rest of the country.
To me, part of this issue felt like the fact London
is so much larger than other UK cities.
But I had no idea whether that was normal.
So let's find out.
Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash
Second cities and their capitals
Thailand Peru Angola Argentina Philippines Afghanistan South Korea Chile France Indonesia DR Congo Bangladesh Kenya Malaysia Greece Mexico Zambia Zimbabwe Iran Iraq UK
Population of the capital city in lighter green, the second largest city in darker. Ordered by percentage difference.
is just 5% the size of
is 25% the size of
Only 21 countries have
second cities less than 25%
the size of the capital.
Dem Rep Congo
Capital, pop millions
Buenos Aires, 15.520
Kuala Lumpur, 7.820
Mexico City, 20.565
Second city, pop millions
Johor Bahru, 1.810
Melbourne is 98% the size of Sydney.
Mumbai is 85% the size of Delhi.
Kumasi is 76% the size of Accra.
Barcelona is 75% the size of Madrid.
Los Angeles is 72% the size of New York.
Onitsha is 56% the size of Lagos.
Montreal is 54% the size of Toronto.
Abu Dhabi is 46% the size of Dubai.
St Petersburg is 30% the size of Moscow.
These are the largest cities, but are not capital cities.
Many other countries including Italy, Morocco, South Africa,
UAE, the Netherlands, Germany, and Israel have cities or
urban areas larger than their capital according to this data.
The report shows only cities over a population of 500,000. Some
countries only have one city of that size, some have none. So these
results are only accurate as far as what is included in the report, my
own maths, and my own competence.
Source: Demographia World Urban Area Report 2018 (PDF)
Newcastle upon Tyne
% of London
Hang on a minute... Yes, these figures are different than others you may have seen.
The data on exactly how big cities are is surprisingly complicated. Which suburbs or
satellite towns should be included? How to count independent towns subsumed by
Some cities have been lumped together. In a practical sense Leeds and Bradford are
one large urban area. In a cultural sense it might not feel that way.
At the latest estimate there are 66 million people living in the UK.
While the numbers won't match exactly because of different sources
and newer figures we can guess that about 55 million of them don't
live in London, 84% of the population.
The 14 cities listed here contain 25,520,000 people - 38% of the UK
There are complications too. Generally Birmingham is been seen as the
UK’s second city. And is larger by some measurements. But shouldn’t
the "second city" title belong to Edinburgh, our second capital? Except
here Belfast is the larger of the union's capitals.
Yes, London is a good deal bigger than other UK cities.
This is definitely on the more unusual end of the spectrum.
What else does it mean? No idea.
Stunning visualisations of data on ethnicity from the 2011 census.
Wikipedia: Demography of London
Links and resources
My favourite museum here is the
Museum of London Docklands.
Located in a former warehouse in
East India Dock.
London is one of the loneliest
cities in the world.
I built Find Your Friendly to find
events, groups and hobbies to
meet in-person and make London
a bit less lonely.
BEST OF LONDON
Creative types should have a look
at Creative Mornings - a breakfast
lecture series for the creative
Trust For London are tackling
poverty and inequality in the
capital. They have independent
data, publications, funding, and
campaign on these issues.
A Population History of London. One of my favourite places in
London? The horological gallery at
the Science Museum.
TLF Travel Alerts has all your
surrealist spoof tube updates
For the country as a whole the
Bank of England has a thousand
years of population statistics.
Is working for families in the UK
where one in four children live in
Thank you for reading
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Cover and this photo by Tom Parsons on Unsplash