UCL News


The London Debate

24 April 2008

Why are the London Mayor elections so critical for London's future? What issues will the new Mayor face? What are the main challenges facing London? These and other questions will be debated at an Urban Salon event hosted at UCL (University College London), in which speakers from four London universities will explore the social, political and spatial trends likely to shape London's future and the issues facing the elected London Mayor.

Speakers at the London Debate will be Dr Loretta Lees, KCL (King's College London); Professor Peter Hall, UCL (University College London); Professor Ian Gordon, LSE (London School of Economics); and Professor Michael Keith, Goldsmiths College. The debate will take place on Monday 28 April 2008 at 6:00pm in the Pearson Building, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.

Professor Matthew Gandy, Director of UCL Urban Laboratory which is hosting the event, says: "The London elections matter. Who wins will determine whether London becomes more or less liveable for the majority of its inhabitants. If Boris Johnson wins, this could be damaging for the city if he decides to scale back on major transport plans, reneges on commitments to affordable housing or undervalues race relations and community cohesion. Equally, Ken Livingstone, if re-elected, must press on with his plans to improve public transport and push for more affordable housing."

Professor Michael Keith, Goldsmiths, says: "The election race to become London Mayor appears to be principally about personalities and ideological differences between the two leading candidates. Yet at stake is another agenda that is perhaps more significant: the model of governance of the city. The governance settlement between central government, city hall and the boroughs is up for grabs. This includes the future of London's planning system, major issues of crime, migration and housing; participatory and representative democracy; delivery of the Olympics and the ecological footprint of the city. It is against these issues that we should measure not just the incumbent's track record, but the likely outcomes of the election on restructuring the balance of electoral powers in the capital."

Professor Peter Hall, UCL Bartlett School of Planning, says: "London is a place in constant motion: a place of almost constant change and instability, where in recent years the extent and speed of such changes has become much greater, affecting many more areas more rapidly, and in turn putting greater pressure on the city's planners and dwellers. The Mayor will have to respond to these pressures rapidly and flexibly. But a long-term strategic plan is also vital. The key issues are whether London should develop around a twin core of the City and Canary Wharf, or in a more polycentric fashion; how far, and in what ways, London should densify its residential areas; and how transport investment should help facilitate the chosen strategy."

Dr Loretta Lees, KCL, says: "Gentrification is a term coined in London in 1964 by sociologist Ruth Glass to describe a neighbourhood process pioneered by a liberal new middle class. Gentrification in London today is promoted by New Labour, the GLA and local boroughs under the guise of 'urban renaissance' and 'mixed communities' rhetoric. London is becoming both more gentrified (from the lofts in Clerkenwell to the ex-council towerblock in Deptford that is now a designer gated high-rise, to the Aylesbury Estate being redeveloped as a mixed community) and re-gentrified (such as the ultra-wealthy super-gentrifiers in Barnsbury, flush with the rewards of the City). Only a minority of gentrifiers have retained the pro-social mixing ideologies of their pioneers; most others prefer to mix only with people like themselves. This will no doubt lead to polarization and have potentially detrimental effects on the communities in London that gentrification is supposed to be helping."

Professor Ian Gordon, LSE, says: "The London Mayor's job is to make long-term strategic plans for the city's economy, transport and development. More immediate issues such as the shape of buses and congestion charging often come to the fore, but it is the major strategic choices that will determine the welfare of Londoners. The current enthusiasm for more tall buildings, densification in the suburbs, priority for CrossRail over the city's other transport needs, and moving growth eastwards all stem from a single-minded vision of London as a global city. Much more discussion is needed of the implications of this strategic view for the economic inequality in London, and the inherent instability of its economy. London must make the most of the diversity of peoples, skills and economic activities which is its greatest economic asset, but which is under-valued at present."

The Urban Salon is a new seminar series aimed at scholars, artists, practitioners and others exploring urban experiences. Discussions will aim to inform thinking about cities, expose commonalities across different settings, and decentre the dominance of European and US understandings of urbanity. The initiative is supported by the UCL Urban Laboratory, Goldsmiths College, The Open University, The LSE Centre for Urban Research, King's College London and Brunel University.

Notes for Editors

1. For more information or to register for the debate, please contact Jenny Gimpel in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9726, mobile: +44 (0)7747 565 056, out of hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk.

2. The London Debate takes place on Monday 28April 2008 at 6:00pm in the Pearson Lecture Theatre, Pearson Building, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT. The debate is part of a series of evening talks hosted by the Urban Salon.