- Dramatically increasing property prices are putting cultural life in London under threat.
- A new Night Time Commission has been created to support London’s night time economy.
- In the wake of the 2012 Olympic Games, a £1.3 billion project is turning the former Olympic Park into a new cultural hub.
City data: Key facts
Geographical area: 1,572 sq. km
Total population: 7,825,200
Total national country population living in the city: 12.65 %
Working age population: 3,851,000
Number of households: 3,109,657
Foreign born population: 30.80 %
Education level - with degree level or higher: 41.90 %
Average income per capita per year (ppp): 20,182
Median gross weekly earnings (ppp): 430
GDP (ppp) (million): US$ 565,000
Creative industries employment: 12 %
Founded by the Romans, London has long been a major world city, with its connections developed over centuries through international trade and the world-spanning British Empire. The impact of Britain’s early industrial revolution meant that London was the world’s largest city through most of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Although the twentieth century saw the end of the Empire and the loss of Britain’s industrial base, London retained its sway based on its developed financial services sector and its cultural ‘soft power.’ Today it is reckoned alongside New York City as one of the two greatest world cities.
Today London has a population of nearly 9 million, making it the largest city in the European Union. In 2015 it surpassed its previous population peak in 1939, and it is projected to continue to grow quickly. It is an extremely diverse city, 37% foreign born and 40% non-white, with over 300 languages spoken. Much of its diversity is a legacy of the British Empire, but London has residents from all over the world. More recently it has experienced high immigration from the European Union and particularly from Eastern Europe.
Pre-eminent as a centre of financial and business services, London is also a centre of the cultural and creative industries, with an increasingly vibrant tech industry. Innovation and creativity are recognised as key ingredients of London’s success in a range of sectors including film, fashion and design.
London’s economic and cultural power has brought challenges, including increasing inequality. Its growing population and the scale of international investment has led to dramatic increases in property prices, with rapid development transforming London’s skyline by the day. Over a decade the price of housing in London has quintupled. This has specific impacts on artists: in 2014 it was predicted that 30% of artists’ studios would be lost within five years. But gentrification and the loss of public spaces is having a much wider impact upon the character of the city.
Over one third of London’s grassroots music venues have closed in less than a decade, threatening the city’s role as an incubator of new musical talent. In 2016 the Mayor established a Night Time Commission to report on ways to support London’s night time economy, and has appointed a new Night Czar with responsibilities inspired by Amsterdam’s Night Mayor model.
Cultural strategy in the city is the responsibility of the Greater London Authority (GLA). Its priorities include the protection of London’s cultural offer, support for major cultural activities, and promoting London’s cultural scene internationally. The GLA supports the Museum of London and organises the Fourth Plinth project, a series of temporary art installations in Trafalgar Square. It founded and chairs the World Cities Culture Forum, a network aiming to make culture a leading force in cities.
London is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, with over 30 million visitors per year. Of these, 80% say that their main reason for visiting is ‘culture and heritage.’ London has some of the most popular museums in the world – the British Museum, the Tate Modern and the National Gallery, all free to visit. The Tate Modern, located in the Bankside Power Station on the south bank of the Thames, opened in 2000 with 2 million visitors per year expected. It recently completed a £260m renovation and extension which added a ten-story building to the site and provides 60% more space. In the one month after its extension opened, the Tate Modern attracted 1 million visitors.
In 2012 London hosted the Olympics and Paralympic Games. This was used as an opportunity to accelerate the gentrification of East London, a traditionally deprived area which has now become a major centre for the cultural and creative industries. Hackney Wick, near the Olympic Park, has one of the highest concentrations of artists in Europe – although this is now under threat from further development. A £1.3 billion project is now underway to turn the Olympic Park site itself into a new cultural hub, formerly branded ‘Olympicopolis.’ This will include new campuses for University College London and the London College of Fashion, and sites for the Smithsonian, Sadlers Wells and the V&A.
Although the timeline for ‘Brexit’ has not yet been set, London’s future may be profoundly affected by the UK’s vote in June 2016 to leave the European Union. Its internationally connected economy depends upon the free flow of both capital and people, raising questions in particular about the future of the financial services industry. In the wake of Brexit the GLA launched a ‘London is Open’ campaign – involving artists and creatives – to send the message that London remains welcoming, tolerant and open to the world.
London remains one of the world’s leading cities, with its influence built in part upon its cultural soft power. Both its soaring property prices and the consequences of the Brexit vote have raised challenges to London’s future, but maintaining its unparalleled cultural offer is an important priority for the city.