Last night, the think tank Policy Exchange launched a new, baby think tank called the Capital City Foundation, “devoted to the continued prosperity and progress of London”. Which is nice.
More importantly, however, the event featured a discussion of why, after years of post-war dominance, New York may be losing its crown as the unofficial capital of the world to London.
Ed Glaeser, native New Yorker, cities economist, and the delightfully named “Fred & Eleanor Glimp Professor” at Harvard, took to the stage, and explained why, in his opinion at least, London now has the edge over its rival. Granted, he was standing on a podium at the top of the Shard surrounded by Londoners at the time, but we like to believe he was being genuine nonetheless.
Here are a few of his main points.
Source: London Infrastructure Plan.
Over the last few weeks, London finally reached its pre-war population peak of 8.6m. The last available population figures for New York in 2013 estimated its population at around 8.4m.
Now we know that urban populations can be hard to compare, because boundaries and definitions vary from city to city (seriously, we go on about this all the time), and the official definition of London is far more inclusive than the official definition of NYC: compare unofficial metropolitan populations, and New York almost certainly still has the edge.
But London’s loss of status accompanied the loss of nearly a quarter of its population after the end of World War Two. The reverse in the population trend, then, implies a reverse in status, too.
2. Financial Sector
London’s financial services sector is ever-so-slightly larger than New York’s: it has around 340,000 employees to New York’s 322,000. New York currently holds the top spot on the Global Financial Centres Index, however, with a two-point lead on London.
Inner-city school normally have a reputation for poor results and crime, but London’s schools are actually better than the national average. In the US, Glaeser says, “I can’t think of a single major city in the states where this is the case”. Cities including New York also have a far lower high school graduation rate than rural and suburban areas.
From a piece Glaeser wrote for the Evening Standard yesterday:
The world has shifted in London’s direction. In 1950, New York was perfectly positioned between California and Western Europe. Nothing else mattered much economically. The rise of the Arab World in the Seventies, the emergence of Eastern Europe in the Nineties and India’s post-2000 successes have all improved London’s geography relative to New York.
This is a bit of a contentious one. Glaeser argues that the presence of central government in the UK’s largest city is a good thing, not a bad one. He argues that Parliament’s location means it’s “friendly” towards big London infrastructure projects like Underground extensions or Crossrail.
On the other hand, London’s city government has relatively little spending power compared to New York’s. Only 35 per cent of New York’s budget comes from central government grants; the rest is directly collected by the city through tax. Government control over London’s finances is far stronger – it controls around 93 per cent of the capital’s budget.
“London is just a fun place to be”. Thanks, Ed.
7. Job Growth
Between 2001 and 2012, the number of people working in London grew by 17 per cent, while in New York it grew by only 3 per cent. Ha.
Glaeser did end his panegyric with a warning, however: “London is too expensive… we need to build lots and lots more housing” (we completely agree).
Next to the stage was London mayor Boris Johnson (also, as it happens, born in New York), who had some rather punchier stats on why London has the upper hand:
London has twice as many bookshops as New York.
We also have a quarter of the murder rate.
London has 240 museums to New York’s 83.
Boris also tried to argue that London is home to more billionaires, but according to Business Insider, this isn’t the case – London has 72 to New York’s 110. To be honest, we’d rather have museums than billionaires anyway.
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