London : The Tale Of Two Cities
Updated: Apr 29
In the decades following the 1950’s, London has massively boomed in both population and diversity. With the majority of migrants coming from commonwealth countries such as Jamaica or India, the capital’s vast abundance of diverse cultures has rapidly become London’s prominent selling point. There is no better place to observe the importance of international migration than London’s exciting and upcoming ‘East End’, with boroughs such as Newham and Tower Hamlets being the centre stage for newfound investment. With the world’s eyes on the area throughout the phenomenally successful 2012 Olympics, Stratford and its neighbouring districts have quickly shot into the lust and desires of many international migrants over the past decade.
With an influx of immigrants moving to London, in addition to the now-established financial potential in the region, it is almost certain the property market will see fluctuations. This comes as the Newham Observer reported that the borough is witnessing the fastest growing property prices in London, and 5th fastest in the UK as an entity. At the time of that report (January 2018), the average price of property within Newham was £402,731 – this showcases a gargantuan rise of £37,344 since the past year. Despite this swelling wealth seeming as if it is the cure to the region’s disparity, there is still a bouquet of potential drawbacks. A staggering 1 in 24 people are homeless in Newham, that is the highest of any area in the UK let alone the capital. As the price of property is driven sky high, so is the deprivation of the people who just cannot keep up. Granted, homelessness is the most serious and worst case scenario for anyone – however, the Borough of Newham is interestingly seeing the largest rate of white-British emigration of anywhere in the UK, standing at a monumental 37.5% between the 2001 and 2011 censuses. This already extortionate figure is predicted to rise by the 2021 census, thus vividly showcasing a significant shift in the overall demographic. It does bode the question: How does this change effect our economy? This is a complicated question that is naturally accompanied by a rather complex answer.
First instincts will point you in the direction of London’s already attractive levels of diversity, however the analysis delves much deeper. Unemployment rates in Newham are still relatively high at 5.5% , but the upcoming borough shows much higher employment opportunities than its local neighbours - Tower Hamlets to the west holding the highest unemployment (7.7%) in London and Barking and Dagenham coming a close second (6.9%) to the west. Rewind 5 years and Newham was in a much worse position. With an average unemployment rate of 8.8%, Newham held the rather unfortunate claim to having the 4th highest unemployment – only being topped by local colleagues Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham and Greenwich. However, following the economic catalyst that was the Olympics, Newham’s fate has drastically changed its course.
The 2012 Olympics are often described as the greatest thing to ever happen to London. Across the 16 days of events, over 10,500 athletes from 205 nations turned the world’s spotlight onto a once known brownfield site. It has been reported that the proposed plans of Stratford’s regeneration played an influential role in swinging the Olympic bid away from Paris in favour of London. Ever since the first day of constructing the Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park began in 2006, the region seems to have economically evolved at lightning pace. With brand new infrastructure sprouting up across the region, notably the modernised Westfield shopping centre, employment opportunities have grown therefore pushing Newham to its ‘West End’ alternatives. The London Development Agency (LDA) has relentlessly driven up the overall wealth of the region, potentially leading to some rather upsetting stories. Over the past decade, multiple respected news outlets have showcased the endless cases of evictions from estates that have not survived the transformation. Its clear and obvious to observe that is beneficial for the city’s image – however, there does lie a subdued aftertaste of socio-economic deprivation. However, once you hop on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR for short) and commute the 3 miles south, you are presented with the beating core of London’s financial district; somewhere where money flows more than water…
Ever since Canary Wharf gained its first tenants in 1991, the towering skyscrapers have become London’s gates to the much wider financial world. In the years that followed, all the big names saw the economic potential with trans-national corporations such as Citibank and Credit Suisse moving in. I do not believe that international migration ends at the movement of people, it also entails the money they bring with them. Since the so-called ‘deregulation of London’ in the Thatcher Era, London has immersed itself further into the complex wiring of the global economy. Now, I am no economist but what I am seeing is another intriguing shift. The City of London has always been seen as the fulcrum of the capital’s commerce, and it still plays a pivotal role in propping up the country’s economy. However, there is a new financial phoenix rising out the ashes in a place once described as ‘derelict and poverty-ridden’. These immaculate glass walls and abstract water features are now unrecognisable to its former brownfield façade. London has historically been a tale of two cities – with the glamourous lights of the glitzy ‘West End’ seemingly blinding the eyes of the run-down East. However, with the influx of diversity and culture splashing the east side of the capital, the Victorian buildings of the west are quickly falling inferior of appeal to the trendy, upcoming east.
Wealth is dynamic meaning it moves from place not only in London, but on a worldwide spectrum too. With some of the world’s finest sporting venues and the highly imperative international transport links of Stratford International Station and London City Airport, it is not just migration that is bringing the wealth of the world to London’s feet. PWC released a series of fascinating reports in March 2017, documenting that 38% of London’s 5.2 million strong workforce were born overseas and that almost 50% of all construction workers were also foreign. Meanwhile, one statistic vibrantly showcases the true economic value of international migrants. It is estimated that London’s 1.8 million migrant workers contribute a staggering £83 billion per annum. This statistic should not be seen as just a number, but as appraisal to what the migrant community does for our small yet great island nation.
Immigration has forever been a highly contested and controversial issue, often swinging the pendulum of popularity for political manifestos. I hope we can envisage a future where economic migrants are completely accepted into our society, without anyone who sees a future in our country facing frankly unacceptable abuse or discrimination. Even when walking down the streets of Camden, the stunning infusion of smells and taste holds great reminiscence to the far-flung streets of Bangkok. London grew as a city of great diversity, often being exhibited within the star-studded theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue, of course accompanied by its quintessentially British underbelly. As time shifts, so do trends. Over the past decade, the worlds eyes have shifted to east – subsequently leading to the rise of Newham. We must celebrate this newfound wealth; however, the true value lies within the hoards of people that make up the community. In times like these, when the wider world is not readily accessible, diversity lies as the sole foundation of London. Local authorities must try harder to preserve affordable housing in order to support less fortunate communities whilst also heavily investing into the overall appeal of the city as an entity. Using the words of Charles Dickens, London still is a tale of two cities. However, these two cities are growing closer and closer in its wealth – and this wealth does not only include money. Old vs New. History vs Future. Stone vs Glass. This creates a sensational melting pot of cultures and attitude – and that alone is what makes London so fantastically unique!