The New World Cities Are For Workers Only

Commuters on London Bridge

Commuters on London Bridge

It’s like playing Sim City for real – how do mayors attract companies to their working hubs?

In Europe the question is taking on new resonance as workforces gets used to handling dual-city living, not always through choice; I have colleagues split-shifting between London and Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels, Madrid and Cologne, even London to Brighton, endless commutes to fit the new global economy.

Inevitably, this leads to a blurring of identity and a strong sense that you’re losing ‘Quality of Life’. Switzerland, the prettiest, richest and most boring part of Europe, has a stable work population partly because it’s not a country but a confederation of four regions and is not in the EU. London, a city with a highly fluid workforce, no longer features on Quality of Life lists at all.

It’s not hard to see why when the Mayor must prioritise the city’s workers, although he doesn’t help matters by ignoring issues like pollution in favour of vanity projects designed to appeal to tourism.

In Paris, with a big commuting population, the Mayor has started an electric bike hire scheme. Guangzhou has a massive commuting workforce and a population of 44 million, and has provided better transport links than London, but in September London gets night tubes. and will soon have Crossrail, the first East to West system of public transport. When your resident city undergoes improvements, it’s worth remembering they’re probably not aimed at you unless you’re in an office.

In Barcelona the workforce is highly stable, and the mayor is concentrating on quality of life for the residents. She’s called time on hotel-building, and when they needed to provide new homes they’ve come up with a clever way of not wrecking the city’s fabric.

London downgrades its residents’ problems in favour of big business, allowing advertising, light, air and pollution to expand to hitherto unimaginable levels. Every park is rented out to private concerns, every public space is monetised, while matters which affect the non-working population – health, sleep quality, pedestrianisation (cycle deaths are daily news) don’t warrant a mention in the rush for international money.

The answer is work in a work-prioritised city and live in a residential one – hence my choice of split-shifting my weeks between London and Barcelona. It’s schizophrenic but keeps me sane.


One comment on “The New World Cities Are For Workers Only”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    I like the modules and bringing them in already built means that the street level disruption is really minimal. I heard an interview with the chair of the city’s housing committee, who was asked what city hall was doing in the light of complaints from at least one man who is now ready to move a second time after the rental buildings he’s lived in were sold to developers who were tearing them down to build high end condos. She replied that people who bought the condos often rented them out so there would be some rental accommodation. I almost threw things through the radio. Imagine relying on non-resident owners to provide the rental accommodation every city needs. And our city council is supposedly left wing. (Oh, and the lack of low cost rental housing is the problem of the province and the federal boys because they built the Skytrain that brings these poor people into our neighbourhood. I didn’t go to last night’s meeting because I didn’t have anyone to grab my arm and make me shut up.

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