Why London's Public Spaces Don't Measure Up

<em>The Economist</em> looks at the improvements made to London's public spaces over the last decade, as the city's first elected mayors strove to improve the capital city's environs. So why has the city failed to keep up with its global competitors?
July 16, 2012, 9am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The Economist recites an impressive list of public space improvements inaugurated since 2000 by the administrations of the city's first elected mayors - Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. Public led projects include Granary Square, the city's free cycle bank, and the pedestrianization of Trafalgar Square. The private sector and arts institutions have led other successful initiatives, as they recognized that "decent public space" is "an economic necessity."

So why would the eminent planner Jan Gehl, who in 2004 produced a report calling London a city "where car is king," continue to give the city low grades?

"Despite the improvements, Mr Gehl is not hugely impressed with London's progress. Trafalgar Square, he points out, still has traffic on three sides. Compared with other cities, he says, 'I don't think much has been done.' Progress in New York, by contrast-the pedestrianisation of Times and Madison Squares and the creation of a citywide cycling network-is 'amazing'."

"The problem comes down to governance," concludes The Economist. "While New York's mayor is all-powerful, London's shares power with 32 boroughs, which often have conflicting agendas. Visions are hard to realise without real power."


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Published on Saturday, June 30, 2012 in The Economist
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