In my last post I briefly outlined the concept of global business cities and how these cities develop strategies in order to attract international capital and consumers. In this post I will try to explain why London is global city, I will highlight the key feature of its development strategy and describe how its local cultural resources have been turned into comparative advantages in the context of the international competition.
In London, the urban tissue has been formed since the Middle Ages and especially after the 16th century, when the growth of entrepreneurship and trade accelerated - at this point ii is good to remember that it was then, that the property of the Catholic church was passed on to individuals, in accordance with the terms of the religious reform. The early consolidation of parliamentarism and the powerful liberal voices on the English political scene allowed for its further development in social, cultural and artistic terms. Today London is one of the world's most powerful business cities and is one of the largest financial centres in the modern world: London is ranked 5th in the global economy based on GDP and Britain is at the top of the international ranking of robust economies, based on quantitative indicators of economic performance, for example, GDP, per capita income etc.. The most developed sectors in London are finance, commerce, b2b, telecommunications, IT, medical services and R&D. The liberal socio-political background of this city gives way in the human expression, from the media and public speaking, to the independent academic research, the arts, or the street fashion. Since the last century, London is established as a global city and attracts investors, professionals and artists from around the world, who find here their viable space for personal growth and expression, and opportunities for high profitability and great networking. Today, around 300 different languages are spoken in London, which is considered to be the most popular tourist destination (according to the international arrivals in the London airports). At the forefront of technological developments and always willing to incorporate new concepts, London is considered to be one of the most scientifically progressive and socially diverse cities in the world.
London invests in preserving and advertising its particular architectural features and is considered by many (I do include myself here) to be one of the most interesting cities in the world by architectural criteria: Medieval castles (such as the Tower of London) co-exist here with Gothic temples (such as the Anglican Church of All Saints), Renaissance buildings (e.g. the Banqueting House and St Paul's Cathedral), neoclassical buildings (for example the Bank of England), the glass skyscrapers in the city, Art Deco bridges on Thames, industrial buildings, modern buildings, and the Barbican's beautiful brutalistic complex, composing a unique urban landscape. So, the London experience is not exhausted in the traditionally popular travel destinations, luxury hotels, museums and royal. The urban gentrification has highlighted various alternative aspects of the city: industrial buildings, factories, tobacco stores and open-air markets are being recreated and attract a new audience, which is interested in the city's alternative narrative, in the shadow of luxurious areas, like Kensington, Mayfair και Belgravia. Post-industrial and underground aesthetics are in an open dialogue with the traditional urban landscape, creating new bold environments that serve and co-shape a new lifestyle, which is linked to the qualities of extroversion, tolerance to diversity, and focus on what underlies. Examples of such areas are Covent Garden, Soho and Notting Hill, with their beautiful, colourful outdoor markets, improvised recreation areas, products, cuisines and music from around the world.
The cultural footprint of London is this: pluralism, freedom, tolerance, social responsibility. This is what makes London different than any global business city. A place where people come not only to opt for high-profile jobs, but also to live the London experience: the social, moral and artistic freedom that forms the principal value of the city.
Does London’s strategy verify the validity of the cultural shift in Geography? It certainly does. In my next article I will aim to give another example of a global city, which –unlike London- has been set up as such, from scratch.