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Can London be saved? The reanimation of the city brings a sense of foreboding

"Each new skyscraper feels like an act of violence." Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty

"Each new skyscraper feels like an act of violence." Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty


May 3, 2021   7 mins

On a clear day, from the top of the road in south London where I grew up, you can see one of the broadest views of the British capital. It presents a crenelated horizon of the whole city: from Wembley’s arch in the far north-west, past The Shard and the jumbled towers of the Square Mile, to Canary Wharf, looming over the Thames.

London looks extraordinary from up here, immortal in its way, a proving ground for the capitalist dream of unending growth. In all the time I have lived here, I have never felt so blissfully remote from the economic forces embodied by that view. Since the imposition of the first lockdown last March, I have scarcely crossed the river, let alone loitered in the cultural and commercial districts, which, in times of normality, so often coaxed millions of us into their gleaming centre

In many respects, this has been a tonic. During these months of geographical constraint, our preoccupations have become localised, almost parochial: the vexatious subject of “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods”; the question of which local park cafes serve alcohol.

Only now, as Covid restrictions ease and a mayoral election comes into focus, has that spell started to break. With it comes a need to look back to that horizon, and return to the issues besetting the city at large.

The rogue’s gallery of candidates for the mayoralty betrays a city which, like the wider country, remains ill at ease with itself. To rose-tinted liberals, London is still the ultimate city, a cradle of tolerant coexistence, the place where multiculturalism works. To those on the histrionic Right, London is anarchy, plagued by terror-attacks, no-go zones and spiralling crime.

The truth, inevitably, is somewhere in between. London is not a Powellian ruin. But, for a lifelong resident like me, it is no longer possible to pretend that it is a unified, contented and enviable place either. Indeed, the most disturbing question raised in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire has not gone away: how did London become a place that no longer functions for those who live here?

I suspect the answer, if it could be boiled down into a single word, would be property. In my other life, I do occasional work as a landscape gardener, tending the lawns and flowerbeds of south London’s more affluent inner-suburbs. Recently, a neighbour sidled up to me to complain about the homogenisation of her neighbourhood. I wrote about this very subject last year for UnHerd.

Next door to where I was working, someone with a lot of money had commissioned an overhaul of their semi, and the excavation conveyors were churning all day long, puking up London clay to make space for a new basement. “When we moved here 40 years ago, I was a junior legal researcher, my husband was an assistant lecturer,” the neighbour said, over the din. “This road was all teachers and police officers. Public servants. Now it’s just bankers, bankers, bankers.”

How did this happen? The erosion of London’s social-housing stock, which once inoculated the city against the creation of rich and poor ghettoes, is certainly one reason; the globe-trotting tendencies of the super-rich another. Disproportionate city incomes have furnished a portion of residents with the financial leverage to recast an area overnight if it becomes popular with a certain milieu, while the suburban dream, which only 20 years ago still lured people out of the inner-city, seemed, prior to Covid, to have expired.

Together, these processes have combined to dissolve London’s mixed communities, as well as the post-war history of town-planning which once ensured that no area of affluence could become an island, aloof from the rest of society.

The emptiness of Central London’s commercial quarters over the past year was prefigured long before in the city’s slew of new luxury residential developments, which have been devoid of people ever since they were finished. To walk through places like the Nine Elms Regeneration Area in the early months of 2020 was to enter a grotesque dystopia of late capitalism run amok.

All over town, vast welters of such towers are still in the throes of construction, invariably encircled by hoardings depicting attractive people at rest and play. But residents know that these apartments are less homes to be lived in than bricks-and-mortar commodities; investment opportunities that until recently were seen as safer than any government bond.

The sense of dislocation created by these joyless plazas is in large part architectural. London used to be a low-slung city, but these towers are vertiginous and carbuncular, looming over the besieged remnants of what came before.

Arguably more significant than their aesthetic dissonance was the social upheaval they precipitated. As these towers grew, socio-demographic lines that once felt blurred became abrupt and pronounced, as people moved into economic enclaves and poverty was pushed outwards into peripheries and ghettoes of disadvantage. Traditional places of commonality, where shoulders rubbed, soon disappeared.

Prior to lockdown, I was frequently struck by the way in which once-diverse high streets were evolving to reflect these more stratified times: the poorer areas with their betting and pawn shops, the wealthier ones lined with estate agents, restaurants and prim cafes. Our civic spaces and landmarks were being commodified, as cash-strapped councils looked to make up budget shortfalls by monetising their assets, repurposing public libraries into private gyms. Boundaries, both real and imagined, had started to rise across the inner-city.

As established communities fractured and dissipated, the streets began to feel more febrile. People in their 30s, unable to afford the cost of raising a family here, were starting to leave in droves. And we who remained were left with a curious sense that we were an inconvenient vestige of a city that no longer exists, obdurate stone buildings amidst a forest of steel and glass.

Pre-pandemic London remained successful in many ways: as a summer playground for the super-rich; as a giant laundromat for the global kleptocracy; as an iconographic background for tourist photos and the glossy pages of a Hong Kong realtor’s brochure. But as a constellation of established communities? Not anymore; London’s covenant was coming undone.

The misery this has imposed in the city’s margins is all too easy to ignore. The more obvious victims, such as the council tenants living in mould-infested tower blocks, are rarely heard. Their abasement, like so much which afflicts the London underclass, is hidden away, in foodbanks concealed behind council estates, or displaced out of town.

But to focus exclusively on such misery is to miss a wider, more inchoate malaise — of a city adrift, changing in ways its residents don’t condone. Cities are always prone to endless flux, but when a city changes this fast, and on such an inhuman scale — when it starts to wear its inequality so gaudily — it is impossible to live here without feeling unmoored.

Suddenly, each new skyscraper feels like an act of violence; each house renovation a desecration. Wealthy newcomers appear not as new neighbours but as colonisers; hipster beards and vintage shops become hallmarks of an enemy within. Each international bar or cafĂ©, an effigy of the melting pot it supplanted, becomes a reminder that London’s hallowed diversity is often merely ornamental — a desirable backdrop so long as it doesn’t press too close.

So much of our yearning for the London we’ve lost seems ostensibly counter-intuitive. The city I grew up in was hardly an urban paradise. Many of my most vivid memories are recalled with a maternal hand at my back, ushering me past scenes of a recessional metropolis, rendered in grey. Cardboard shanties still proliferated beneath the Southbank undercrofts; on Oxford Street, grifters peddled counterfeit perfume from splayed suitcases. Back then the air was tubercular, the Thames flowed an effluent brown, and every road seemed dappled with litter, chewing gum, and dog shit in varying stages of putrefaction.

Yet I still yearn for that time before it was all cleaned-up and prettified. Before the pigeon-feed sellers had been turfed from Trafalgar Square. The other day I saw a car with a bumper-sticker which read: “Make Peckham Shit Again”, and I couldn’t help but smile at the oxymoron it conveyed. We have become a paradox: the progressive city nostalgic for the past.

Meanwhile, apologists for the gentrification of inner-London exonerate its degradations with platitudes about “market forces” — it’s just another reality of late capitalism, up there with sweat-shop labour and the atrophying high-street. It is something we grumble about on social media, but, for the most part, can’t bring ourselves to protest over because it would be like screaming at the tide.

Besides, don’t these market forces come with perks? As a tsunami of foreign property investment increased demand for a stagnating supply, and successive governments tailored housing policy to sustain the boom, those of us who own homes have seen their value rocket. In recent decades, owning a house in London has become the UK’s easiest path to fast cash. This is the city’s guilty secret: that so many of us have suckled on this indemnity that we cannot admit its inherent madness.

The 2016 Brexit vote exposed the intractability of these hypocrisies, as the predominantly Left-leaning city found itself in a Faustian pact, at once lamenting the financial sector’s malignant influence but terrified at the implications of its potential evacuation. Combined with the effects of the pandemic, suddenly an economy predicated on casino banking and rentier capitalism feels frail, one fiscal paroxysm from catastrophe.

Perhaps this is why we were so ready to let it go; so prepared, when Covid provided the pretext, to retreat into our respective streets, leaving the inner city to get on with its fire-sale unscrutinised.

It remains to be seen what long-term impact the Covid year will have on London’s trajectory. It doesn’t seem wholly naïve to hope that its resuscitation of civic engagement might act as a breakwater against the city’s atomisation and its darkening mood. Lockdown has forced its neophiles to engage with their local neighbourhoods, and stalled the speculation that was so ruthlessly reshaping them. In some respects, at least, the last year could prove to be for the city’s benefit.

But, still, London’s reanimation brings with it a sense of foreboding. The fact that the wider city has only really registered over the last year as a backdrop to ill-tempered protest — in images of marching lockdown sceptics and police cordons defending Churchill’s statue — may foreshadow a summer of discontent, as the city’s unleashed energy turns sour and the economic fall-out from Covid starts to pinch.

Amid the excitement of rebirth, the queasy feeling many of us experience upon seeing roads thronged with traffic and parks strewn with revellers’ litter serves as a reminder that one of the intractable problems with London is that there are a lot of people. And people are often unbearable.

Now the giant stirs. The mayor will have a job to do.


Henry Wismayer is a writer and gardener based in London.

henrywismayer

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Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

I recall John Cleese being attacked for daring to say that London had ceased being an English city. Malicious truths can be uncomfortable, but they are also true.

N Millington
N Millington
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Nah this is just funny.
London is the most English city. It represents everything the English vote for. Over centralised authoritarian rot, where people are shipped in en masse to do work that their so called betters don’t want to do. Where you stack people as high as you can in places that will kill them if they set on fire, because ‘red tape is bad’ and ‘government doesn’t work.
London is a Thatcherite paradise disguised as an ethnic wonderland. If you want to see how the modern left see a city becoming, look more towards Manchester with its glassy skyscrapers, endless building, powerful mayorality, amazing suburbs and regenerating docks.
Spend time in Manchester and it becomes obvious what London is missing – too much money, too little care about people.

Last edited 3 years ago by N Millington
Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
2 years ago
Reply to  N Millington

Do you think ‘glassy skyscrapers’ are a good thing?

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago

It takes some skill, or at least nerve, to write an article about the transformation of London and not mention immigration at all, especially when the basic argument is about the fragmentation of society. There have always been class/social divisions in London – their nature may have changed a bit in recent decades, but not by as much as the author thinks and not always for the worst. What’s new is the massive growth in immigration, with never any explicit support gained from the native population – yes, I’m talking mainly about you, Tony Blair! I’m not saying immigration does not have some benefits, but I don’t think increased community cohesion is one of them and I can’t see any attraction from ‘diversity’ as an end in itself.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Jonathan Portes can take all the credit, it’s his personal obsession, Blair was happy to go along.

rory.kinsella3
rory.kinsella3
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

A place where multiculturalism work s Really ? An epidemic of knife crime mostly from one community .multiculturalism works not in London it does nt the attack s on jews in north London also mostly from an orther community .

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
3 years ago
Reply to  rory.kinsella3

Is the “one community” composed of immigrants from the Subcontinent who are neither Hindu nor Sikh? As an American, I have my suspicions but don’t know for sure.

Last edited 3 years ago by Tom Krehbiel
zac chang
zac chang
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Krehbiel

Nope the racism is directed at a different community nice try though…

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

WELL SAID Dawson. Immigration of the wrong kind has wrecked London, it could have been the most amazing city in the world if migration had only been allowed to the ones who would add, rather than subtract.

Chris Hopwood
Chris Hopwood
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Bojo has given immigration rights to 3 million Hong Kong citizens – those that come will want to live in crowded London

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Hopwood

They’re welcome.
The illiterate monoglot Bangladeshi villagers, married to their uncle and with the dirt still between their toes, not so much.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago

London is becoming a s h i t hole, aided and abetted by each one of its pathetic, useless mayors.
Excellent article, though I don’t entirely agree with the point about gentrification. Those nice big Georgian and Victorian houses were built as family houses for the middle classes, and it is their post-war conversion to flats and HMOs that was historically anomalous. Doing them up improves the look of the neighbourhood and brings useful local employment and generally makes life more pleasant. Nothing wrong with it. The thing which is criminal is those cavernous, soulless, empty developments such as Nine Elms, often no more than money laundering vehicles for dodgy crooks, mostly from overseas. Would it be too difficult to require evidence of residency before purchase, like the Swiss do?

Last edited 3 years ago by Andrew D
Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Would it be too difficult to require evidence of residency before purchase, like the Swiss do?

Well said! A policy along those lines, perhaps with suitable local modifications via by-laws, would ameliorate a number of this country’s most intractable social difficulties. Such difficulties include the pricing out of local people by owners of second homes.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

It would be good to know how many of these residences are actually usually empty and used as second/third/fourth residences. The answer, I suspect, is not many. It is not easy to make money by buying expensive property and leaving it empty. There are those who have country weekend residences and town weekday pads of course. But that would not fail any residency test.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Thank you for raising this.
I think we’re both aware that the issue of what I have described as “second homes” is especially acute in areas such as mine — Cornwall. And it is acute in the part of west Wales where I was brought up. Homes are bought for their nearness to the sea etc. Perhaps I should have written “holiday homes” — for that is what they usually are; and there are countless ones here that are occupied for only a few weeks each year.
There’s food for thought about the kinds of residences you describe — “country weekend residences and town weekday pads”. However, on the whole, that kind of regular urban-to-rural switching is not a dominant factor in second-home ownership in Cornwall or west Wales. We are just too far away from any large urban centres.
The problem seems to be worse in the UK than in some other countries, because here market forces have free rein. I’m aware of restrictions on property purchase and on holiday homes in other countries, and of financial penalties that discourage such holiday-home purchase; but I don’t know the details. It seems that there are no easy solutions.
In Cornwall, local councils have passed by-laws that are attempting to address this issue, typically by using planning permission restrictions on new-build housing. But it seems to me that something more substantial is needed to level the playing field a bit in such places. Again, no easy solutions.

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

I think you’re right. Who actually needs more than one home, especially it is means pricing out of the market somebody more in need? As you say, there’s no easy answer, and I’m not sure that by-laws or restrictions on purchase are desirable. Perhaps we just have to try and make it morally and socially unacceptable, like spitting or dropping litter.
(Owning a house and making it available for holiday lets is different – it’s likely to be occupied for more of the year, and visitors are more likely to contribute to the local economy)

Last edited 3 years ago by Andrew D
Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

I think people buy them as ‘savings accounts’ They don’t need to live in or rent them they are just very lucrative places to put cash. Have you seen interest rates on savings recently?

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
3 years ago

Here’s one way to think of it: Owning stuff amounts to participating in “asset bubbles”. Economists tell us that there’s been little inflation, but they’re just looking in the wrong places. Sure, cheap stuff from China may be cheap, but all that cheap money post-2008 has inflated housing prices, stock markets, healthcare costs, and the costs of higher education. So, owning stuff (including 2nd homes) protects one from inflation. But young people who have yet to buy an “asset” (like a house) get left further and further behind.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
3 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Not many residences usually empty, you “suspect.”

Or rather, hope.

London is indeed the giant open-air vivisection lab for global capitalism that the article laments.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

Most Vauxhall, Nine Elms ,(Exclude US Embassy) Docklands flats were built with Russian Oligarch,Chinese Pension funds,or Arabic oil money..Great many are Empty or too small for habitation.

Last edited 3 years ago by Robin Lambert
Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

Better/safer/more interest than money in the bank though

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Also doesn’t it occur to the new owners that if the Georgians and Victorians didn’t have a basement or cellar it was probably for a good reason ie the Thames? Can’t they stop pop stars and the like with their excavations?

Andrew D
Andrew D
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Lots of houses had a cellar, for coal, wine etc. But I agree with you, mega-excavations for cinema rooms, gyms etc should simply be banned

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew D

… the point about gentrification. Those nice big Georgian and Victorian houses were built as family houses for the middle classes, and it is their post-war conversion to flats and HMOs that was historically anomalous. 

Absolutely – i keep banging on about that since long. Not confined to London, anywhere you look the historic hearts of cities and towns were hollowed out and repopulated by the global underclass. A revolting and criminal process of lumpenproletarisation. And they even have the nerve of talking about “gentrification”.

Last edited 3 years ago by Johannes Kreisler
steve horsley
steve horsley
3 years ago

you,unfortunately,have the chance to get rid of a mayor who has sat back and watched as london suffocates under a flood of stabbings,muggings and murder,yet he s over the hill and far away in the polls.because of his connections and affiliations,the man who cares more about his public image and his reelection than his citizens,will return for another term of stagnation.london sees itself as a state separate from the state yet it will allow itself to be managed by a pigmy.london deserves better.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  steve horsley

London definitely deserves better but they keep voting for the muslim mayor; irrespective of his achievements/ lack of

Chris Hopwood
Chris Hopwood
3 years ago

So why won’t the Tories put up a serious candidate against him??

Anthony Roe
Anthony Roe
3 years ago

The English tax system works largely by consent developed over many generations. Only the English working and middle classes paid taxes voluntarily. The English working class has left and the middle classes are rapidly following. The super rich in the gated enclaves will be paying out colossal sums for maintenance and security and they are not going to be bothered about libraries or parks. Getting the Somalis and Estonians to agree on a level of taxation and what it should be spent on will prove an intractable problem.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Anthony Roe

How many Estonians are in London?
Putting Estonians and Somalis in the same level is utterly risible.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

How many Estonians are in London? Possibly more than there are in Estonia, at least until Covid, if one believes the stories about the depopulation of the Baltic states.

Johannes Kreisler
Johannes Kreisler
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Estonia in particular – and the Baltic states in general – are becoming pretty quick the high-end, top class of Europe to live in. Think Scandinavia minus the cesspit conditions brought upon by wokery / thirdworld immigration. In hindsight the Baltics may have dodged a very nasty bullet by being colonised by the soviets. It was a big upfront price to pay though.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

A better question might be how many Etonians are in London? And is it enough?

Patricia Ewing
Patricia Ewing
3 years ago

How do you write such an article and neglect to mention unchecked immigration?

Last edited 3 years ago by Patricia Ewing
Matthew Steeples
Matthew Steeples
3 years ago

A well written article and sadly spot on in so many regards. I will be voting for Max Fosh and Count Binface this week simply because the mainstream parties have put up such appallingly sh*t candidates. Frankly, the position of Mayor of London would be better abolished than the prospect of yet another toad to follow the toads Livingstone, Johnson and Khan. God help us all.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

Thanks for the Max Fosh tip. I was going for Count Binface but wasn’t sure where to put the second cross.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago

So, in short, get rid of the rich people and everything will be better. I think you’re about to find out how well that works.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

Come back Boudicca, all is forgiven.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

She did nothing for which she needed to forgiven.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Clearly Romans disagree(d) with your sentiment.

Jim
Jim
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

What did the Romans ever do for us?

(Sorry, I’ll get my coat 🙂 )

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The Legatus (Governor) Suetonius Paulinus ‘got the boot’, after Nero’s enforcer one Polyclitus discovered the true facts.

James Newman
James Newman
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Stockholm Syndrome? The colonised sympathising with the colonisers? Next, you’ll be telling us that CMBS trading is a benefit to humanity.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Don’t get me started on Boudicca. Successfully massacred women, children and old men then somehow led an enormous army to total defeat. Why do we deify her?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

Well she did give the Legate Quintus Petillius Cerialis and Legio IX Hispana a damned good thrashing if nothing else.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago

Don’t think it was her and the Iceni that did for the IXth. It was more likely your bugbears the Scotch, as you are wont to call them.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

I think the Iceni got there first, destroying an estimated 2,000 (4 Cohorts).
However you are right, in that some years later under Agricola the IXth took another hammering from the Caledonians.

Off course the ‘big’ question is what ultimately happened to the IXth? Was it annihilated later in Caledonia or far away in Parthia? Archaeology may provide the answer someday.

As you know during this period the Scotch (Scotti) were tucked up in the Glens of Antrim, & had yet to make their appearance on the stage of Britannia.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

The IX disappears from the record having last been seen in northern England, but the historical record is incomplete and pace Rosemary Sutcliffe there’s no reason to suppose they came to any harm.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago

The mystery endures. I believe reference to the IXth was found on an inscribed wall slab in Holland, but little else. Given the legion was overwhelmingly made up of auxiliaries captured across Europe, there was some theory of a mass mutiny followed by disbandment and dispersal.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

Yes you are correct, a tile, stamped by the Legion has turned up at the site of the Legionary Fortress of Nijmegen. It post dates the last inscription of the IXth in York by about ten years.

Incidentally the Legion was not “overwhelming made up of auxiliaries captured across Europe” Who told you that?
All were Roman Citizens (I trust you understand that concept?), freely enlisted for 25 years, in the hope of receiving about 13/14 years gross salary on discharge. (We think about 60% of them made it.)

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago

I learnt that in the Roman British history part of Latin ‘O’ Level (dates self!). Used to work on digs at marching camps in Perthshire (ironically as a school punishment!) and know all about citizenship from compulsory Roman Law as part of law tripos.

Will look up text books retained from that era and revert with anything I can find on the auxiliaries score. There was a theory in the ‘70s that the IXth were ambushed on a march south in the upper Forth valley, having emerged into the floodplain from the uplands and their series of marching camps that stretched at identical intervals all the way to Mons Graupius. Ironically the area is known locally as Flanders Moss and is boggy, flat and pinned between the southern Highland boundary and the foothills of the Campsies.

Last edited 3 years ago by Duncan Hunter
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

Well I suppose there is always a chance that the graveyard of the IXth maybe found, rather like Varus’s Legions were at Kalkriese in 1989.
As to Auxiliaries I think you will find that they were not Roman Citizens and joined to receive the Citizenship after 25 years service, amongst other things.
Also by the ‘Ius Conubian’ any girlfriend/bellywarmer they may have ‘acquired’ plus any resulting b*****d children also became Citizens. A great system I think you will agree?

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago

Indeed, but one hell of a commitment to attain manumission!

Yes, agree auxiliaries weren’t citizens until they passed this ultimate test.

The aged textbooks I could find refer to the IX having ‘additional cohorts’ of auxiliaries – so I concede on that one! In I.A. Richmond’s “Roman Britain” it is asserted that the IX were almost certainly cashiered by Hadrian for an ignominious defeat somewhere in SW Scotland and dispersed to Holland, the Danube line and, yes, Parthia.

Think there is a film of about 10-12 years ago imagining the defeat in Scotland. Will Google it and revert.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

Centurion (2010).

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

Yes, ‘Centurion’ was a cracking good film, far better than the other contemporary, one called I think ‘The Eagle’.

However I’m afraid Richmond was just guessing. We have absolutely no evidence at all about what happened to the IXth…very frustrating indeed!

I’m not sure why you mentioned manumission. All Auxiliaries were already free men, albeit ‘Peregrinus’- foreigners, hence their hope of citizenship by service.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

She burnt London and slaughtered every civilian she could catch across a large swath of England! She led her army into a Roman trap and it was annihilated, so all was for nothing.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago

What have the Romans ever done for Us?.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

Got rid of the death cult Druids and replaced them with the remarkably intellectual Christianity. Laid the groundwork for England to become Great Britain.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Lambert

Everything!

Don Holden
Don Holden
3 years ago

Thoughtful and well written article – are you sure you come from South of the river ?

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
3 years ago
Reply to  Don Holden

We Southerners know the best words.

Sue Julians
Sue Julians
3 years ago

I don’t share the author’s pessimism. I could be wrong, but the smaller demand on office space could lower commercial rents, allowing independent business to thrive again. Many bankers are relocating to Europe, enticed by lower taxes, as low as 5% in Portugal and Italy. Residents are moving out of town, since hybrid working means a longer commute is more palatable for fewer days.
The licensing for outside dining and drinking makes it feel more like a European city, in a good way. The area around Battersea Power Station is fabulous, lots of outside dining, places to sit by the river and traffic free.
there has been a huge number of new specialist food shops opening. With each change in rules, I expect that the innovators who have always flocked to London will find a way of invigorating it.
I agree that people need to be able to afford to live in London for it to retain its soul and beating heart. But maybe it will now happen, due to Brexit and Covid. Rents remain high, but properties are empty. The rents will have to come down soon enough. Maybe it’ll be time for foreign investors to sell up as a result, which can only be a good outcome.
I feel sure that London has been written off many times. I believe and dearly hope that it will rise from the ashes, once again.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

No sane person has ever written London off, it is the World’s City. What is sad though is how it is not ALL it could be, because of policies which were obvious to any, but still pushed through.

Ian Wigg
Ian Wigg
3 years ago
Reply to  Sue Julians

. Many bankers are relocating to Europe, enticed by lower taxes, as low as 5% in Portugal and Italy. .

Is that anecdotal or would you like to provide actual evidence? (Guardian and/or Indy polls count as much as Daily Express ones so real evidence.)

Sue Julians
Sue Julians
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Wigg

I have friends moving there. This is Italy, which is slightly higher: 10% tax for up to 10 years. https://www.clearygottlieb.com/news-and-insights/publication-listing/tax-breaks-for-workers-moving-to-italy-new-official-guidelines-released

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
3 years ago

Just because people can be unbearable is not a reason to choose the most unbearable person as Mayor.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
3 years ago

Many thanks for this essay. As you will appreciate, you could just have well described much of New York — mostly Brooklyn or Queens since most of Manhattan had long been recolonized — as well as most other major American cities. The most glittering of these places have also become financial havens for the kleptocrats of China and Russia and wherever.
I write as a member of Joel Kotkin’s “clerisy”. I am one of those people who have some money — or, at least, privileged access to cheap credit — and can afford to recolonize and build back better. I am one of those people who likely would have loved Hillary, hated Brexiteers, hated Trump, hated the deplorables, etc. But, it turns out that I am one of deplorables, and, right now I live in a post-industrial zone in a 2nd tier American city. My neighborhood is, perhaps, 10 years away from being fully recolonized and gilded.
So, here’s a question: Will the era of cheap money post-2008 come to a close? Will it crash down? Will the class of the self-anointed best-and-brightest be humbled by another 1979? Will they be displaced (for a decade or so) by another class of grocers’ daughters and deplorables?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

The era of cheap money arrived some years before 2008 (and was a cause of 2008) and arguably as long ago as 1971. I believe it will continue unhindered until we reach Paper Money Collapse. The fact is that it massively benefits the rich because they can stockpile real assets. Everyone else will be inflated out of economic existence. That’s the plan, and they’re sticking to it.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Agreed. Bretton-Woods and all that. “We’re all Keynesians, now” was Nixon’s play on “We’re all Socialists, now”.

ralph bell
ralph bell
3 years ago

Great article, like your previous one.
The usual culprits of overpopulation and greed.
Post covid, no real comment on the large corporations evacuating officesof staff for short terms benefits, that may have massive affects on large cities and the associated businesses and culture. As you say there could be a cooling effect on the hollowing out and a return to more community and societal benefits.

Clare Haven
Clare Haven
3 years ago
Reply to  ralph bell

It’s also cultural atrophy. The middle-classes that dominate the economy of the city are incorrigible philistines, prigs and puritans.

Last edited 3 years ago by Clare Haven
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

I know, I never got what the actual complaint this guy has with things now. When I see London, after 45 years living elsewhere, although with regular returns to my old family home, I watched it change like under the old strobe lights of a disco, in a series of stop motion photos.

I really felt it was decline rather than progress since leaving in the 1970s. My old friends all price gentrified from the homes their lower middle class parents could afford to own, and scattered to who knows where – but the odd thing is they were replaced by migrants who were not at all prosperous. This has been a great mystery to me, the British of those suburban parts replaced by non-British who were not economically better off.

Riding a bus at school letting out time is horrible, gangs of students shriek and shove and yell obscenities till it can be defining, like animals – litter everywhere, it is a place of concrete, brick, glass, stucco, asphalt, tile, and dirt, grey and dreary and the buildings mostly scruffy, windows needing paint, green algae needing washing off, grim really.

I like returning to see the museums I grew up visiting, but that is about it. Soon I wish to return to my friendly town in USA with my house on the water and in the woods, and out of that concrete, and (mostly polite) distant people, and claustrophobic world.

John Lewis
John Lewis
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Looks like someone has complained about my comment. I wonder if it will be removed?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

“On a clear day, from the top of the road in south London where I grew up, you can see one of the broadest views of the British capital” GYPSY HILL?

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

Population growth at any spatial scale has material consequences which when fused with politics, economics, culture and ecology will shape a place in contested ways.

In ecology it is known as population ecology which deals more specifically with changing habitats whereas within human ecology it is better encapsulated by organizational ecology.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizational_ecology

Within organizational ecology there is what is known as niche theory which seeks to understand what you have largely talked about in this article. That being the competition between generalist and specialist forms of organisational structures (see key concerns in above link).

Niche theory shows that specialization is generally favored in stable or certain environments. However, the main contribution of the niche theory is probably the finding that “generalism is not always optimal in uncertain environments”, which is as you describe.

Thus the challenge is how to encourage specialism within the different boroughs and in effect how to create community anchor sites so that people can consolidate their community specialisms.

A possibility is mutual benefit associations. Something like this is being explored by low impact.org in terms of mutual credit networks which seek to localise economies for mutual benefit.
https://www.lowimpact.org/resources-videos-articles-mutual-credit-book/

James Chater
James Chater
3 years ago

deleted

Last edited 3 years ago by James Chater
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 years ago

London:“ Flower of Cities All” as the Scotchman William Dunbar said in 1501.

Incidentally he is perhaps the first person to record the dreaded ‘C’ word after an unfortunate incident in a London brothel, where he records, rather charmingly, that he was
“c**t bitten, or in other words he got the ‘clap’, poor chap!

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
3 years ago

“just another reality of late capitalism, “
Isn’t this taken from Marx, and is what’s supposed to happen before ‘true’ socialism evolves? Well London is getting plenty of socialism from Khan, and it’s going the way of every other attempt at ‘true’ socialism.