by Ed West
Monday, 3
May 2021
Idea
07:00

If I were Mayor of London, here are 10 cities I’d copy

From traffic to tourism, our capital has a lot to learn
by Ed West
Copenhagen is the Valhalla of bike users

The upcoming London mayoral election is an embarrassing joke, with a clear winner and a bunch of no-hopers who aren’t even funny or interesting, some of whom are actual public health hazards. Since there is almost nothing to say about the candidates, here are my suggestions of what we should do to make London a better city, by copying others.

Tokyo: housing

The Japanese capital is home to about a gazillion people but its huge demand for property is matched by an unmatched supply in a deregulated housing market.

Incredibly, increasing the supply of property helps keeps prices down, while London’s restrictive planning rules do the opposite. (Of course, the best way we could increase supply while also making our city more beautiful is by Street Votes.)

Copenhagen: cycling

The Danish city is the Valhalla of bike users. It achieved this by completely transforming its previous car domination, and by making bicycle use safe and available. As a result, public health and happiness have hugely improved. Likewise Seville has turned itself into a leading cycling city, and even Paris has too.

It seems that if you ignore talk radio hosts and build bicycle lanes, it turns out best for everyone.

Glasgow: crime

Glasgow was until fairly recently the most homicidal city in western Europe, but it has drastically cut knife crime — thanks to Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit.

Frankfurt: architecture

Germany’s financial hub is rebuilding much of the medieval city destroyed by Allied aerial bombing in the war.

Like many bombed-out cities, Frankfurt initially rebuilt in modernist style, until they concluded the place looked better the way it was before. There’s no reason why we couldn’t do the same here with various buildings and streets destroyed either by the Luftwaffe or the more evil menace of 20th century town planners.

Venice: over-tourism

Overwhelmed by the number of tourists visiting, the Serene Republic has introduced a tourism tax to deter over-tourism and raise money. It was due to begin last summer, but unfortunately something else came along which effectively dealt with tourism, and it won’t start until next year now. Other cities will almost certainly follow suit.

Amsterdam: living streets

Amsterdam is the gold standard for bicycle-based transport policy, all the more impressive considering that in the early 1970s it was heavily car-dominated and had large numbers of pedestrian deaths.

More recently, it has also removed 10,000 parking spaces to create more room for bicycles and pedestrians.

Helsinki: homelessness

London’s homelessness problem is now a disgrace, and it’s got considerably worse since 2010. The Finns have, so far, tackled the problem better than anywhere else.

Singapore: traffic

Roads are a vital resource and car use has huge externalities for those living near them — where roads are in huge demand, car-users should pay a premium to use them.

Under the Singapore Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system, charges for entering the city centre vary by time of day and are periodically revised in order to maintain traffic speeds within the desirable bands.

London’s Congestion Zone reduces traffic and raises money, but it’s insensitive to where the most demand is. (Exceptions should be made for people who needs vans for work.) 

Dublin: nightlife

The Irish Republic’s cities now have far more relaxed late night licensing laws, and plan to liberalise still further — when and if Ireland ever emerges from lockdown.

In Cork pubs are regularly open until 2am, while in London night life is still in many ways very restrictive.

Vilnius: street dining

The Lithuanian capital turned its streets into vast open-air cafes to help restaurants struggling with the Covid epidemic.

It seems reasonable that, in summer at least, restaurants in non-thoroughfares can take over the streets as standard and traffic diverted. Having seen the scenes of Soho’s streets being turned into open-air restaurants, do we really want cars to have that space back?

Join the discussion


  • Have you been to any of these other cities? None of them have anything in common with London. Comparing apples and pears doesn’t even come close. More like comparing a jumbo jet with a dahlia.

  • Also the story of Tokyo solving its housing crisis is one of the most outrageous ever told. Tokyo real estate had become the most expencive in the world, then the biggest crash ever, and not a recovery yet:

    “Between 1956 and 1986, the price of land increased by as much as 5,000 per cent in Japan. At the peak of the bubble economy, Tokyo real estate could sell for as much as US$139,000 per square foot, which was nearly 350 times as much as equivalent space in Manhattan. By that reckoning, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo was worth as much as the entire US state of California.”
    And now the prices have been stagnant for decades, but the really big issue has been the decreasing population in Japan, this is what made real estate stable after the HUGE correction – like UK would have had the same without immigration, this is where real estate will drop from the current peak in all but the developing world. This is why India will overtake China as the next Superpower a decade after China gets that place.

    China and The West now have shrinking ‘working age’ demographics, and the housing crisis will soon alter to normalcy – but care homes will be needed by a factor of 5 soon.

  • Perhaps Danish cyclists are not homicidal maniacs, like too many of those in London.

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