How London became the centre of the world
Three decades of growth reinvented the urban landscape in London & transformed it into the preeminent global city. But amid growing pains and with Breit looming, can it stay on top?
Royal Botanic Gardens:
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew lie in a curve of the Thames, seven miles upriver from central London. At Kew, though, one does not entirely escape the tumult of modern life. The gardens sit directly beneath the flight path into Heathrow.
Bees to the Honeypot:
London is bigger and richer than ever. Three decades of growth transformed London from a fading grande dame into the preeminent global city and a leading center of culture, finance, and technology. The city is home to more than 8.8 million residents—a population expansion largely fed by immigration. And despite the upheaval of Brexit, London is on track to add two million more residents by 2050. All that growth fed a construction boom that is redrawing London’s historic skyline and includes several of the largest regeneration projects in Europe. More than 500 new tall buildings are in the pipeline across Greater London. Half are going up in East London, soon to be better connected to West London when Crossrail, the $20 billion high-speed railway, opens its Elizabeth line next year, relieving congestion on the aging London Tube and cutting travel times between east and west by as much as half.
Meanwhile, defunct industrial sites along the Thames and the city’s hundred-mile network of canals are being reinvented as new neighbourhoods—and pricey waterfront real estate—featuring pedestrian-friendly public spaces and retail shops that favor local entrepreneurs over chain outlets. King’s Cross, a derelict railroad transfer point known more recently for prostitution and drugs, is showing Londoners what a well-rounded makeover looks like.
Codependency of Transportation & Offices:
The transformation includes the renewed King’s Cross and St. Pancras Rail stations (the latter home to the Eurostar train to Paris), a new campus for an art and design college, music venues, parks and fountains, and housing—both high-end and affordable. Google, Deep Mind (Google’s artificial intelligence research lab), and Facebook are building unconventional London headquarters there. Google’s 11-story “landscraper,” large enough to house about 7,000 employees, may be the most original design. It stretches for a thousand feet, parallel to the King’s Cross railway platforms, and boast that its rooftop garden will grow “fields” of wildflowers and feature a running trail.
Across town, on the Thames’s south side, a long-bedeviled development is under way that will reclaim the Nine Elms district, once better known for the defunct Battersea Power Station than enticing riverfront views.
Backlash of Air Pollution:
Not surprisingly, London’s run of prosperity arrived with the usual set of urban headaches, and as they have worsened, many wonder whether their great city is losing its allure. Traffic is terrible. Air pollution is so bad that two million Londoners are living with illegal levels of toxic air, according to London’s emissions inventory agency. Rising land values have pushed housing prices beyond the reach of average Londoners, forcing even well-paid professionals to pack up the kids and move out in search of affordable suburbs where a family can live.