I believe I have been asked these questions over a hundred times. “Why London?”. “Why do you like that city so much?”. “When will you move back to Belgium?”
London is a beautiful city – I love its combination of old heritage and modern architecture. The fact it is so cosmopolitan and multi-cultural where people of all walks of life live next to each other. I love the openness of the river Thames, how it breezes through the city and keeps old clichés and misconceptions about “living north or south of the river” alive. How the city is made up of different pockets, nooks and crannies, areas seeped in history and drama, beautiful parks and ancient woods, village-like communities just around the corner of the cutting-edge, contemporary metropolis.
I love how the city has changed its appearance over the years, how it has invested in run-down areas and turned them into hives of activity and modern urban living. This has sparked furious debates with my friends as, unmistakably, these investments drive up the price of living and do push people out of the city. It’s a delicate balance and I’m certainly not advocating pushing people out and turning it into an exclusive community for the rich. On the contrary, as that would erase the city of all its characteristics which make it so unique today!
The reason why I feel so strongly about the goodness of ongoing investment is that I compare it to my experience of living in that other amazing city, the Big Apple. 2 years ago I spent 7 months in New York City – a city I visited over a dozen times before, a city made of dreams.
If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you
New York, New York
Frank Sinatra – New York
Living and working somewhere truly makes you experience a place in a different way. To my surprise, I found life there very hard. I was shocked by the visible divide between the very poor and the filthy rich. And I was struck by how rundown and dirty the city was. Every morning I was greeted by a big fat rat at my local subway station Rector Street. My initial shock and disgust was eventually replaced by a friendly smile – Mr Rat and I became acquaintances, fellow morning commuters. Seriously?! Give me the London Tube any day!!
I love the convenience of being able to do my grocery shopping after 8pm and on Sundays and public holidays – a luxury that feeds my biggest annoyance about other European countries that completely shut down on Sundays and consequently turn Saturdays in to a retail shopping nightmare as the whole country seeks to get its shopping done on the one day when most people have time off work!!
But above all, I love the energy this city gives me. That intangible, indescribable jolt I receive every time I walk out of the Eurostar into gorgeous St Pancras Station. The buzz I felt that first day when I crossed London Bridge on my way to work, 15 years ago, is still there.
That energy makes me feel alive, gives me even more reason to get up early and to be active, creative and productive. It gives me that sense of opportunity, a driving force forward. I am at my best when injected with this addictive dose of energy.
Maybe it’s all in my head, no problem if it is!
And then just a couple of weeks ago, I came across this great article in Wired by Robert Colvile, The Great Acceleration: How the World is getting Faster, Faster.
He explains that cities are not just places of greater speed and less patience but equally as the pace of our lives scales up alongside the size of our community, so do levels of innovation, productivity and income.
All apparently, according to British physicist Geoffrey West, obeying a simple mathematical law. (interestingly Mr Rat features in West’s TED talk!)
The increase in social interactions – caused, in part, by the fact that we are moving more quickly and bumping into each other more frequently – results in the size of a city’s economy rising much more rapidly than its population.
Put someone in a city twice as large as their hometown, and they become 15 per cent more productive. Even better, economies of scale mean they will do so at less of a cost: when a city doubles in size, its use of resources rises by only 85 per cent.
From Charles Dickens’s Victorian sweatshops to the tower blocks of JG Ballard’s High-Rise, we’ve been conditioned to think of cities as frightening, impersonal places. But actually, they’re where we get to be our best selves – to come up with more ideas, to make more money and to have more fun. That’s also what makes them the dynamos that will not just entrench the acceleration of our lives, but push it further on.
Larger cities require more bodies and more innovation which is why places such as London are so creative and exciting
West points out, though, that there is a catch: in order to avoid a collapse of growing cities, and equally of growing and scaling companies, we need to have a continuous cycle of innovation. And even more, the level of innovation needs to be faster. An interesting insight which links back nicely to my previous blog Transformation Buzz.
Whether I stay in London or eventually move on, who knows. One thing is for sure: I have found my inner compass, my own energy barometer which will guide me to ensure I am in a place that gets the best out of me.
I swear to God, I heard the Earth inhale,
moments before it spat its rain down on me.
I swear to God, in this light and on this evening,
London’s become, the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.
Editors – In This Light and On This Evening
If anything in this post triggers a reaction, please leave a comment and join in the debate.