Friday 18 September 2015, Rossa Minogue

A tale of two cities: is inequality killing London?

Podcast: Listen to the opening remarks from the Battle of Ideas launch event at the Barbican in London.

London has, by most accounts, emerged as one of the premier cities of the twenty-first century: firmly established as a global hub for finance, technology and culture. Yet there have been growing anxieties about the effect rising inequality levels are having on the city and its inhabitants. Soaring private rental prices and strain on social housing have fuelled fears about gentrification driving out long-term residents as unfashionable neighbourhoods become regenerated. Such fears have also begun to spread among the relatively affluent, with even the New York Times‘s departing London correspondent bemoaning the distorting effects of foreign investment into the capital’s ‘crazyexpensive’ property market. Stories abound of young creatives being priced out to the extent that they find commuting from Spain or Berlin a more affordable option. More generally, there is a growing conviction that London’s development is coming at the expense of a sanitised city, with public space becoming increasingly privatised and stage-managed.

While much ire has been expressed at the stark disparity between London’s increasing range of luxury tower blocks and ‘poor doors’ provided to inhabitants of socially affordable accommodation, some have suggested that inequality is not as big a problem as lack of adequate infrastructure. A range of measures from rent controls to strict penalties for under-occupancy have been suggested, although many are sceptical of their long-term impact. Almost everyone seems to agree that a chronic lack of housing in the city is driving prices through the roof, yet calls to build on the green belt and relax planning regulations are met with strong opposition.

Does inequality pose a serious threat to the vibrancy of London? Would measures such as rent control provide relief to the housing bubble, or continue to distract from tackling the problems of supply? Is London in danger of becoming a sanitised millionaire’s playground without urgent action? Are concerns over ‘hipster gentrification’ a resistance to the changing nature of the city, or is there a real threat posed by divided communities in an increasingly expensive city? Should the capital’s rapid development be a cause for celebration or concern?

To find out more about this year’s festival and buy tickets visit the Battle of Ideas website.

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