Infrastructure Management

Rant: Tired Old London Needs to Smarten Up

You can’t so much as visit London without quickly becoming swallowed up in its overweening arrogance, complacency and self-regard. She’s a big city that’s fairly beautiful from some angles but, my oh my, doesn’t she know it.

Residents of the capital have a certain swagger: ask them where they’re from and they give you that one-two condescension combination. ‘London my poor darling, and I’m so sorry you have the misfortune to come from Somplaceelse…’ I’ve lived in London for more than half my life and regard the old dear like a man who married the Wrong One. Sometimes I see the fascination but most of the time I’m just sorry for what years, decay and neglect have done to her.

London types assume that they live in the world’s best city but they’re fooled by the fact that it’s a town that hit the jackpot several times. Right language, right transport links, right place for the banks. So, like a trashy pools winner, London spends, spends, spends, festooning itself with unlovely gewgaws that are the stuff of fashion and trivia. A building that looks like a gherkin, a testicle, a walkie-talkie, a cheese grater and a glazer’s shard? I’ll have one of those, one of those and one of those… oh, stuff it, I’ll take the lot.

But London has forgotten about her most charming features, the triumphal architecture, the small pubs and caffs, the vistas, village-like quarters, the barbers and the fishmongers – quite literally the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. Civilisation has been squandered in favour of pounds, shillings and pence and the replica mega-brands with loathsome logos and hard-sell marketing, all sourcing their tat from the sweatshops. The buyers and the city fathers give Faceless Corporate Inc. a free pass, letting them in on the nod and a sense of laissez-faire just so long as they pay the big prices. These aren’t people who think about London’s long-term attractions, never mind the armies of poor people weaving, sewing, soldering and assembling on the other side of the world to appease the voracious appetites for novelty of spoilt fools prattling about fashion and technology. But really it’s not a ‘must-have’ handbag, pair of jeans, multifunctional electronic device; it’s exactly the opposite of a ‘must-have’.


One area where London makes clear its absolute contempt for the salary-man dweller or visitor is in its shameful, shabby infrastructure. The fetid railways, roads and Underground system make shuttling around the city a cockroach-like affair. The foreign visitor makes their way through a distant, patched, grey airport, stinking of name-brand perfume and booze-and-fags outlets to a bewildering set of transport options, all of them rotten and extortionately marked up. On being deposited in the centre, the very least said visitor expects to do their work is some basic plumbing and WiFi networks that are the fundamentals of our communications grid. Surely London makes this free and widely available like so many other places today, together with our other great utility, electricity? Oh no. Despite promises and pledges, our communications networks are fractured and fragmented when they should be fast and free as the air. (Note to subs: check London air is still free.)

London, the tired-out old dump, needs to freshen up and make itself more attractive or even its beloved money will seep away as businesses decide the place is no longer worth the candle. You can only go to the well so many times and not everybody is a sucker.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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