The eyes of the world will be on London for the king's coronation, but is the glamour, pomp and circumstance hiding an ugly truth?
London is a city that is often viewed as a symbol of wealth, success and opportunity. As one of the most prosperous and well-known cities in the world, it is easy to see why so many people are proud to call it home. However, some of my recent experiences have led me to reflect on the ‘darker’ side of London, and whether London is truly a city for all who live here, or whether some of London’s citizens are more welcome than others.
One such event is Steve McQueen's film and exhibition 'Grenfell'. Currently showing at the Serpentine gallery, his film of the burnt Grenfell tower before it was covered up, seeks to create a record, so that the tragedy cannot be forgotten. The film is moving and powerful, there are no words - but the silence speaks volumes.
A criminal investigation is still ongoing, and justice still feels a long way off. While concerns about the cladding and the state of the building had been raised many times before the fire, these concerns were ignored because the people raising them were not deemed important enough to be listened to. Reading the visitor book as I left the exhibition, I was struck by a comment which summed things up very eloquently;
‘’Thank you for making this film to speak for those who live in London, but are not recognised as Londoners, and whose voices are not heard.’’
Paul Gilroy, professor at UCL, articulates a similar sentiment. In his essay to accompany the film, he asks; “Who can be killed without any consequences?…whose lives matter?”
The tragedy, which claimed the lives of 72 people, is a stark reminder of the inequalities that exist in London.
Homelessness is another issue that highlights the darker side of London. According to a report by the charity Shelter, over 271,000 people are homeless in England, with over half of them located in London. An incredible 1 in 58 people are homeless in our capital.
According to recent government figures, levels of rough sleeping in London have increased significantly, with an increase of 34% in 12 months (from Autumn ‘21- ‘22). While below pre-pandemic levels, these levels are concerning, and despite the efforts of charities and local authorities, homelessness remains a pressing issue in the capital. It certainly feels to be more visible and confronting than it was; and I believe it raises an important question of whether we can call ourselves a world-class city, while allowing this to happen around us.
So, what kind of London do we want to be a part of? What kind of London do we owe it to ourselves to create?
This is, in part, a question 2CV has been asking Londoners recently. As part of the GLA’s Planning for London Programme, 2CV’s Social Practice have been conducting deliberative research on a large scale to explore this question from different perspectives with Londoners from diverse backgrounds, Boroughs and life-stages. The research has covered topics such as housing, transport, sustainability, community and public spaces. The different sessions have been fascinating and have shown that Londoners of all walks of life are invested in their city, and care deeply about what the London of the future should be, and what it needs to look like to represent the needs, and views, of all Londoners.
The king's coronation is set to take place in London this weekend, and the eyes of the world will be on our city (and I’m sure it will look glorious, especially if the sun is shining!). However, at this moment, as many around the world celebrate, it is important to reflect on the other side of London, that is often hidden from view.
So, is London a city to be proud of? The answer is not straightforward.
On the one hand, London is a city of incredible wealth, diversity and opportunity. It is a cultural hub, with world-class museums, galleries and theatres. It is a centre of finance, business and innovation. But on the other hand, London is a city where too many people are struggling to make ends meet, where homelessness is widespread, and where inequality is prevalent. And where some people’s voices are heard, and validated - and where others’ aren’t.
Ultimately, the answer to the question of whether London is a city to be proud of lies in the hands of the people who call it home. It is up to us to acknowledge the challenges that our city faces, and to work together to address them. By doing so, we can ensure that London is a city that exists for all of us, one that enables us all to reach our potential, and a city that we can all be proud of.
To find out more about 2CV’s deliberative methods for citizen engagement, please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.