London was not just one of the ‘world cities’ that has emerged in the past 40 years. Since the new cycle of global urbanisation began in the early 1980s London has been a pacesetter and innovator. In tandem with New York, Paris, Tokyo, and more recently Singapore, Hong Kong, and Seoul, London is the pioneer of what it means to be a world city. Of course, there are different kinds of ‘world cities’ but that is another story.
In the 1980s, London’s inherited endowments, with its international outlook and global reach, favourable time zone, home language, cultural diversity, and ability to codify rules and standards in commerce, trade, finance, investment, media, education and sport, made it the place that exemplified and explained how a world city could work.
As it welcomed (first) Japanese and American Banks, and then a wide range of finance, media, and technology firms, elite ex-pat professionals, creative leaders, international students, migrant workers, and global urban tourists, London generated new population growth by focussing on the dynamic sectors that were driven by global integration of the 1980s (Finance, Professional Services, Media, Information, and Education) underpinned by EU membership and workers, the post-soviet settlement, and rapid global integration.
Globalising sectors clustered together, supported new enterprise formation, and were served by an open business climate, and a flexible pool of global, national, and local talent that induced population growth and created the context for reinvestment in infrastructures, systems, and places. These globalising sectors had specific built environment requirements in offices, CBDs, media centres, and the digital and passenger transport connections that would make a big city workforce productive.
London’s growth spurred urban regeneration in markets, stations, stadia, docks, waterfronts, CBDs, and neighbourhoods as it re-equipped the city for the newly globally trading activities and the population growth (and urban appetite) they brought. London’s built environment was adapted rapidly toward the needs of globally trading sectors and a new professional class of global knowledge workers.
London was a competitive location, bringing together its inherited assets and outlook, with a new verve to recreate the city for the modern era. It was one of 4-6 cities that succeeded in becoming the world cities of the final chapter of the 20th Century.
As trade, business, and finance success accrued, so London made investments in its urban fabric, infrastructure, amenities, arts, science, culture, education, technology, cuisine and design. These features, systems, and amenities multiplied London’s advantages, and gave it a special quality of life equation, one that matched it business acumen. Open, global, connected, talented, confident.