How the City got its mojo back

 
Steve Dinneen
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The archetypal City worker is changing
A decade is a long time, and a decade in the City feels like a lifetime. You only need to look out the window to see how much things have changed. New cathedrals of glass and steel climb over the horizon – to the chagrin of traditionalists – while others are quietly and efficiently razed to the ground (including two former City A.M. offices).

Canary Wharf continues its evolution from the City’s ugly stepsister to a thriving hub of arts and culture, with gigs and public art installations adding to the already crowded bar and restaurant scene. Its £500m Crossrail Place complex houses a covered garden, 10,000 square metres of retail space and the soon-to-open super-fast trainline, which will take City workers to Liverpool Street in just six minutes and to Heathrow in 39. Canary Wharf will soon be inhabited by people other than bankers; the first residential buildings will be filled in 2018, with 3,200 homes planned for the coming years.

And there’s a whole new element to London’s finance scene that was but a distant dream a decade ago: the City-fringe FinTech hubs at Old Street, Shoreditch and Kings Cross. This brave new financial world – largely made up of agile, innovative startups – is challenging the status quo, finding new ways to do that thing the City has always done best: make money.

It’s not only the environment that’s changed – the archetypal City worker is also evolving. When City A.M. launched, suits were skinny and ties were optional. Flash forward 10 years and the suits themselves are becoming optional. As finance becomes more dominated by a never-ending race to own the quickest, most complex algorithms, the jeans and hoodie uniform of the San Francisco technies is gaining traction. The boozy lunch, still relatively commonplace in 2005, is being replaced by flat whites at an artisan coffee house. Bottles of Merlot at The Mercer are an occasional luxury.

Some of these changes were precipitated by the biggest event of the last decade, one whose shadow still looms large: the Great Recession. Those catastrophic days following September 2008 saw bankers, the self-titled masters of the universe, become figureheads for the global crisis. They were placed in the stocks for politicians and the media to hurl rotten tomatoes at.

Now the City is regaining some of its swagger, and there’s a renewed confidence, a feeling that London still has a role to play on the global stage.

And there’s a renewed passion for grassroots capitalism. Crowd-funding has turned everyone into a potential micro-investor. Theatre companies offer profit share schemes for early investors and Kickstarter allows niche projects to blossom. The artisan movement is creating thousands of new small-business owners; one-man coffee importers, micro breweries.

And that’s because some things never change. A decade after the first City A.M. was handed out, the City is still a beacon for the brightest, most talented people – not just in the UK but around the world. It’s big and diverse and sometimes dysfunctional but certainly never dull.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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