Thursday 14 October 2021 6:15 am

London has been resuscitated post-Covid and ambition will always keep cities alive

Matthew Lesh is the head of research at the Adam Smith Institute. He tweets @matthewlesh

The rumours of London’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The pandemic has been linked to the decline, if not the death, of cities. This seemed practically inevitable as we were ordered to “stay at home” and city centres turned into glass and concrete ghost towns. Bans on socialising and the closure of businesses led many to flee.

But this is not lasting. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, London is once again coming alive, reborn and energetic. People are returning to their offices, Soho is heaving, and (depressingly) average rents are now above pre-Covid levels.

The city has survived past pandemics, along with spikes in crime and terrorism, deindustrialisation, and so much more. Not every city survives forever. But, generally speaking, cities have a magnetic feature which always pulls people back. They are exciting places, full of the magic that comes with large numbers of people.

“Ideas move from person to person within dense urban spaces, and this exchange occasionally creates miracles of human creativity,” writes leading urban economist Edward Glaeser, pointing historically to Alexandria, Milan, and London. When cities declined, following the fall of Rome, so did humanity. The return of the city has been a boon      for people.

We could live anywhere, yet a majority of us opts to live in cities. The number of people in urban centres, just 1 per cent of the global landmass, has grown from around 1bn in 1960 to over 4bn today.

Cities are where ambition meets opportunity, where you can find more interesting and better paid work. They are where ideas and entrepreneurs meet, leading to innovation and immense human progress. The things that make life worth living are found in abundance in cities. With more people around, it’s possible to find a wider circle of friends with common interests and meet that special someone. You can spend your time being entertained, dining and drinking, or perhaps being culturally enriched by visiting museums or seeing a show.

That’s certainly the experience of Londoners, even after Covid-19. A recent study from King’s College London found that the people of Greater London are just as satisfied with their local area as they were before the pandemic. The same study suggested an increase in satisfaction with respect to schools, transport and police and similar numbers suggesting they would be leaving the city in the next five years. But do not fear. They will again be replaced by another generation of ambitious young urbanites keen to make their way in life.

Cities are not and will never be perfect places. We haven’t built anywhere near enough homes, making renting outrageously expensive and locking far too many people out of homeownership. Then there’s the crime, the pollution, the noise and the traffic. Mediocre schools undermining upward social mobility and entrenching racial inequalities. But these challenges are not new, and can be overcome.

For you should never doubt Londoners: we are gritty, dedicated people. The weight of humanity, our livelihoods and our lives, are naturally attracted to where we are together. London is coming back, bigger, stronger and better than ever before.

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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