Can we make the City more than just the business district of London? Chris Hayward looks at the efforts to transform the reputation of the Square Mile.
Everywhere you look, the City is busy. Whether it’s bars or beer gardens, shops or our streets, the Square Mile is a hive of activity with people enjoying the good weather.
The buzz of City crowds is supported by data showing that activity has exceeded pre-pandemic levels on weekday evenings and on the weekends. Just as importantly, the stats also show that retail spending has recovered to pre-covid levels. For local businesses that rely on this footfall and spend, this is excellent news.
Even though the Square Mile remains quieter on Mondays and Fridays, the growing success through the rest of the week shows the resilience of the City. This ability to change is one of the underlying strengths that has made us a global powerhouse: adaptability is woven into the City’s very fabric.
Today, as we have for thousands of years, the Square Mile must change to remain relevant. That is what we are doing through our flagship Destination City programme. We are harnessing the cultural change of hybrid working to support businesses, workers and visitors, because we recognise that life in 2023 is profoundly different from 2019.
To power the Square Mile’s recovery and boost business, I want the City to become a world-leading leisure destination for UK and global visitors. The ingredients for success are already there: the City is unique in having over 600 listed buildings and 48 ancient monuments in the small space of one square mile.
In the place where ancient and modern stand side-by-side, we know that building things to last depends on having good foundations in place. So last week we launched a major rebranding of the City of London as a destination and a new website, marking a generational opportunity to write a new chapter in the City’s history.
The new distinctive platform will showcase the best of the City’s consumer offer to London, UK, and international visitors – promoting its world-leading businesses across the culture and hospitality sectors, driving tourist footfall and spend, and cementing our future economic vitality.
It will celebrate our world-class attractions, such as the iconic Sky Garden which reached 10 million visitors this year. It will appeal to the City’s workforce, which is one of the youngest, most highly skilled, and most internationally diverse in the country. It will make the most of the new London Museum and Migration Museum to tell untold stories. And crucially, it will create an even more welcoming environment for investment and business.
We are already the best-connected place within one of the best-connected capital cities in the world. The Square Mile is served by 12 underground stations, eight tube lines, and seven mainline stations, each now playing a key role in the City’s recovery.
And at a time of fierce global competition, we now have a real opportunity to boost our attractiveness and create a self-perpetuating cycle where we strengthen our leisure offer which draws visitors, which attracts business, which attracts more investment, which then draws more visitors.
The Square Mile’s relationship with leisure is critical. Perhaps leisure has been overlooked in the past, but not anymore. Now it is time to open the next chapter in our story: one that finally acknowledges that tourism is important for the City and the City is important for tourism