As with all great cities, London has many faces. We all know the stereotypes: West London is for old money and new oligarchs, North London is for intellectuals and media luvvies, East London is for hipsters and entrepreneurs, and as for South London, well that’s not actually so clear.
West and North have historically been the seats of both economic and political power in the capital (right up to Blair’s Islington crowd and Cameron’s Notting Hill set). East London, on the other hand, was destined to be the poorest district of the city by a meteorological quirk. Given that the UK’s prevailing winds blow from the South West, East London got the worst of the stench produced by factories and open sewers in the nineteenth century. Anyone who could afford to live elsewhere did so. And East London’s problems kept coming. It bore the brunt of the blitz and, after the war, saw mass movement of Eastenders out to the comparative greenery of Essex.
Ironically, this made the East fertile territory for the creative and tech types that have completely transformed the area in the last 15 years. Initiatives like Tech City and the massive regeneration that came with the Olympics mean that East London is no longer on the up. It is up.
Read more: The remarkable rise of east London
Compared to this, South London is a bit ill-defined, thought of mostly as suburban. But is the election of Sadiq Khan as mayor, whose campaign focused heavily on his story as a Tooting lad done good, a broader sign of a change in South London’s fortunes?
Khan’s former Tooting constituency is in many ways a microcosm of both London’s success and its many challenges. The successes include innovative businesses like the micro distiller, Graveney Gin, named after an area of Tooting. It crowdfunded among local residents to open a store in Tooting market, and two craft beer shops are set to open in the next month. If Crossrail 2 is confirmed for Tooting, despite short-term disruptions, faster connections could accelerate such development.
As a new generation of Londoners flock to Tooting, however, further pressure on house prices is inevitable. With an average flat now costing £450,000, you would require a salary in the region of £70-80,000 to afford a first time home. With two of the country’s biggest hospitals based within a mile of each other in the area, doctors could soon be priced out, let alone the nurses and porters.
London and Khan have many colossal challenges facing them, and issues ranging from health, the environment and housing will dominate his time in City Hall. But as Tooting shows, these challenges are a result of London’s outstanding successes over the last two decades, not its failures. There is often talk of “housing crisis”. But it should more rightly be termed a “supply crisis”.
London’s air pollution problem is also a result of its popularity. The British Museum receives 6.8m visitors every year, about the same number of people who visit Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia combined, but nobody would think of turning them away. Likewise, Londoners uniformly support the introduction of a Night Tube, finally making London a 24 hour city, but this will undoubtedly bring other pressures to the capital.
There are many mayors of capital cities around the world who would be thankful to deal with Khan’s in-tray of rising house prices and a constant need to update infrastructure to handle increased activity. Many of London’s existing problems would be solved if it wasn’t the greatest city in the world. But who would want that?