There is so much to love about London; the galleries, the museums, the architecture and history, the general bustling of a vibrant and diverse metropolis. The city has been the epicentre of British governance and politics ever since it became our capitol in the 12th century (replacing Winchester) and can also claim the title of being the first city since Rome in the 2nd Century to reach one million inhabitants in the early 1800s.
As an outsider from a "provincial" city, the sheer number of people and vast expanses of urban jungle are almost overwhelming. The city appears, on the surface, to shout proudly of the great progress we have made. In fact, it would not be amiss to describe London as a physical expression of the power of western capitalism and democracy. Whether you think I mean this as a compliment or insult probably depends on how far down this article you get….
I spent much of the last weekend in the city in fact, whisked down on a super off peak train, the only affordable route into the metropolis for someone like me (e.g. normal)
One of the first things you notice upon entering the city boundaries is the sheer amount of building work currently taking place, you start to see this from your train window before even stepping foot on hallowed ground. Cranes rise up from skylines in every direction and signs of “under development” appear to be on almost every corner.
Building is good, you think. It is a sign of prosperity and growth, a sign of a city which is expanding and redeveloping itself, shedding old skins and becoming newer, brighter and better.
It’s only when you scratch the surface and look at the “why” behind the changing skyline that the positive picture of progress starts to unravel.
I doubt that I need to explain in great detail the crisis of affordability that the residents of London are currently facing. Despite the great new structures springing up over the city, the cost of living remains extortionately high for the average wage earner, mostly due to eye watering rents and frankly ludicrous property prices.
Whilst property is obviously being built, it is not the kind of property which will help the ordinary citizen. The average home price in London is now £500,000. London property developers last year sold more than twice as many two-bedroom apartments costing between £650,000 and £1,000,000 as cheaper homes priced at about £300,000, according to market data obtained by the Guardian
The lack of affordable housing has resulted in the displacement of local communities, especially those who require social housing. With schemes such as help to buy and right to buy further depleting council housing stocks, there is very hope of this situation improving.
Despite being surrounded by new buildings, the average Londoner is finding it increasingly difficult to access a basic human need - namely a secure, affordable and habitable place to live.
Now if an increase in the cost of having a roof over your head was met with a rise in wages, there would possibly be a different story to tell here. However it is simply not the case. British workers have seen the value of their real wages fall by 8.5 per cent over the last three years, according to analysis from the TUC.
Now the trends of falling real wages and rising living costs have been seen across the country, however it is in London that the disparity between the two are at their most acute. This is mainly driven by rising property prices in a city which is already three times more expensive to buy in when compared with the rest of the UK.
If you measure success by economic growth alone, London stands out as the the ultimate UK success story. From 2010 to 2013, it's growth was a staggering 14.5 per cent, right in the middle of a global recession.
There is certainly money in London and lots of it, however this great wealth has yet to trickle down into the hands of it's ordinary citizens. If we were to use a different metric, one that considered quality of life for the average citizen, I suspect that our picture of the city would not be so rosy.
Because despite being home to great wealth and potential, London is not a place to be proud of.
I find it hard to see how we can praise a city which is ignores the basic requirements of its normal residents and provides little support for the most vulnerable members of society.