London’s reputation precedes it. It’s an old but spry city. It is the home of Queen Elizabeth, several Premier League football teams, double-decker buses and more than a few accents. It feels and is globally influential, yet I haven’t heard anybody refer to it as a “world class city.”
Greater London is divided into six zones and it spans an area of over 600 square miles, so the experience of “London” varies greatly depending on where a person lives.
Londoners can get around any way they so choose. Happily, the city is incredibly walkable in its inner three zones. Cyclists are growing in number and are moderately well accommodated to (I’m sure we’ll talk about "Boris Bikes" at some point), though for a flat city they could be far more so. Its public transportation network is extensive, but train lines have been known to go down unexpectedly at great annoyance to all. Über (for now), taxis and minicabs abound for the exhausted or rushed. And for those with vehicles, getting around might be quick but parking will quite possibly be a nightmare. Also, never forget, people drive on the left side of the road here.
Despite its bulk, there seems to be a kind of natural balance in London. The city is dotted with pocket parks and large greenways which soften the dense built environment hugely. Canals and the Thames bring water into the lives of many neighbourhoods. Deer wander freely through some parks and city foxes roam the streets at night. The environment is mostly tamed but still has a quietly powerful effect on the psyche.
Somehow London has managed to remain a centre for finance while valuing art and culture. It remains one of the top cities in the world to see live theatre, has a thriving film and television economy, is home to great and small galleries and museums, and is one of the two English publishing centres in the world (the other being New York). Like New Yorkers, Londoners (both natives and emigres) are confident that the world wants their perspective on life, the universe and everything.
In many ways, London is exceedingly “liveable” except of course in one key area – the cost of living. It is not at all unusual for working, highly educated people with skilled jobs to live with flatmates well into their 30s. Perhaps this is why the ambition of its residents is so palpable. Whether working in an off-license or on Canary Wharf, Londoners are constantly strategizing about their futures. It seems they have to be. While in no way being limited to London, the cost of living here makes the UK’s degrading social safety net that much more heightened. A person need only take a walk around the Grenfell Tower to see what institutional negligence can and has done to neighbourhoods across this country. Access to safe, affordable housing is on the minds of many people in this city.
And then there’s Brexit… Or actually... No, let’s not. Let’s stick it in a drawer and talk about it some other time.
Despite being so steeped in history, London is very much alive. The irrepressible character and variety of its residents make it an incredible city to live in. We’re excited to share their stories and worlds with the rest of you. And yes, some of those stories will feature anecdotes involving the rain or “going down the pub.”
Words by Stephanie Adams
Photography courtesy of Stephanie Adams & Jennifer Ngo
We're ecstatic to have England's capital joining our network of cities. We just can't wait to get inspired by what you have to share. Perhaps on our next print journal too, Issue 3 anyone? We'll see what the future holds!