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March 13, 2007

Richard Florida

London Calling

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Is London surpassing New York as the world's greatest city?  James Harding of the Times of London thinks so. He also thinks it is growing so different that the rest of the UK that it should secede.  The jury is out on the first part of his argument, but it is clear to me that the economic, political, and cultural interests of centers like London or New York or Silicon Valley or Shanghai or Bangalore for that matter are becoming quite different than the countries in which they are located.

The London is, indeed, the coolest city on earth. The capital of the world. New York, like Paris, has become a mini-break destination, a playground for grown-ups who enjoy the same standard tourist menu: a walk around Central Park; a shopping trip in SoHo; an entertaining, if unsurprising, show on Broadway; and a very large steak. The world loves a long weekend in New York but, these days, prefers to make its home in London. New York has the nostalgia, London the future. New York defines the metropolitan, London the cosmopolitan.

And the reason for this is that foreigners in New York are, always, just that. The city treats even its long-term residents from abroad as visitors, welcomed on to the cocktail circuit, perhaps even to a share of a house in the Hamptons, but never to the power-broking tables at the Four Seasons. “New York is always American,” says Bill Roedy, the American who has spent the past 15 years in the UK running MTV world-wide. “Like Paris is French, Moscow is Russian, New York is American.”

London, on the other hand, is passport-blind. It does not have the luxury of being the de facto capital of a continental economy. So, it is international: it treats its visitors as citizens, as players. ...

In the wake of the September 11terrorist attacks, Washington also tightened its borders. The visa restrictions have stopped many foreign scientists, mathematicians and economists from travelling to the US. The UK’s relatively open borders have become a competitive advantage. ...

But more than these technicalities, what matters is geography: London is the centre of the world. From London it is possible to work a normal day and talk to Tokyo in the morning and Los Angeles in the afternoon. A businessman can get on a plane from Moscow and be in London in five hours, from Bom-bay in seven, even from Beijing in nine. This is one of the reasons why, over the past 25 years, London has turned itself into an international marketplace while New York has remained essentially a domestic financial capital.

Read the whole thing here. (hat tip: Jamie Alderslade).

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