The Messy Business of Building Cities, 1.

City building is a messy business. Most started as a collection of self-sufficient neighbourhoods or villages. Mobility was limited so people lived, worked, farmed, and entertained themselves in compact, densely-populated, self-sufficient neighbourhoods. Everything was accessible by foot. 


Hampstead, one of London’s many villages

I always think of London, England when I consider cities as a collection of neighbourhoods. Two thousand years ago it was just another outpost of the Roman empire and a backwater trading port. It took 1800 years for its population to grow to one million people. In the 1800s the population increased five fold,  and now over nine million people live in London, a city of just over 1600 square kilometres.

In the growth process, London has gobbled up thousands of villages, hamlets, and settlements. Bloomsbury, Notting Hill, Islington, Hampstead, Poplar, and Spitalfields have all been woven into the cosmopolitan fabric that is modern London. Many other villages such as Barnes, Primrose Hill, and East Dulwich retain some of their rural charm and original character. 

Linked by Public Transit

London’s many urban villages and its 1600 square kilometres are connected by efficient public transit all managed by Transport for London (“TfL”).  The underground or “Tube” has eleven lines, over 400 kilometres of track, and 270 stations. There are over 9300 buses servicing 675 routes. The TfL also manages the London Overground rail system, Docklands Light Rail, a Tram system, and active transportation networks. The transit system is the glue that keeps London connected. 

Cities will continue to grow

The recent Covid-19 pandemic caused many prognosticators to forecast the demise of the city but London and other cities around the world will continue to grow. Following the most recent comparable event, the great Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 to 1920, cities continued to flourish. Naples, Italy has suffered numerous plagues and lives with the constant threat of a catastrophic volcanic eruption. Yet, Naples’ metropolitan population has grown by 700,000 people since 1950.  The future shape of cities may be unknown but their survival and growth is a certainty. Consider these facts:

  • The world population is growing by 200,000 people every day
  • In 1800, only 3% to 5% of the global population lived in urban areas
  • By the year 2050, about two-thirds of the global population will live in cities
  • Urban populations will have doubled and the area consumed by cities will have tripled between now and 2050.

There will be challenges but, the challenges are not new. They include providing shelter, sustenance, employment, connectivity, and safety. It will not be easy – city building is a messy business.

Cities are in Crisis

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The Co-working Concept, Issue 80

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Co-working space came to mean the notorious We Work model. When I had been asked to opine on co-working I tried to steer the conversation away from the Adam Neumann / Softbank  flimflam growth model. Instead, I suggested that property owners look at usage and users. While I doubted We Work’s ability to survive I […]

The Affordable Housing Conundrum

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Before I fall completely into the trap of opposition politics, I have decided to take a break from never-ending criticism and to start suggesting solutions to the affordable housing conundrum. Do I have a plan? No, more a collection of ideas To start with, I think there are three key issues: Home ownership is not […]

We Should Know Better

August 26, 2023

I know! I am going to sound like a grumpy old man. Maybe that is because I am. I have been scratching my head in wonderment at the Taylor Swift phenomena. Is she an Incredible song writer, composer, and performer? I really don’t know! A discussion for another time? But probably not. At my age […]

Not in My Back Yard

August 4, 2023

Don’t build it! At least, Not In My Back Yard ! I acted as an advisor  in the sale of a beautifully natural, 14-acre urban waterfront estate. Existing zoning allowed for the development of 30 to 35 single-family homes, which after road dedication would leave very little green space. I did not think that was […]

Glasgow – That Dear Green Place

July 31, 2023

We were visiting Glasgow (literally that Dear Green Place in Gaelic) to see where my father was born, grew up, and went to University. Fortunately for me, my cousin John from Australia had just visited and had met with historians, Bruce Downie  and Norry Wilson.  So,  we too arranged to meet them in the Govanhill […]