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Will London become more trouble than it's worth? Discuss

The future of London is the subject of a lively RIBA Building Futures Debate, finds James Pallister

‘London has been exposed. It can no longer hide its malpractice, greed and excessive consumption from the rest of the world.’ So ended Irena Bauman’s tub-thumping performance at the RIBA Building Futures Debate. The sparse attendance could be taken as evidence of the metropolitan hubris hinted at in the proposition: ‘London will become more trouble than it’s worth: Unequal investment is undermining the true potential of UK plc’.

After reminding us of Richard Wilkinson’s figures in The Spirit Level: ‘The wealthiest tenth of London earn 273 times as much as the lowest tenth’, Bauman was more apocalyptic: ‘In 50 years’ time the success of London 2012 will be remembered as its swan song.’ London was, she argued, irreparably corrupt and on a trajectory of decline.

Unlike the regions. Here, she said, ‘We have humility to understand that more consumer choice is not key to long-term happiness.’ Whether shoppers at the Arndale, Metro Centre and Meadowhall would concur I don’t know, but I’m fairly certain scepticism of consumerism isn’t so neatly geographically spread.

Deborah Saunt, opposing the motion, said: ‘London eats you up, wears you out and always demands more – it can be a very miserable place.’ But it’s also ‘Why I am standing here as a successful woman in architecture. I can employ fantastic people, lecture, write, teach – all because of London.’

Michael Parkinson, of the European Institute for Urban Affairs, Liverpool John Moores University, had advice to invigorate the regions. Strong political leadership, economic placemaking and confidence to devolve power to the UK’s great provincial cities would help us break free from ‘using 19th century governance on 20th century boundaries to try and manage a 21st century economy’. We should learn, he said, from federal Germany. There, ‘many cities drag up the national economy. In the UK, too many drag it down’.

This house believes that London will become more trouble than it’s worth: Unequal investment is undermining the true potential of UK plc, RIBA Building Futures Debate, 6 November 2012

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