Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Multitudes

I took some time out earlier today, Tuesday, to head down to John Lewis on Oxford Street to get a few items for my room. What an afternoon. Think that shopping in central London on a weekday afternoon in winter would be painless, with sidewalks clear, weather cool, and nerves calm? Well, think again.

Instead, it seemed as though half of London was out in force today. But then again, perhaps many of them were tourists. [For this one year, at least, I consider myself a Londoner!] And they say that real Londoners shop in places like Sloan Square. Only the visitors head to Oxford Street, which may explain the profusion of souvenir stands. In my defence, Oxford Street is within walking distance of my hall.

But I digress. What worries me is the sheer magnitude of the human traffic in London. I know this is a refrain I’ve sounded before – that this city is crowded, that it is bursting beyond its seams, that the infrastructure here seems incapable of supporting the millions who call this place home. I think about that most often when my nose is pressed against the train window on the Piccadilly line Tube during rush hour. London is a stupendously exciting city. But surely there comes a point beyond which the number of individuals here, far from adding to the attractiveness of the city, begin to impact upon it negatively?

I’m not certain if London will be as fun to visit or to live in a few years for now. Perhaps this is the price to pay for being a world city, without the resources to properly back it up. The awarding of the Olympics to London for 2012 should, with hope, help to stimulate massive public investment in critical areas such as roads and transportation. With good planning, there is no reason why the city cannot continue to draw more people in, and comfortably too.

I write this barely a few days after the government in Singapore announced that they were targeting an eventual population of 6.5 million for the city state. Those of us know come from Singapore and who know Singapore would shudder instinctively at the thought. Sure, London seems far more crowded. And it probably is. But residents here have the option of escaping beyond the M25 into the home counties. We don’t have that option in Singapore.

How is it going to play out? How will the influx of foreigners – and let’s face it, the growth will come mainly through foreign inflows – be best managed, without destabilizing the local population?

But I know there’s no turning back. The only way to survive is to grow.

1 Comments:

Anonymous sw said...

2 things:
1) This week is reading week and school holidays - that explains the traffic. Scinece museum in South Ken queue was all the way from the underground from V&A entrance this morning.
2) No place else to go for Singapore? Solutions: reclaim, "buy" some islands off Indonesia (like monopoly game) and combine them to bigger islands or drive upnorth pass the causeway ;-). Lots of land to build houses there :-)

sw

2:17 PM  

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