Sunday, 11 April 2010

London IS the capital of the world!

The great Dr. Samuel Johnson concluded that "when a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

London is not only a fact of life, but a state of mind. 'It's a city to make your own.'

Times correspondent provoked a global debate with his claim that London is the capital of the world. Here he stands by his view, and leading expat London residents give theirs.

People who love London seem to love the same things about it: the sense of possibility, the openness to the world, a culture and an economy that looks in all directions — backwards, inwards, outwards and to the future. London has the geographical edge: it is the centre of the world. I can fly around two hours and be in Rome, while if I fly about the same time from New York I will be in Cincinnati.

I have been saying for the past five years that London is the capital of the world. It has acquired a “cool” tag that it just can’t shake off. This started in the 1960s with the music scene, the Rolling Stones, minis, E-type jags, Michael Caine, and those images have stuck in people’s psyches. Now, every decade something comes along. It happened in the 1970s with David Bowie and Roxy Music, then in the 1980s with new romanticism. The 1990s was about Britpop and Brit Art, culturally significant moments.

The important thing in this decade has been the explosion in design — furniture, architecture, fashion and cars. It’s also a great place to work. The atmosphere is intense but that positive pressure is good for creative people. There are three basic needs for people — food, clothes and entertainment, three things that score very highly in London.

Primrose Hill - I was reminded of a story told to me by a respected historian. At a bleak moment during the Second World War, when the city was under heavy bombardment and the mood in the country was heavy with doom, Winston Churchill took a walk up Primrose Hill. He returned to the Commons and declared what he had found: “I looked out over London,” he said, “and I found it was still there.” The
House erupted in cheers.

In 1951, Southbank Centre was the ground on which the Festival of Britain made its postwar commitment to the human imagination. The festival’s success rested on its belief in the power of multiple creative voices and a love of variety and cultural expression. Many of the artists who contributed were refugees — and their legacy is the great South Bank cultural quarter. When I went to Singapore with the Olympic Team, we bid for London’s right to host the games because we said we wanted to host the whole world. Every sector — galleries, museums, theatres, dance spaces, literature centres, music and festival venues — now knows it forms part of this creative enterprise.

For thousands of years, London as a port city was a community for all-comers. By acknowledging this unique strength, the capital has become an unrivalled cultural heartland. I have lived in London for four years. I usually don’t like big cities. I grew up in rural Spain and don’t like to feel claustrophobic but I love London. It’s my favourite city. It feels global and local; it has an ability to make you relate to history but also feel alive. It is big but has a human scale. It is a series of villages, each of which retains its character. I lived in New York — there you just felt like you were going from A to B but the unique layout of London means you are always discovering something new. It is a city which welcomes people. That’s what makes it a true metropolis. I live in Covent Garden and walk everywhere. I love the parks and food markets such as Borough, and restaurants such as St John and Yauatcha. The only thing I don’t like is being underground so I usually take a bus or taxi.

Experience life and living and keep abreast of the goings-on in the city here!

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