Three cheers for Baby Ben!
When Kelly Davies gave birth at St Thomas’s hospital, London, last Saturday morning, she delivered both her baby son, Ben Karkaxhiu, and a historic moment for London. With the birth of Baby Ben, London’s population rose to over 8.615million for the first time in its history, beating its previous record, which was set in 1939. (Following the Second World War, a large-scale movement to the suburbs and new towns took place, seeing the population dive until it began to rise again at the start of the 1990s.)
The historic nature of her son’s birth originally passed Davies by. As she told the London Evening Standard, ‘It was a bit over my head to be honest, I was a bit more concerned with getting this thing out of me’.
The significance didn’t escape the attention of the Malthusians at campaign group Population Matters, however, who would seemingly have preferred it if Baby Ben hadn’t been born at all. PM warned The Times that London was ‘creaking under the weight of its booming population’.
Or in the colourful words of downbeat commentators, London was not only creaking, but ‘bursting’ and ‘exploding’. BBC London News has launched a ‘crowded capital’ week. The underlying tone is: how will we cope?
Such an attitude reflects a state of mind, rather than an observable reality. Modern-day London is incomparable to the state it was in when it was growing to its previous peak, when – as Peter Ackroyd puts it in his biography of the city – it was ‘packed to blackness’ with people, poverty and pollution.
Indeed, part of the problem London is facing at present is not its crowded nature, but its lack of density. London is actually one of the least dense major cities in the world. As I have pointed out on spiked previously, London has 5,285 people per square kilometre, half that of Manhattan’s 10,725. At least part of the solution is to look up, and build more high-rises in the capital.
Malthusians to one side, many of the gripes around London’s population growth focus on the poverty of the city’s infrastructure – the lack of housing, transport, schools and hospitals – rather than the fact that the city is ‘full up’ in itself. However, to say the population of London needs to slim down so the infrastructure can cope is to get things totally the wrong way round: we need to scale up the infrastructure to accommodate the desire of more and more people to live in the city.
Amid the gloom, London Mayor Boris Johnson was refreshingly bullish. ‘London’s incredible population boom is testament to the fact that this is the best big city on the planet’, he said. The debate we need to have now is how to make this big city get even bigger.
Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.
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