Vague ramblings

Balkanisation: the shape of things to come?

Posted in Life, Musing, Regionalism, Urbanism by Ian Cundell on 24 June, 2016

The trouble with economists and political scientists is that they do not understand space. While the notion of borders may seem clear to them, they are not properly trained to understand geography.

So forget the market turmoil and the potential threat to the UK’s dominance in key markets, especially financial. Forget that the UK has chosen to complete its transformation from global superpower to complete irrelevance.

Consider these two maps (you can click for larger versions, or follow the links to the source). The first, from the Guardian, shows the distribution of referendum results, adjusted for population. The source has some interesting graphs as well.

The second, from the BBC, shows the distribution of various immigrant groups (no Scotland because that’s how Census data is published).

In the context of a Leave campaign that was shamelessly (and shamefully) racist, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the areas where people have actually met migrants, day-to-day – worked with them, socialised with them, talked to them are the ones who voted most strongly for Remain – the main exception being Birmingham. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. UKIP’s heartland in the East of England is the part of the country with fewest immigrants (although farming relies a lot of migrant labour).

The big cities and the centres of knowledge voted Remain.

But the largely white, English (not British, English) working classes in areas that have been pretty well bankrolled by the EU voted for Leave and a truly impressive case of cut-off-nose-to-spite-faces.

This white son of a truck driver has written quite often (sometimes intemperately) on the capacity of the white English to find other people to blame for their woes. But, really, it is to do with the crushing of aspiration more than anything. They do not care that our kids will find it harder to travel for work to 27 countries. They (we) are no longer expected to aspire – indeed aspiration is actively discouraged, so when times get tough the fingers get pointed. Compare and contrast with the get-up-and-go of the stereotypical Polish brickie, who could be a poster child for Norman Tebbitt’s childish aphorisms.

When I graduated there was nobody in the room prouder than my Dad – left school at 13, Burma Star, drove all over the continent for Marconi, grafted his way to a senior position, dyed-in-the-wool Conservative. He and Mum couldn’t afford the “parental contribution” to my grant, and I only once made the mistake of asking for it.

And, of course, that was in the days of a grant: even if the modern white English working classes could be persuaded to aspire, to lift their eyes and look around the World of opportunity, they would be discouraged by the prospect of a lifetime mountain of debt.

It is an ugly, ugly situation in a homeland that is becoming nastier by the day.

But look back at that map. It takes no imagination at all to see Scotland opting for independence. If I were Nicola Sturgeon I’d be seriously considered going for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.  OK, probably not – but it is hard to see David Cameron as anything other than the PM whose hubris cost us the Union.

But what of those cities, and especially of London?

How well will England’s great centres of finance and knowledge respond to being asked to pick up the tab for regional policy that is, right now, 100% EU funded? Anything that is seen as moving resources out of the capital – financial or physical – will, history shows us, be seen as anti-London and resisted fiercely. Twitter jokes about a London Independence Party will remain just that, of course, but the underlying feeling will not go away. London, for better or worse, has kept the UK afloat since the days of Thatcher (and there is a very strong case for saying “the worse”, but that is entirely moot).

Add the Government’s (perfectly laudable) taste for city-regions exercising greater autonomy – and note that the main one, Manchester, voted Remain;  season with the thought that Plaid Cymru might see a nice anti-English stick to beat the campaign drums with, and division may not be limited to the exit of Scotland.

It’s called Balkanisation for reasons that history (not just recent) teaches us. It doesn’t need to be at all literal.

It will still be cancerous.

Welcome to the Arc of Affluence

Posted in Urbanism by Ian Cundell on 1 April, 2015

Higher ProfessionalOver the past couple of years, for a variety of reasons and in a variety of contexts, I have been immersed in an inordinate amount of socio-economic data about London. Often it has been work-related but, once the specific job is done, invariably I have found myself prodding and poking the data .

Years ago, I introduced myself to my Masters course as a ‘geographer by education and inclination’. I know. Sad. But once a geographer, always a geographer.

So, there I was with a sea of data and wondering how to make sense of it.

Lower professional and managerialNeedless to say dear old Microsoft Excel let me do a lot of slicing and dicing (pivot tables are a joy), but the problem was that I ended up with an inordinate number of tables and, fun as it was making Data Julienne, once you get down below the largest units you start losing track. It is hard relating Super Output Area E Double-0-whatever to a place. To know the name of every ward in London you need a taxi driver’s Knowledge and, although I lived in various bits of London over 20 years or so, I can’t claim that.

I needed to visualise the information.

The Joy of TechsIntermediate

This is where QGIS, an open source mapping programme with just enough quirks and traps to keep you on your toes comes in. When I was an academic GIS systems were inordinately expensive and required a PhD in Applied Nerdery and the targeting system of an advanced fighter aircraft to keep track of the many things waiting to trip you up, to comprehend . QGIS is both a joy and entirely free. Amazing.

Whats your vector, Victor?

Small bizOnce I had acquainted myself with the joys of vectors, polygons, projections systems, and then rediscovered comma separated values I was good to go. If you are ever interested in what is where (which leads inevitably to why?) then grab and learn QGIS.

The first result of this discovery was the set of maps on the right (you can click on them to see them at a sensible size). I apologise for the surplus zeroes in the key – I hadn’t really got the hang of formatting.

Like I said: quirks.

Cluster stuff

lower supervisoryI want you to pay particular attention to the first map and, to a lesser extent, the second. They show where, for want of less loaded term, the wealthy live. Running roughly between the branches of the Northern Line, through the West End and then turning west and south west through Kensington and Chelsea and out through Battersea, Clapham and on to Richmond, this is the Arc of Affluence, an elongated cluster that houses a wide range of social groups, all the way from the wealthy to the mind-bogglingly wealthy.

semi-routineYou will see a lot of it.

Feel free to browse the other maps. You will find yourself exploring the way in which the socio-economic structure of London reflects directly in its geography, with a marked move to the suburbs for the middle classes – the squeezed out middle, so to speak, followed by the great scatter of those groups who do the grunt work, who may well spend some time in the Arc of Affluence, but only to ensure the residents’ houses are spick-and-span.

routine

Don’t let my snark lead you into think there is any particular value judgement in play here. There isn’t, but I’m keen not to come over as dull and worthy.

The thing is, I don’t think anyone has defined the Arc of Affluence before, and since I’ve been mentioning it to a few people I figured I’d better get it on record to baggsie it before anyone else does. Vain, moi?

Now have some fun poking around the rest of the maps to work out if you are living above or below your station.

As the oldest profession knows, everything has a price

house prices by postal sectorYou might reasonably suppose that this social geography would reflect itself in some obvious ways – house prices for instance. And wouldn’t you know it, there’s a map for that, moved to the left to denote that change of topic.

And there it is: the Arc of Affluence, forming its own little postcode lottery. But hang on a moment: there are petite pockets of prosperity elsewhere. What could they be? Let’s add something to the map.

What might provide a handy price boost?

Park life

house parks with parks

It’s not rocket science is it? Many a geographer will tell you that when they ask in a proper, systematic way what things people most value about their living environment access to green space is an ever-present. In the south Dulwich stands out, but even in the east Victoria Park’s north side evidently commands a premium and you can bet your boots that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will be playing catch up. The hotspot down past Bromley is largely rural. And in the west, it is a reasonable bet that only the looming presence of Heathrow Airport stops Osterley Park and Fields from being surrounded by hot property, rather than just the downwind side.

But there we have Hampstead Heath, Regents and Hyde Parks, Battersea Park and Clapham Common and out to Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common. Values in the centre, around the Royal Parks are eye-watering. The highest average in the data set is £11.4m. Guess where.

Deeper and down

Homeworking with more contextAnd then there was the map I was shown – reproduced opposite – from a publication by GLA Intelligence’s Census Information Scheme on home working. I added the parks and the tube system for context and I should state that what follows is entirely my conclusion, not theirs.

Unless you have been off-planet for a while you can scarcely have missed how new kit like iPads and super-light notebooks are going to liberate us all from the tyranny of the office, shop and factory floor as we stay in our communities and work there.

But it is there, isn’t it? The highest concentrations of home workers are slap in the middle of the Arc of Affluence. It is tempting to draw the conclusion that home working is a rich person’s luxury, but the truth is almost certainly more complex and worthy of deeper investigation.

Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

By now you are probably hitting the problem that I hit – of getting bogged down in information. Even with me structuring a mini-thesis for you, it is easy to lose the overview.  So I decided I needed to generalise.

The good news is that I think I pulled it off. The not so good news is that I have the drawing skills of a 12-year-old and not even Pixelmator can fix that. But anyway, here it is. If you know any art students who fancy a project I would be happy for them to take a crack at it.

A Generalised Social Geography of 21st Century London

soc geog

Don’t look for hard edges – it is meant to be impressionistic, with transition areas all over the place and pockets of contrary use. Like I said, drawing skills of a 12-year-old and not a very talented one at that.

But I think it is a pretty robust model – I see these patterns, or something strikingly like them all the time in many data sets, and grasping how the combination of reinforcing and countervailing powers shape them is what geography is all about.

 

Notes on sources and copyright.

QGIS can be grabbed here; The base maps are Crown Copyright from the Ordnance Survey OpenData initiative. I made the park and tube maps using OpenStreetMap, (c)OpenStreetMap Contributors. If you want the shapefiles, I’m happy to share.

Socio-economic data is from the ONS Census 2011 while house price data comes from the Land Registry. All free.

The Greater London Authority has a truly phenomenal amount of information about life and living in London and if you are at all interested in London it should be your first port of call (full disclosure: I have contributed to some of the research base, though my work with Ramidus Consulting.  All views expressed here are entirely my own). 

The ‘A Generalised Social Geography of 21st Century London’ map is mine, but anyone who reckons they can turn it into something that looks like it was drawn by a grown-up should feel free to do so, in return for a) mentioning my name and b) sending me a postcard or something. Except I am currently between houses, so I can’t tell you where to send it. So do a random good deed for a stranger instead. And link back to here.

If you need maps drawn by a pro, then I highly recommend Jake Sales. Find him on LinkedIn

*Edit: tweak to make a joke 3% funnier, to fix a couple of typos and some clumsy sentences.


 

London housing: going where the evidence leads

Posted in Business, Urbanism by Ian Cundell on 24 July, 2014

Ramidus Consulting, the real estate and workplace adviser that I am proud to be associated with, spent a big chunk of late 2013 and early 2014 taking a very close – I would argue forensic – look at the challenges presented by the presence of very wealthy investors in the City of Westminster, in particular to “quantify and describe the scale and nature of the Prime residential market in Westminster and to consider its impact on the economy and communities.”

The client was the City itself and the result was published today.

The report has been well received, with one real estate professional calling it ‘fascinating‘  while another very experienced property PR man said “At last, some objective & concrete analysis of London’s PCL market“. It would be fair to say that all at Ramidus are delighted with the response to the report so far. It was a difficult and challenging project and, of course, highly politically sensitive.

So we are especially proud that we were able to stick with the approach that Ramidus always uses: we go where the evidence leads.  Many of our initial assumptions were turned on their heads, we found many avenues that we would have liked to explore in more depth, but which were outside the scope of the research and we came to appreciate the astonishing complexity of housing not just in the City of Westminster but in London as a whole.

The “in a nutshell” conclusions are summarised in the final chapter, in terms of two critical questions:

  • Does the increasing price and volume of higher value housing impact on Westminster’s ability to meet housing needs in the borough?

It is hard to deny this.

  •  Is there a planning policy that could mitigate or change that, without creating alternative problems?

We cannot envisage one within existing frameworks.

This is Westminster’s (and, it must be said, London’s) ‘intractable problem’.

I urge anyone interested in housing in London to grab the report – download it here – and to take your time reading it.

We have, of course, continued thinking about the issues in the report and many others we found in the course of research. It would be inappropriate to discuss them here, lest people get the idea we ‘speak for Westminster’, but I will return to them in future blogs.


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