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London 2050: The First Genuinely Global City

Gensler will present its vision, including renderings such as this, of what the City of London will become in 2050 as part of The Developing City exhibition.

In the context of the continuing shock waves that reverberate through the world’s economy, competition between cities shows no sign of abating. London and New York are widely accepted as the only two world cities, and London just edges the lead against its rival to maintain the crown of the world’s leading financial centre. As one future-gazes, the question is whether London will be eclipsed by the fast-emerging cities of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economies. What will London’s role and position become in 2050? How will the physical fabric of the city transform? One thing is certain: the never-ending process of renewal and redevelopment will continue, as it has for 2000 years. The city will reinvent itself to respond to a constantly-changing world.

My view is that the gradual globalisation of business will accelerate, fuelled by ever-improving communications and accessibility. This presents a major opportunity for London, which sits at the centre of this expanding transnational market place. The City of London has prospered for generations through its participation and support for international free trade, and the city has every chance of consolidating its position as the world capital for trade and commerce. London’s position as a world city has the potential to expand; it is positioned to become the first genuinely global city. No city in the world is better suited than London to call itself the capital of the global free trade zone that now extends from the U.S. to China.

How will the City of London physically accommodate its economic trading position? It already has an envious urban fabric of architectural significance. The historic city core in particular will continue to adapt to new uses and emerging business, but there is unlikely to be wholesale redevelopment. There are, however, other parts of the city that can accommodate dramatic changes over the next 40 years. Post-war redevelopment was critical to the current positioning of the City of London, and these same areas are poised to accommodate the next generation of buildings and businesses. In effect, there is a ring of opportunity around the historic core and this provides the perfect platform for the city to embrace the next stage of its evolution. For London to capitalise on this opportunity, there are major challenges ahead and there is no room for complacency. Rival cities including New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai will angle to displace London’s position at the top.

We are living in the century of cities, and urban planners must redefine what cities can be and how they can better serve their diverse populations. London has the potential to set an example for how a city can physically transform itself into a global destination and economic force.

Only our children will be the judge of whether the decisions we make now will lead to the thriving, vibrant and successful commercial centre that we desire. The City of London can’t and won't become a museum to a glorious age of financial and professional services. I think the city can still be home to a multiplicity of specialist exchanges, and it can still be the place to meet and do business. Livery companies can once again be central to commercial direction of the city. With the proper investment in new transport and new utility infrastructure, over the next forty years the city can return to the levels of employment and residential population that it historically supported. The City of London can and will become the Central Business District for the world’s first genuinely global city.

What specific steps can London take to realise its potential? I will outline Gensler's vision, featured in The Developing City exhibition, in my next post.

Ian Mulcahey
Ian Mulcahey is Co-Managing Director of Gensler London. As the leader of a multidisciplinary team of planners, architects, and urban designers, he's interested in creating compelling spaces that add to the richness of urban environments, and he recognizes the competing political, commercial, and social forces that influence urban planning and design. Contact him at ian_mulcahey@gensler.com.

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