Simon Ellacott, a Managing Consultant in our Marketing, Sales and Service practice asks how good London life really is, and how the citizen experience might be improved "London’s brilliant when it’s raining / Everybody’s moaning and complaining" – Wendy James It seems to me that Londoners love London with the obsessive intensity of a college foreign-exchange trip romantic crush. They regularly tell me it’s the best city in the world, that they couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the UK and so on, ad nauseum. Being a northerner (born and raised a Lancashire lad, if you’re asking) my London based friends and colleagues generally have nothing but pity for me as someone who has never lived there. Although I work in London frequently, the closest I have ever lived is in the commuter belt. I therefore feel qualified to take a more objective view; I don’t have an anti-London agenda but neither do I have a bias to automatically defend it as my choice of residence. Following the release of an objective study by Mercer into the quality of living in cities across the world, I ask – is London really a great place to live?
At first glance the evidence is not good: in the study London comes a lowly 39th in the global top 50 cities for quality of living. We should consider: what is the citizen experience for someone living in London anyway? To clarify, I’m not talking about the visitor experience. That is something a little easier to understand and is well promoted by organisations like Visit London. Instead, we’re looking at something that could perhaps also be described as the resident experience. Do the factors cited in Mercer’s quality of living survey combine to form an overall citizen experience? This makes a lot of sense – we are looking at some big ticket items after all: internal political stability, crime levels and law enforcement, limitations on personal freedom, occurrence of natural disasters, housing, pollution levels and so on. Even the occurrence of ‘troublesome and destructive insects’ is accounted for: yes wasps, we’re talking about you. Circumstances that are specific to individuals have to be discounted and in their study Mercer do this by removing those factors that affect an individual’s quality of life (for example, their unique emotional state or personal finances). We therefore obtain a set of benchmark criteria that are going to have a huge influence on the experience of any citizen. Let’s imagine that the detailed information becomes freely available – what are we supposed to do with it? Citizens themselves may read it, notice that life is quantifiably better in a city a few places higher up on the list and organise a mass wagon-train migration towards a bright new dawn. In reality, ties to friends and families, cultural associations and work opportunities - not to mention immigration laws - will soon put a stop to that kind of thing. So instead, is there any way in which we might use the information to improve the experience? When we consider the citizen experience we should note that there isn’t one single entity responsible for delivering that experience. The GLA (Greater London Authority) is arguably the largest single entity that is attempting to improve the experience for London denizens, perhaps followed by the travel infrastructure provided by TfL (Transport for London). However, for any given resident: John Q. London, the experience will also be influenced in major ways by the services provided by their local council, school, police service and health providers – each of whom have their own agenda and set of priorities. In addition, the experience of living in the city is going to be affected by all the other John Q. Londons, each wishing to mould the city in the shape of their ideals – possibly coinciding with yours, but according to Murphy’s law, more likely to be in direct opposition to them. And lest we forget, there are over 13 million other John (and Jane) Q. Londons to consider in the metropolitan area. Is the sheer size of London itself a barrier to a great experience? Does this vast metropolitan area, the largest in the EU, even make sense as a single entity? There isn’t one unique message or icon that sums up London in its entirety (although that hasn’t stopped the GLA from trying to create one, in a 'Brand for London’). One option would be to try to define and improve the citizen experience on a more localised level, though this doesn’t tackle the problem of who could possibly co-ordinate any efforts to make any improvements. A final thought – an improved experience for residents is by definition a benefit granted directly to them. However, what are the benefits to the organisations who wield the power to improve that experience? It’s a question beyond the scope of these musings, but if the great and good of London’s institutions need motivation to shuffle up the world city rankings list, they should investigate the economic advantages that a happy, stable and motivated population can provide. Whilst we ponder all this, Vienna held its place at the top of the world city rankings for the second year running. Round up the wagons and say auf wiedersehen, London!