The foreign bankers of West Kensington are the same as the migrant workers of West Ham - both are attracted to the city by jobs, and both keep the capital's economy running.

London is probably the most diverse place on the planet. A truly global city, this diversity brings huge cultural and economic benefits.

For a start, 'all sorts of men crowd here from every country under the heavens.' Sound familiar? That was Richard of Devizes writing about London in 1185, long before newspaper headlines talked about being 'swamped' by foreigners. As the nerve-centre of the British Empire, people from all corners of the globe came to or passed through London. What we call 'British' or a 'Londoner' today has been shaped by these interactions and influences.

There have been black and ethnic minority people here for centuries. There were more than 20,000 black people living in London two hundred years ago. From the Huguenots to the Jews to Bangladeshis, Londonís East End has seen them all.

Today, one-third of Londoners are not white. London is home to one in two of the UK's ethnic minority population and attracts almost half of all new immigrants coming to the UK. On a world stage London has been attracting more foreigners than New York or Paris. The Notting Hill Carnival is second in size only to Rio's.

Recent immigration into London, like immigration into the rest of the UK, has also become more diverse. Whereas immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s came predominantly from the Caribbean and South Asia, today's newcomers are from a much wider range of countries. No wonder more than 300 languages are spoken in London.

Immigration is also critical to London's economic dynamism. A walk around leafy West Kensington or bustling East Ham reveals the centrality of immigrants to London's economy. Although the two areas feel very different Ė the former is one of the most affluent areas of the capital while the latter is one of the poorest Ė foreign-born people make up almost half the resident population in both areas. The former is home to the bankers and financiers who have fuelled London's financial services boom, and in the latter are the builders and cleaners who keeping the capital going. Both groups are drawn to London for economic reasons, both groups would probably move on if economic conditions in London change dramatically, and without either the city would work as well.

Is all this immigration and diversity a problem? Not for the average Londoner it would seem. According to the Annual London Survey, Londoners thought that diversity enriched their lives. After the shopping and job opportunities, it was the mixture of people who lived in London that they valued most. And when it comes to the range of restaurants in the capital Ė offering food from over 70 different countries - Londoners have immigration to thank for the profusion of choice on offer.

Of course immigration brings challenges: different people have to learn to live together, often cheek by jowl. But Londoners, who have a wealth of experience of living with people from other cultures, seem to celebrate that diversity. Some 75% of Londoners think relations between its different communities are good. Read the literature from Londonís 2012 Olympics bid and you get a real sense of how much diversity is part of Londonís self-image.

It is not just culturally that immigration enriches London. Immigrants fuel the dynamism of Londonís economy, filling labour gaps at all levels.

From West Kensington to East Ham (two very different parts of the city), immigration seems to be driving Londonís dynamism. The former attracts the bankers and financiers who have fuelled Londonís financial services boom. In the latter are the builders and cleaners who keeping the capital going. Without them, key jobs may not get done or prices would go up or both. This long history of immigration and diversity means that London is perhaps better placed than any other city to make the most of a rapidly globalising world.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah works for the Institute of Public Policy Research think tank. He will speak at the first debate of the Debate London weekend - Is London a United City? on 22 June.



Supported by
Debate London is organised by The Architecture Foundation Charity Registration no.1006361
The Architecture Foundation is funded by Arts Council England