Last night's opening debate, Is London A United City?, was a great kick-off to Debate London. The panelists—Boris Johnson, Neal Lawson, Lynsey Hanley, Ivan Massow, Tony Travers and Emma Peters—presented a diverse and largely bifurcated set of views addressing the rampant economic inequality that has come to characterise London.

Much of the debate, curiously, centred around issues of taxation. Boris Johnson noted the jealousy of his upper-middle class peers over the lack of taxes paid by the "super rich." Massow argued that taxing the rich leads to them leaving for other, cheaper cities—to reap benefits of having wealthy citizens (altruism, trickle-down, local investment), we should attract them through minimal taxation. Unsurprisingly, this view stirred a controversy that was revisited repeatedly throughout the night.

Meanwhile Tony Travers described that we must look beyond taxation and rather at housing issues to address the major problems of economic inequality and quality of life for the low-income residents of the city. Hanley agreed, and included her vast knowledge of and experience in housing estates to offer suggestions of how to address housing issues. Emma Peters, with her experience in Tower Hamlets, was a great addition—her description of the borough highlights the degree to which it is a microcosm of the larger city and her recommendations could easily be applied beyond the borough itself.

Hardeep Singh Kohli was a just moderator, and focused on balancing the view points whilst sparking further debate. After initial presentations by each panelist and notes from the respondents—Saskia Sassen, Nigel Coates, Alex de Rijke and the stellar Danny Sriskandarajah—the debate was opened up to the floor. Concerned, mostly left-leaning audience members vocalized a range of issues, from the way in which public space should be designed to foster interaction between classes to a comparison of London's class system to that of the more egalitarian Dutch, and democratised the issues at hand. The debate was contentious, informative and at times loud. It has set a high standard for the next three days, but a standard that will likely be met and one that should generate plenty of excitement.

(For a list of the panelists' and respondents' biographies follow the link above.)

Posted by: Jaffer Kolb on 23/06/07



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Debate London is organised by The Architecture Foundation Charity Registration no.1006361
The Architecture Foundation is funded by Arts Council England www.architecturefoundation.org.uk