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Global London and the Geography of Prosperity

Globalization appears to be tearing apart Britain. Second-tier cities must find their inner London and pull the country back together.
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South facade of King's Cross Station in London. (Photo: Bert Seghers/Wikimedia Commons)

South facade of King's Cross Station in London. (Photo: Bert Seghers/Wikimedia Commons)

Economic globalization connects. Economic globalization divides. The usual geography of globalization maps the widening gap between the haves and the have nots. The British version speaks of a dominant London with the rest of the nation left behind. The Financial Times subtly subverts this narrative, highlighting the same chasm that exists within the global city:

If London is growing apart from Britain, different bits of London are also growing apart from each other. Economic and social patterns vary widely across the city. In King’s Cross, life expectancy is 79. In Knightsbridge, just eight stops away on the Piccadilly line, it is 91. It is as low as 75 in Lewisham, in the southeast of the city.

The inequality within Greater London, within its very boroughs, exceeds that between London and the rest of Britain. In fact, in terms of pay, the United Kingdom is catching up with the capital region. Economic globalization is busy diffusing down the urban hierarchy.

The geography of prosperity tracks where globalization is and where it isn't. As the Financial Times takes pains to detail, King's Cross in London once looked like all of the have not places outside of London:

In the original version of the film Alfie, released in 1966, you see Michael Caine ambling through the back streets of King’s Cross. The setting is all urban desolation: a London that is not swinging. In 1987, 31 people died in a blaze at the rickety train station nearby. Wooden escalators, creaking their way over flammable grease and litter, allowed the fire to spread with hideous alacrity. A decade after that, Tony Blair told an interviewer of the shame he felt when he drove his children through King’s Cross, a place still synonymous in 1997 with homelessness and prostitution.

It is now a feat of persuasion to convince a Londoner born in that year that this part of town was world famously squalid. St Pancras station gleams inside and out, its international terminal bustling with Eurostar passengers bound for Paris. Alfie’s walking route is a sleek public space lined with modern apartments and modish restaurants. Google, the Guardian newspaper and Central Saint Martins College have displaced the slums. According to Argent, the company redeveloping the area, half of its epic project is still to come. King’s Cross, like Canary Wharf before it, has become a symbol of London’s emergence as perhaps the — not just a — world city.

King's Cross used to be cut off from economic globalization. The Eurostar terminal physically connected the isolate neighborhood to Global Paris. Of course, the train line doesn't connect all of the residents in King's Cross to globalization, hence the disparity in longevity referenced above. To be blessed by globalization is a selective process, a kind of Passover. Those ravaged by parochialism suffer a premature death.

Where globalization goes, prosperity will follow. But globalization does not cause inequality. The lack of access to globalization causes inequality. Connectivity is king in King's Cross.