Oh good, another pretty picture which won’t solve any of London’s actual problems

It looks lovely. Shame it’s such total nonsense. Image: WATG.

It happened again. Another architecture practice has seemingly decided that it’s too difficult to get attention and praise for its actual work, and decided instead to cut out all that difficult “designing and building things” stuff, and just put out a pretty picture.

And it works. The media lap it up, because the readers lap it up. Look how beautiful Fleet Street is, with one, narrow lane of traffic instead of four! Look at the bike lanes! Look at all the plants!

And everyone loves it because you would, wouldn’t you? It looks much nicer than the grey, drab, polluted chasm that is the actual Fleet Street. I said it was a pretty picture, and it is: it’s gorgeous.

But – that’s all it is. It’s not a plan for Fleet Street, because it doesn’t – doesn’t try to – doesn’t even pretend to try to – tackle any of the problems you’d actually have to tackle if you wanted to actually change anything.

In that part of London, there are three east-west routes in the space of about 1km: High Holborn (the A40) in the north, the Victoria Embankment (the A3211) along the river in the south, and Fleet Street (the A4, actually) in between. Those are the only through routes open not just to private cars, but also to delivery vehicles, taxis and – most importantly – buses.

Now I am all in favour of measures to reduce pollution and motor traffic in our cities. But close Fleet Street to most vehicles in this way, and at the very least you need to work out what to do with the six bus routes and eight night bus routes you’ve just displaced.


High Holborn is too far and too crowded. The Embankment is a possibility, but it’s already pretty snarled up itself. And that’s just the buses. It’s probable that not every delivery van, say, currently using Fleet Street needs to be there – but some almost certainly do. What about them? What shall we do with them?

I don’t believe for a second that the people who commissioned this drawing have even thought about this problem. Because solving London’s problems is not what it’s for. What it’s for is garnering free media coverage for a time-pressed and click-hungry media.

You will notice that I’ve not mentioned the name of the architecture practice responsible for this monstrosity. I’m not going to, either. If you really want to know, you can look at the picture credit, but you won’t will you? Because you don’t care either. You’ve seen the pretty picture. You’ve read my rant. You don’t care which particular architects inspired it.

I’m fine with that. I’m fine with you never knowing their name. Because ad buys are shrinking, we’ve got bills to pay, and I am sick of these people thinking they can get free media coverage just because they can use Photoshop.

Also, you know what happens when you start acting like these graphics are serious thought leadership rather than just pretty pictures? Heatherwick, that’s what happens. Do you want to be responsible for creating another Thomas Heatherwick? No. Of course you don’t.

Stop giving these people the oxygen of publicity. Think once. Think twice. Think, don’t click.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Which British cities have the bestest ultrafast broadband?

Oooh, fibre. Image: Getty.

The latest instalment of our series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities. 

Between the dark web, Breitbard News and Donald Trump's Twitter feed, it's abundantly clear that terrible things often happen on the internet. But good things happen here, too - like funny videos and kitten pictures and, though we say so ourselves, CityMetric. 

Anyway. The government clearly believes the internet is on balance a good thing, so it's investing more in improving Britain's broadband coverage. But which cities need the most work?

Luckily, those ultrafast cats at the Centre for Cities are on hand with a map of Britain's ultrafast broadband coverage, as it stood at the end of 2016. It shows the percentage of premises which have access to download speeds of 100Mbps or more. Dark green means loas, pale yellow means hardly any. Here's the map:

Some observations...

This doesn't quite fit the pattern we normally get with these exercises in which the south of England and a few other rich cities (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, York) look a lot healthier than the cities of the Midlands, South Wales and the North.

There are elements of that, sure: there are definitely more southern cities with good coverage, and more northern onse without it. But there are notable exceptions to the pattern, too. Those cities with very good coverage include Middlesbrough (88.0 per cent) and Dundee (89.4 per cent), not normally to be found near the top of anyone's rankings. 

Meanwhile, Milton Keynes - a positive boom town, on most measures - lingers right near the bottom of the chart, with just 12.9 per cent coverage. The only city with worse coverage is another city that normally ranks as rich and succesful: the Socttish oil capital Aberdeen, where coverage is just 0.13 per cent, a figure so low it rings alarm bells about the data. 

Here's a (slightly cramped) chart of the same data. 

Click to expand.

If you can spot a patten, you're a better nerd than I.

One thought I had was that perhaps there might be some correlation with population: perhaps bigger cities, being bigger markets, find it easier to get the requisite infrastructure built.

I removed London, Manchester and Birmingham from the data, purely because those three - especially the capital - are so much bgiger than the other cities that they make the graph almost unreadable. That don't, here's the result.

So, there goes that theory.

In all honesty, I'm not sure what could explain this disparity: why Sheffield and Southand should have half the broadband coverage of Middlesbrough or Brighton. But I suspect it's a tempory measure. 

All this talk of ultranfast broadband (100Mbps+), after all, superseded that of mere superfast broadband (just 24Mbps+). The figures in this dataset are 10 months old. It's possible that many of the left behind cities have caught up by now. But it's almost certain we'll be hearing about the need for, say, Hyperfast broadband before next year is out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook