This graphic charts the history of England's elected mayors since 2000

Hartlepool remains the only English city to have elected its football mascot, H'Angus the Monkey, as mayor. Image: Yaffa Phillips/Flickr/Creative Commons.

England's modern system of elected mayors was first introduced by the Blair government. London was first out of the trap, electing Ken Livingstone – at that point an independent who didn't keep banging on about Hitler – in 2000.

But other places soon followed. At first they were most relatively small places – a couple of mid-sized cities like Middlesbrough and Stoke; some smaller towns; some boroughs that make up parts of other cities (Hackney, North Tyneside). The bigger cities appeared later: Leicester in 2011; Bristol and Liverpool the following year.

Matthew Smith, formerly of the think tank Policy exchange, has turned all this into a graphic you can use to track which cities have mayors, and who they voted for in each year since 2016. You can play with it below.


Two trends jump out at you. One is that mayors are a lot more likely to be independents (grey, on the graphic) than most elected politicians in Britain. Partly this is probably the nature of the role.

But it may reflect something else, too. In more recent years – as the recent elections in London and Bristol highlight – the Labour party has come to dominate the mayoralties. That's probably because Labour has increasingly become the party of urban Britain – but when it was in national government, people were less inclined to vote for it in local elections. Since the residents of, say, Middlesbrough were never likely to vote Tory, though, they seem to have opted for an independent instead.

The other trend is that some cities, er, changed their mind. Stoke's mayoralty was abolished in 2010. Hartlepool's mayor Stuart Drummond had proved surprisingly successful (he served three terms), despite having originally been elected in the guise of a football mascot, H'Angus the Monkey, in 2002 – but this didn't stop the town abolishing the post altogether in 2014.

More to the point, perhaps, the vast, vast majority of English towns, cities and boroughs never bothered creating them in the first place. I think that's what one might call a "mixed picture".

At present, there are, by my count, 17 elected mayoralties in England. But that number will increase substantially – how substantially we don't yet know – when the new metro mayors are created in May next year. This graphic is about to get a lot more crowded.

Here it is. Have a play.

 

 

 
 
 
 

This app connects strangers in two cities across the world. But can it tackle urban loneliness?

New Delhi, in India, where many of Duet-App's users come from. Image: Ville Miettinen

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people”. Olivia Laing, The Lonely City

Our relationship to where we live and the spaces we inhabit define who we are and how we feel. But how often do we articulate the emotional impact of this relationship, whether this be loneliness, frustration or even civic pride?

“When I moved to a new city, started living alone, wanted to drink less, stay indoors more, and when I realised that I cannot make any more best friends.”

A new social network, a simple app that connects two individuals from the UK and India, aims to counter some of these issues.  Over the course of a year connected pairs receive one question a day through the app and their responses are exchanged with each other. A simple interaction that gradually builds a series of one-on-one relationships and invites users to imagine, over time, the other person living their life.

Distant geographies are an implicit part of the experience, therefore many of the questions nudge users to explore correlations between their physical and emotional landscapes. The data shows us that many of the Duet-App users are located in populous urban cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Manchester, Leeds and London, places that can just as often discourage feelings of belonging and place-making as much as they foster them.

“I had thought I'd never be able to live here again. but here I am living again at home after almost a decade living elsewhere. Living in Mumbai is a contact sport, and I can't do without it's chaos and infectious energy.”

Mumbai, India. Image: Deepak Gupta

In general cities are getting bigger and spreading wider at the same time as our communications are increasingly being conducted online and via digital gateways.

There is a sense that much of our online personas project an idealised version of ourselves; we increasingly document and express our daily lives through a filter and we are not always comfortable with a spontaneous expression of ourselves. Duet-App seeks to foster alternative digital relationships that through their anonymity allow us to be more honest and free.

“I feel a lot of people assume that I always have a lot going on for me and everything's always happy and amazing. I wish they could appreciate... how much of my own anxiety I swim in every single day. I appear and behave “normal” on the outside, calm and composed but there are always storms going on in my head.”

In exploring the responses to the questions so far, those that often garner the most replies relate directly to how we feel about our personal position in the world around us. Often these questions act as provocations not only to share responses but to reflect and articulate our thoughts around how we feel about what we are doing in the here and now.

Manchester, another popular city for Duet-App users. Image: Julius 

“Sometimes I feel sad about it [getting old] because I saw how easy it would be to feel lonely, and the fact that the world is set up for able-bodied young people is a bit of a travesty.”

Although many social media platforms allow for distant engagement and access into the lives of others we are in the main still curating and choosing our friendship circles. Through Duet-App this is randomised (and anonymised) with the intention of bypassing the traditional mechanics of how we broker online relationships. While directly exploring the digital space as a place for intimacy.


“Where do you go for peace?

“Well the internet, really. I do some mindless browsing, peek into the fandoms, listen to a few songs. Calms me down.”

Snapshots into the lives of someone existing and playing out their lives remotely can highlight shared concerns that break down preconceptions of how life is lived by others. Prompted by the reflections of a stranger exposed to our lives, digital relationships can encourage us to address the physical space we inhabit and the effects that the cities we live out our lives in have on our own well being. 

Catherine Baxendale is director of Invisible Flock.

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