Who is Sadiq Khan – and what are his priorities now he's mayor of London?

London's new mayor, in fine fettle. Image: Getty.

Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, has just been elected as the third mayor of London. We're still waiting for the final count (and will update this post when we have it); but it will show that he's the winner. 

London’s new mayor was born in 1970, the fifth of eight siblings born to Pakistani parents living in a council estate in Earlsfield. His father, as he has on occasion mentioned during his mayoral campaign, was a bus driver.

Khan studied law at the University of North London, and became a human rights lawyer, before entering parliament in 2005. He served in Gordon Brown’s Labour government as junior minister for communities, and then, in 2009, became the first Muslim to attend Cabinet as transport minister. He kept the brief when he joined the shadow cabinet after Labour’s election defeat the following year.

Khan’s victory makes him the first Muslim to serve as the mayor of a major western capital. (While we’re doing facts and figures: around 12 per cent of Londoners identify as Muslims.)

So, what does London’s new mayor want to do? Here’s a brief rundown of his priorities...

Building more housing

Khan has promised to set up a new agency called “Homes for Londoners”, which will, well, build a lot more homes. That means using his “planning, funding, and land powers alongside new experts to raise investment, assemble land”.

He’s promised he’ll focus his efforts on publicly owned brownfield land – stuff owned by Transport for London (TfL) and so forth. He’s promised he won’t touch the green belt, and he’s implied he doesn’t think much of skyscrapers. (Those things will impose a limit on how fixed this crisis gets, by hey.)

Make sure housing is more affordable

On top of that, Khan has promised support for councils and housing associations to build more social housing. He’ll also create a “London Living Rent”, a new class of properties in which rents are a third of average local wages (details pending). And he’ll make sure new homes will be offered to Londoners first (ditto).

He’s also promised to improve life for renters, by setting up a London-wide, not for profit lettings agency, creating a landlord licensing scheme.

Transport

Khan has promised to freeze transport fares for four years. And he’s said he’ll create a one hour bus “Hopper” ticket, with which you can switch buses without paying a second fare.

He’s also promised to back Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo line extension – but since the first set of pledges will do horrible things to TfL’s finances, it’s not entirely clear how. He’s promised to explore “new revenue raising opportunities”, but still, hmmm.

Oh, and he’s promised to keep building cycle lanes and to make walking nicer, too.

Sorting out air pollution

Khan says this one is important to him (his manifesto contained the revelation that he suffers from adult-onset asthma).

So, he’s promising to consult on an Ultra-Low Emission Zone. He’s also looking into “Clean Bus Corridors” – that is, replacing polluting buses with new clean ones along the most polluted roads. And from 2020, he says, TfL will only buy clean electric or hydrogen buses.

Khan has also promised to deliver charging infrastructure for electric cars, and to “embark on a major tree-planting programme across London”.

Oh, and he’s opposed to a third runway at Heathrow Airport. That’s another one of those policies we’re putting in the “let’s see if it survives contact with the enemy” pile.

And the rest...

Among the assorted other things Sadiq Khan has claimed will be his priorities, he has promised he will:

  • Restore neighbourhood policing, and tackle gangs and knife crime;
  • Review the resourcing of our fire service;
  • Be “the most pro-business mayor yet”;
  • “Work with employers to make London a Living Wage City”;
  • “Challenge gender inequality” and “remove the barriers to women’s success”;
  • “Make London a fairer and more tolerant city”;

That’s a lot of big promises to live up to.

London has just given Sadiq Khan a hell of a mandate. Let’s see what he does with it.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric and tweets too much.

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“This is a civic pride for the digital age”: why we should why we should willingly let City Hall have our data

He was the future once: David Cameron discusses smart cities with Angela Merkel and a German technology executive. Image: Getty.

Victorian England. From the shadows of wealth grew poverty. Slums slumped against symbols of civic pride, cowering next to towering town halls funded through rich merchant princes, whose elitist rule was insufficient to deal with too many people in too few houses with too little infrastructure.

Enter municipality. With darkness came electric light; with disease came tunnels to disperse their cause; with time came reform, regulation and the rise of town planning.

It’s over a century since those places which first industrialised became those first urbanised; yet even the wealthiest cities in the world continue to struggle with the complexities of urbanisation. In London, ten thousand die each year from pollution; in New York, six times this amount reside in homeless shelters.On the rush-hour roads of Sydney, cars stand still, and in the ‘burbs or banlieues of Paris slums still stand.

An umbrella bought during a downpour costs more than one bough under blue sky – and the truth is that, for too, long city halls have failed to forecast and so incurred greater costs. It’s a reactive culture summed up by words first head in Jimmy Carter’s budget office: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Disease before sewer, gridlock before investment, collapse before rebuild – visible fix over unseen prevention

But with the world’s urban population growing by 65m every year, this has to change: there is not enough resource to manage cities reactively. Enter technology and the move to smart cities.

From Barcelona to New YorkOxford to Amsterdam, Singapore to Seoul: billions of low-cost devices are being installed into everyday objects to send and receive data: street lights recording pollution, and bridges reporting performance; traffic lights that count, and whose analysis will be counted upon, to ease traffic congestion; health wristbands understanding our heart’s needs, shop ceilings noting our heart’s desires. A web of information woven into the very fabric of cities which, when added to data from sources like mobile phones, is providing a living-breathing picture of how we and our cities operate.

This data is no longer retrospective or historic but live and dynamic. It is of such quantity, and can be analysed at such granular detail, that it can provide certainty where once there was only supposition. It is build-up before the gridlock, illness before epidemic; the crack of an ageing bridge, the first signs of smog. It is diagnostic to preventative. Umbrella under blue sky.

Those promoting the “internet of things”, estimated to be worth $11.1trn a year by 2025, will declare it a panacea – but it is not, at least not entirely. Sure, challenges regarding data quality, privacy, standardisation, and security will be overcome; 4G will become 5G will become 6G. Devices will communicate intelligently with each other – autonomous vehicle to autonomous vehicle, autonomous vehicle to bridge, drone to home. Data will become as fundamental to cities as infrastructure, and will be referred to as such.

Yet city halls in democracies, whilst infinitely better informed, will continue to make their decisions which are restricted by commercialism, framed by political ideology, and driven by short-term electoral or media pressures.


People first

From the mid-sixties to the start of this century a UK television programme called Tomorrow’s World showcased future living. For every correct prediction (mobile phones) came countless incorrect ones: the floating-bicycle, say, or paper underwear. My point is that only a small part of understanding the future of cities is about understanding technology. The majority is about understanding people and society, the people from whom the very word “city” is derived: civitas, the collective of citizens.

Gutenberg did not change the world by inventing the printing press in the 13th century – but he did enable the world to change. The technology was the printing press, the outputs were books filled with knowledge, the outcomes were the actions of the many who used that knowledge. Technology is a tool, a process towards an outcome. 

In much the same way, the Internet of Things will not change the world – but it will enable the world to change. Sensors are the technology, data the outputs, the analysis of this data and subsequent decisions, the outcome.

It is crucial to avoid the Tomorrow’s World approach. That is, racing to implement technology first without consideration of identified social, economic or environmental needs; introducing more complexity when most citizens seek simplicity. As the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs once said:“First comes the image of what we want, then the machinery is adapted to turn out that image.”

Start with people. Form the image. Think of technology through the Greek origins of the word, techne and logos – a discourse about the way things are gained – and capitalise on collective intelligence to move towards that image.

Since cities first started to appear some millennia ago, they’ve provided incontrovertible evidence that the wisdom of crowds is far greater than the individual; that collective intelligence gained from that trinity of city institutions – citizen, government, industry – surpasses what can be achieved by any one in isolation. Where would Apple, Uber, or Google be without the government-backed inventions like the world-wide-web, touchscreen technology, WiFi or global positioning systems?

A new civic pride

Of course, an app on a smart phone that can ask a thousand questions is meaningless if nobody feels motivated to answer. Increasing urbanisation brings increasing interdependency: lives intrinsically linked, services shared. The challenge for city halls is to turn the increase in what people have in common, into an increase in common purpose, through understanding the three benefits that motivate and lead to action.

Extrinsic benefits, of status and reward, caused merchant princes to fund city halls in Victorian England: such benefits today see the ambitious putting in extra hours. Intrinsic benefits, like competitiveness or fun, that once caused business tycoons to compete to build the tallest skyscrapers, now explain why “hackathons” and “city challenges” are such a success. Then there are the pro-social benefits of altruism or benevolence, that cause millions to volunteer their time to give back and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

These motivations are of greater significance, because there are no longer people with clipboards standing on street corners asking permission to collate our views on services: it is happening automatically through the Internet of Things. Our choices online, movements offline; the travel we take, the pollution we make; our actions and interactions. We are data.

City halls can take a click-box-small-print approach to this, like so many apps. But there is opportunity to do the opposite. They can promote the fact that citizens can knowingly provide their data towards making lives better; visualise and enable citizens to see and understand their input, alongside data provided by others.

They can incentivise interaction with data, so that entrepreneurs can work back from outcomes, solve challenges, and re-localise where appropriate (we should not need a multinational to get a taxi). They can be proudly open, enabling citizens, industry and government to receive pro-social benefit by contributing to something bigger than themselves: their life and the lives of others.

This is a civic pride for the digital age. Not just localism or patriotism based on geography but the strength of connection between people and their ability to direct and determine change through data. Not just pride in the buildings and infrastructure that form our physical world, but in the quality of data that will shape our future world and move us from a diagnostic to preventative society – umbrellas under blue sky.

We should take pride in technology, yes; but that should come second to the pride in those who, enabled by that technology, drive progress. Who, through the wisdom of crowds, form an image of the future and strengthen democracy by motivating society to move towards it. Who embrace openness and help overcome the challenges of urbanisation.

Kevin Keith is a writer, researcher, urbanist, and director of the southern hemisphere’s largest open data competition, GovHack. He tweets as@KevKeith.

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