Podcast: Transports of delight

A detail from Jug Cerovic's bus map of Luxembourg. Image: city of Luxembourg.

This week, we're talking about how, in a very real, no-honest-this-is-true sense, a city is the product of its transport network.

We begin by discussing the relationship between boundaries, commuting patterns, perceptions and maps – and I get slightly over-excited when Barbara tells me something about London’s Tube that I didn’t previously know.


Journalist Emmanuel Akinwotu tells us what it's like trying to get around Lagos, the Nigerian megacity where commuters rely on unofficial private minibus networks, and where heavy traffic and poor roads mean that a two hour journey can take you all night. You can find Emmanuel’s past articles for us here.

Then I talk to transport researcher Nicole Badstuber, about megaprojects: those multi-billion dollar transport schemes, which are meant to sort everything out, and which, almost always, go horribly, horribly wrong. Nicole’s stuff is here. (This one, on what other cities have to learn from Transport for London, is particularly good.)

Next, Tim Oliver, a listener and university lecturer in Leeds, tells us why he loves his city – even if the British government doesn't seem to.

If you'd like to appear on the show telling us about your city, we’d love to hear from you – so get in touch.

And finally, for this week's map of the week, we talk about Jug Cerovic's bus map of Luxembourg: an unofficial map that the city government decided was better than the real thing, and promptly adopted as official. Which just goes to show that all that time you spent making maps in your bedroom wasn’t wasted after all.

The episode itself is below. Also, you can (and, obviously, should) subscribe on AcastiTunes, or RSS.

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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