10 objective reasons why London is better than New York

Subliminal messaging: Boris Johnson at an event earlier this month. Image: Getty.

Last night, the think tank Policy Exchange launched a new, baby think tank called the Capital City Foundation, "devoted to the continued prosperity and progress of London". Which is nice.

More importantly, however, the event featured a discussion of why, after years of post-war dominance, New York may be losing its crown as the unofficial capital of the world to London. 

Ed Glaeser, native New Yorker, cities economist, and the delightfully named "Fred & Eleanor Glimp Professor" at Harvard, took to the stage, and explained why, in his opinion at least, London now has the edge over its rival. Granted, he was standing on a podium at the top of the Shard surrounded by Londoners at the time, but we like to believe he was being genuine nonetheless. 

Here are a few of his main points.

1. Population

Source: London Infrastructure Plan.

Over the last few weeks, London finally reached its pre-war population peak of 8.6m. The last available population figures for New York in 2013 estimated its population at around 8.4m.

Now we know that urban populations can be hard to compare, because boundaries and definitions vary from city to city (seriously, we go on about this all the time), and the official definition of London is far more inclusive than the official definition of NYC: compare unofficial metropolitan populations, and New York almost certainly still has the edge.

But London's loss of status accompanied the loss of nearly a quarter of its population after the end of World War Two. The reverse in the population trend, then, implies a reverse in status, too. 

2. Financial Sector

London's financial services sector is ever-so-slightly larger than New York's: it has around 340,000 employees to New York's 322,000. New York currently holds the top spot on the Global Financial Centres Index, however, with a two-point lead on London. 

3. Education

Inner-city school normally have a reputation for poor results and crime, but London's schools are actually better than the national average. In the US, Glaeser says, "I can't think of a single major city in the states where this is the case". Cities including New York also have a far lower high school graduation rate than rural and suburban areas.

4. Geography

From a piece Glaeser wrote for the Evening Standard yesterday: 

The world has shifted in London’s direction. In 1950, New York was perfectly positioned between California and Western Europe. Nothing else mattered much economically. The rise of the Arab World in the Seventies, the emergence of Eastern Europe in the Nineties and India’s post-2000 successes have all improved London’s geography relative to New York. 

5. Government 

This is a bit of a contentious one. Glaeser argues that the presence of central government in the UK's largest city is a good thing, not a bad one. He argues that Parliament's location means it's "friendly" towards big London infrastructure projects like Underground extensions or Crossrail.  

On the other hand, London's city government has relatively little spending power compared to New York's. Only 35 per cent of New York's budget comes from central government grants; the rest is directly collected by the city through tax. Government control over London's finances is far stronger – it controls around 93 per cent of the capital's budget. 

6. "Fun"

"London is just a fun place to be". Thanks, Ed. 

7. Job Growth

Between 2001 and 2012, the number of people working in London grew by 17 per cent, while in New York it grew by only 3 per cent. Ha.

***

Glaeser did end his panegyric with a warning, however: "London is too expensive... we need to build lots and lots more housing" (we completely agree). 

Next to the stage was London mayor Boris Johnson (also, as it happens, born in New York), who had some rather punchier stats on why London has the upper hand:

London has twice as many bookshops as New York.

We also have a quarter of the murder rate.

London has 240 museums to New York's 83. 

Boris also tried to argue that London is home to more billionaires, but according to Business Insider, this isn't the case – London has 72 to New York's 110. To be honest, we'd rather have museums than billionaires anyway. 

 
 
 
 

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.

Funding

The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.


Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  

Problems

A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.