London has lost a quarter of its live music venues in just eight years. It needs to rethink its policies

Denmark Street, the historic heart of London's music industry. Image: Getty.

Last week, two bodies that represent major record labels, Music Canada and the IFPI, teamed up to publish a landmark study, The Mastering of a Music City. The report’s goal was to qualify and quantify the term “music city”: what it means, how to create one and if it’s worthwhile.

After surveying 22 cities, the study concluded that music, when incorporated into municipal policy, improves public spaces, licensing and noise issues and most importantly, quality of life. To achieve that, it said, a city needs to consider seven specific factors. Here’s the list:

  • Music- and musician-friendly policies;
  • Having a music office or music officer;
  • Establishing a music advisory board, within council chambers;
  • Engagement of the broader music community – that is, listeners, consumers, those who use music as a conduit to sell other things (restaurants, fashion outlets, hotels);
  • Access to space and places;
  • Audience development;
  • Music tourism.

The report also listed a number of cities that were successfully doing this, including Toronto, Melbourne, Austin, and Nashville.

It also listed London. Representatives of the Greater London Authority (GLA) told the researchers that they were attempting to make the British capital a richer city through musical capacity, engagement and outreach.

In many cases, this is true. London has a live music task force (a sort-of advisory council), a music officer and a wide music tourism offering, ranging from the Proms to Hyde Park’s concerts. Just last week, according to trade body UK Music, the UK’s music tourism takings hit £3.8bn per year; a good amount of this is spent in London.

However, if London is a music city, then we must ask how that makes it a better, more liveable city for all of us. The opportunities to experience music in licensed venues have shrunk. Over 350 venues existed in 2007; now, according to the Music Venue Trust, under 260 remain. New licensing provisions, such as the one Hackney Council recently sent out for consultation, are making the case for restricting the night time economy.

There are examples of groups using music to make London better, too. The Cathedral Group, a large property developer, is placing music at the heart of its pitch to buyers in selling The Old Vinyl Factory development, the former site of EMI in Hayes. There, music will feature in everything; place names, leisure activities and branding. 


But these solutions remain piecemeal and patchwork. For London to become more of a music city, we must accept that this is a strategy to promote and enhance London as a whole. We need a strategy that’s city wide, rather than borough-led.

More music encourages more usage of 24-hour transport – along with the West End, the adult entertainment community, and late night eateries. A multi-borough music strategy would be better placed to examine these impacts.

Borough-led enforcement creates inconsistencies, too: things that are ordinance violations in one part of London but not in another. Take busking. It would cost us less money for us to accept one busking policy across the capital, rather than supporting buskers in one council while arresting them in another.

Promoting London as a music city would also help us to tackle the raft of venue closures, the latest of which – The Purple Turtle in Mornington Crescent – was announced only last week. It would help us to understand why our venues are where they are and what that means for audience development, both inside and outside the gig-going community.

Few people would classify Croydon as a “musical borough” – yet it houses The Brit School, many festivals and an engaging music education strategy. In my own neighbourhood, Forest Gate, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Burdon played on Boxing Day in 1967, in the Forest Gate Hotel. It’s now closed. We need more such spaces to allow future stars to incubate; and we need to recognise London as a music city to make this possible.

If we analyse, mull over and approach the seven recommendations in the report, London will be a better city for it. And we don’t have to be musicians or music industry professionals to call for such change. If we value music in our lifts, our shopping malls, our tube stations and restaurants, not to mention our venues and streets, we should all say, unequivocally, that London is a music city. Right now, we’re not all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Not all cities should be music cities. But all cities should cater to, encourage and support music as an economic driver, from tourism to cultural offering and job creation and business development. London, however, is not just any other city. It is a world leader – it’s time that, musically, it acted like it.

Shain Shapiro is the managing director of Sound Diplomacy,a leading music market development agency, and the founder of the Music Cities Convention.

 
 
 
 

What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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