Oh good, another pretty picture which won’t solve any of London’s actual problems

It looks lovely. Shame it’s such total nonsense. Image: WATG.

It happened again. Another architecture practice has seemingly decided that it’s too difficult to get attention and praise for its actual work, and decided instead to cut out all that difficult “designing and building things” stuff, and just put out a pretty picture.

And it works. The media lap it up, because the readers lap it up. Look how beautiful Fleet Street is, with one, narrow lane of traffic instead of four! Look at the bike lanes! Look at all the plants!

And everyone loves it because you would, wouldn’t you? It looks much nicer than the grey, drab, polluted chasm that is the actual Fleet Street. I said it was a pretty picture, and it is: it’s gorgeous.

But – that’s all it is. It’s not a plan for Fleet Street, because it doesn’t – doesn’t try to – doesn’t even pretend to try to – tackle any of the problems you’d actually have to tackle if you wanted to actually change anything.

In that part of London, there are three east-west routes in the space of about 1km: High Holborn (the A40) in the north, the Victoria Embankment (the A3211) along the river in the south, and Fleet Street (the A4, actually) in between. Those are the only through routes open not just to private cars, but also to delivery vehicles, taxis and – most importantly – buses.

Now I am all in favour of measures to reduce pollution and motor traffic in our cities. But close Fleet Street to most vehicles in this way, and at the very least you need to work out what to do with the six bus routes and eight night bus routes you’ve just displaced.


High Holborn is too far and too crowded. The Embankment is a possibility, but it’s already pretty snarled up itself. And that’s just the buses. It’s probable that not every delivery van, say, currently using Fleet Street needs to be there – but some almost certainly do. What about them? What shall we do with them?

I don’t believe for a second that the people who commissioned this drawing have even thought about this problem. Because solving London’s problems is not what it’s for. What it’s for is garnering free media coverage for a time-pressed and click-hungry media.

You will notice that I’ve not mentioned the name of the architecture practice responsible for this monstrosity. I’m not going to, either. If you really want to know, you can look at the picture credit, but you won’t will you? Because you don’t care either. You’ve seen the pretty picture. You’ve read my rant. You don’t care which particular architects inspired it.

I’m fine with that. I’m fine with you never knowing their name. Because ad buys are shrinking, we’ve got bills to pay, and I am sick of these people thinking they can get free media coverage just because they can use Photoshop.

Also, you know what happens when you start acting like these graphics are serious thought leadership rather than just pretty pictures? Heatherwick, that’s what happens. Do you want to be responsible for creating another Thomas Heatherwick? No. Of course you don’t.

Stop giving these people the oxygen of publicity. Think once. Think twice. Think, don’t click.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.