An entirely official and completely objective ranking of every London borough

The competitors. Image: Wikipedia.

Over on Twitter, the World Cup of London Boroughs (no, really) has just taken place for the third time. In both the 2018 and 2019 contests, Lewisham (??!?) triumphed. This year, it made it through to the final, where it was somehow beaten by Croydon (?????!!?!?!).

Should you wish to know more, here’s how the contest unfolded:

Being a known London nerd and snob, I found myself rather infuriasted by this. Who keeps voting for Lewisham, a borough that is basically fine but which most self-respecting Londoners will find themselves visiting approximately never? And then to be beaten by an outer London borough in the final? It just doens’t make sense.

Those who had followed the contest more closely than I told me that the reason this kept happening is because supporters of boroughs you’d expect to dominate the contest – your Hackneys, your Lambeths, your Islingtons – spent the early rounds putting a lot of energy into knocking each other out, leaving less well known boroughs free to triumph. But by then I wasn’t listening. 

Because, I’d decided, I would do my own ranking of London boroughs. Only I wouldn’t bother with fiddly little things like democracy. I would do it properly, by just writing down my opinions and then ignoring all arguments to the contrary.

And so, I did. You can read the original twitter thread here. Or if that’s too much like hard work, here it is.

33. Sutton. No human being not literally from Sutton has ever successfully remembered that Sutton exists and isn’t just part of Merton or Croydon. Voted for Brexit AND the Liberal Democrats. Should be abolished for its own good, it clearly can’t handle existence.

32. Bexley. No human being not literally from Bexley has ever remembered Bexley either. Also voted Brexit. Crap trains. No reason to visit. Not quite on the bottom because Erith has a pier I guess? Although when I tweeted this, someone from Bexley responded arguing that the existence of Erith should, if anything, count against Bexley. Anyway: nice views of the Rainham marshes on the other side of the river, and making Rainham look pretty is quite an achievement, so.

31. Hillingdon. Also Brexit. Sent Boris Johnson to Parliament. Has a massive great airport in it. No other features I can recall. And does Ruislip need that many tube stations?

(Hackney mayor Philip Glanville responded to this tweet, noting that he grew up in Ruislip. From the most-over-tubed area in London to mayor of a borough without a single tube station in its boundaries. Says it all really, doesn’t it?*)

30. Brent. Not sure how this ended up so low on the preference revealer – it’s fine, but meh, I guess? Lot of big roads and rail junctions and industrial parks and an out of town shopping centre that doesn’t look that big any more and which also, it turned out when I tweeted this, is actually in Barnet. (Brent Cross is in Barnet? I hate this city and its studid naming conventions.) 

I have no other views on Brent.

(“Excuse you,” replied my friend Frankie. “We also have an astonishingly high rate of TB.” I apologise to Brent for missing this important fact.)

29. Bromley. Quite nice, if you like that sort of thing, which obviously I don’t. Lovely park behind the town centre, with some surprisingly dramatic landscape – plus Beckenham Place Park is great, which would gain it points if it weren’t for the slightly awkward fact that it’s across the boundary in Lewisham. Loses points for a) hating London, and not wanting to be in it, and b) being literally half empty yet building almost literally no homes.

Bromley. Image: Open Street Map.

“It can’t help that, all that land is green belt,” someone replied. Yes, I know. That’s the problem.

(When I tweeted this ranking, I also accused Bromley of voting for Brexit. It hadn’t, it had narrowly gone for remain: I’d mixed it up with Barking & Dagenham, a fact that I’m sure will delight the both of them. Although it’s worth noting that Bromley’s Downham estate is a deadringer for B&D’s Becontree.)

28. Havering. The MOST Brexit-y borough – honestly, like 70 per cent or something – and also white-est which isn’t a coincidence. But I can’t hate it as a) I’m from there b) at least it has a personality unlike Bexley. Good place to get drunk if you’re 17.

27. Kensington & Chelsea. Deeply unpleasant council which hates both poor people and cyclists. Absolutely loaded, yet not nearly as nice as it thinks it is. Chelsea hasn’t been cool in fifty years. “Royal borough” my arse: worst borough in inner London.

26. Barking & Dagenham. Depressing. Brexit. A post-industrial town dropped on the edge of East London. Some nice old bits by the ruins of Barking Abbey and Dagenham Village, but some god-awful industrial riverside and nowhere you’d really choose to go. Not sure why it didn’t rank lower, tbh – sympathy vote? I was born in it which helps.

25. Hammersmith & Fulham. Curate’s egg. King Street is the worst place on earth plus west London is awful, but lots of nice riverside pubs, and it looks better because it’s standing next to Kensington & Chelsea. That said, those riverside pubs can only be reached by finding your way across what is, in effect, a motorway, which isn’t great, so even if you really want riverside west London you have better options. It’s not great, is my point.

(Huh, I automatically put the three double-barrelled ones together. Weird.)

24. Wandsworth. We’re into the realm of boroughs I have no view about whatsoever, sorry. Good commons, nice houses, no reason to visit, fine I guess?

(“Never been to Battersea Park, then?” a Wandsworth-based friend responded. “What if Victoria Park but Tory,” I replied, in a transparent attempt to avoid admitting I’d just forgotten it. Battersea Park is, to be fair, lovely.)

23. Ealing. Some good country parks and Ealing Town Centre is kind of sweet (plus, the Autons invaded it that time), and the common is nice and has some really nice houses on it, plus Southall... That’s all I can remember about Ealing.

22. Enfield. Fine? Bumped up the list by the existence of Trent Park and the New River walk but frankly for such a big borough there’s not a lot going on. Oh! Cockfosters. Snigger.

(A post-script. A BBC journalist, annoyed by my Cockfosters joke, grumpily responded that the area had three huge parks, royal heritage and also some sports centres. Which is all very nice and all but you can make similar arguments about literally any other London borough, which makes me think that 22nd place is probably about right.)

21. Hounslow. The stupidest shape of any London borough – seven miles long, sometimes less than one mile wide, WTF? Chiswick is the only bit of London that looks like Richard Curtis thinks it does. It’s fine. 

I mean look at it. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

(Someone on Twitter pointed out that Hounslow is less a borough than a massive great road, which, fair.)

20. Merton. Great one to walk through (the commons, the big houses, the massive pubs) but I have no other views on it than that and often forget it exists, even though the world’s biggest tennis contest takes place in it every year.

(A local MP, Siobhain McDonagh, was clearly a bit offended by this one, but took it in excellent spirits.)

19. Newham. Land of my fathers. Bit of a dump, tbh, but gets points for building a lot of houses and having a scenic walk on top of London’s biggest sewer. Oh, and there’s a Doctor Who themed shop on Barking Road, so.

18. Barnet. London’s biggest borough by population. Gets even more points for building a lot of houses while also being quite suburban and Tory. One of the better outer London boroughs. Home to the oldest tree in London, too. It’s in Totteridge.

17. Kingston-upon-Thames. Not sure how this ended up ranked so high. Possibly because of a) a nice riverside walk and b) Chessington World of Adventures. Also c) looks like London’s giving Surrey the finger which, cool. Surbiton sounds like somewhere made up to be in a sitcom, but no, real.

16. Harrow. Another slightly baffling placement – Harrow-on-the-Hill is gorgeous, even if Harrow town centre kind of isn’t. The only borough not to change its boundaries in 1965, so well done Harrow I guess? Anyway, it’s all boring ‘30s semis with one nice bit in the middle.

15. Lewisham. I absolutely cannot think of a single thing to say about Lewisham. Oh! There’s a big cat on Catford shopping centre, that’s cool. Blackheath is pretty? And, so it turns out, a lovely big park, formerly a golf course, which I’d credited to Bromley is actually here. But every year my friend Freddie insists on having his birthday in New Cross which is miles from anywhere and that’s just selfish. Best borough my arse.

14. The City of London. Lot of lovely skyscrapers you got there. Be a shame if someone was to build houses in one of them, wouldn’t it?

Trams! Image: Au Morandarte/Wikimedia Commons.

13. Croydon. To be fair, actually one of the better outer London boroughs. It has trams! It’s massive! It goes on so far that it takes a whole day to walk across! London in microcosm. It’s good, it just doesn’t deserve to win.

12. Greenwich. Cool things about Greenwich: the town centre, the riverside, the park, the meridian, the Cutty Sark, Eltham Palace, the way Woolwich feels like the two versions of east London are at war on the street plan, a lot of green space. Not bad, bit suburban. Fine.

11. Waltham Forest. Leyton is cool, Walthamstow was cool but is now cliched, Chingford is suburban and rubbish BUT has Epping Forest and great views looking west so gets points for that. If you want to live in outer London you could do worse and probably will.

(Another local MP, this time Stella Creasy, was clearly mildly offended by this ranking. She took it in less good spirits.)

10. Richmond-upon-Thames. The only borough to cross the river. Okay, a lot of awful people live here, BUT it’s the best stretch of riverside in London and for that alone on a sunny day like the one when I wrote this list it’s going to rank well. If I’d done this in winter it might have come out lower. Also, it did humiliate Zac Goldsmith, twice, so kudos.

9. Haringey. Between Tottenham and Wood Green and Highgate you’ve got everything you need to have the complete London experience without actually going to proper London (which, to answer a Highgate-based correspondent, ends at Archway, sorry). Anyway, that’s convenient, isn’t it?

8. Redbridge. My favourite outer borough by far, because of Epping Forest and Wanstead, a nice village-y bit which used to have wild cows in it. Plus, conveniently reached via the Central Line! Growing up in Romford, Ilford looked almost exotic. Which it really isn’t, but this is my list, so there.

7. Westminster. The council are awful, obviously, but so much of Proper London, like Soho and the theatres and galleries, is here that it sort of ranks well by default. Oxford Street is still hell, though.

6. Lambeth. Several of the best pubs I know are in Lambeth, plus the BFI bar, and the associated stretch of the South Bank, and Vauxhall and Brixton. Loses points for its culpability for Clapham, though.

5. Southwark. Bankside! Borough Market! The pubs of SE1! The Tate Modern! Peckham, where half my social circle has bafflingly decided to live! The Old Kent Road, which I left in 2006, and which has still not managed even a hint of gentrification! It’s a good borough.

Southwark, on the far side of the river, including London’s city hall (the weird glass thing on the right). Image: Getty.

4. Tower Hamlets. Come on, the East End is just wicked: the food and drinking options alone mean it deserves to be near the top of this list. Plus,  it’s doing more than its fair share to solve London’s housing crisis. All that, and riverside pubs, too. It’s great.

(In the name of full disclosure, I should probably note at this point that I do, in fact, live in Tower Hamlets.)

3. Islington. I know I’m a cliche but I’m an absolute sucker for Islington: Clerkenwell Green and Upper Street and Highbury Fields and the Holloway Road. Not quite enough parks but honestly it’s the best of London, all laid out in one, compact area. (It’s also the smallest borough.) I lived there 12 years, and I’d probably still live there now, if life hadn’t intervened. It’s probably my personal favourite, but I’m not sure I can actually claim it’s the best.

2. Camden. Gets points for range. Hampstead Heath! Bloomsbury! St Pancras station! Camden Town, a place which nobody aged over 17 has ever felt comfortable in the history of the universe! If you had to live your life in only one London borough you could do a lot worse than Camden, but it’s not quite the top because it’s a bit too far west for my tastes.

1. Hackney. Obviously the winner. Has everything – good pubs and hipster bits and nice parks and wild green space and gorgeous streets. Runs the whole gamut, culturally and economically. Plus most of my exercise at the moment involves cycling round it so I’ve got Stockholm sydrome possibly.

So that’s it. Screw this democracy stuff, I am right and it’s my list. 

So there.

(*It doesn’t.)

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.


To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.