This is how London mayor Sadiq Khan's top team is shaping up

Sadiq Khan and some of his supporters walking to City Hall on election day back in May. Image: Getty.

Over the last few weeks, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, London mayor Sadiq Khan has been adopting a tone of pragmatism and optimism. His stance reflects the core message of the Centre for Cities’ recent event with Dr Benjamin Barber: “As nation states descend into paralysis and democratic dysfunction, cities are re-emerging as pragmatic problem solvers.”

Khan has spoken up for the diversity of Londoners and the dynamism of its businesses; built international alliances with Paris and Madrid; and renewed calls for devolution of more powers over health, education and skills. These very visible and high profile interventions have been accompanied by a less visible process of putting in place his City Hall senior team. In recent weeks, the mayor has appointed deputy mayors including Jules Pipe (planning, regeneration and skills); Rajesh Agrawal (business and enterprise); and Justine Simons (culture and creative industries).

With the City Hall senior team now pretty much complete, it seems an appropriate time to revisit two of the key lessons from our report setting out what makes a successful mayoral team based on interviews with senior staff from the first 16 years of City Hall administrations.

Prioritise appointing the right chief of staff

The chief of staff is the most important political appointee that the mayor makes. They need to ensure that City Hall and its 800 staff deliver the Mayor’s vision and programme, providing leadership for City Hall staff, as well as being the “eyes and ears” of the mayor in negotiations with external partners, such as Whitehall officials and the boroughs.

David Bellamy, a trusted member of Khan’s Tooting constituency and mayoral campaign teams, was appointed Chief of Staff soon after he took office as mayor. And given his close and long-standing association with Khan, he undoubtedly knows his mind very well.

However, the individuals that have excelled in the chief of staff role over the last 16 years have also brought to the job an impressive track record of senior political leadership skills and experience. Given Bellamy’s lack of political leadership experience, it will be important that he gets the full political backing of the mayor as he gets stuck into his job.

Appoint trusted deputy mayors to lead the four big policy areas: planning, housing, transport, and policing

These four senior and political roles require individuals with strong political leadership skills and experience, rather than specific policy expertise that will already be provided by the directors already within the GLA.

In this context, Jules Pipe is a standout appointment. He has been mayor of Hackney since 2002 and chair of London Councils since 2010. His political leadership and experience offers the mayor the connections and depth of understanding required to get projects and plans delivered. And Sophie Linden, the new DM for police and crime, was formerly both the deputy Mayor of Hackney and a special adviser on policing and crime to home secretary David Blunkett.

James Murray and Val Shawcross also have track records of delivering their briefs of housing and transport, which bodes well for enabling them to deal with some of Khan’s biggest policy challenges. Murray led on housing at Islington borough council; he is now charged with doubling house building numbers, and ensuring that half are “genuinely affordable”. Shawcross, with eight years of experience in the London Assembly transport committee is well placed to lead on negotiations over funding a fare freeze and instigating the night tube while maintaining an expanding network of public transport.

Both these deputy mayors will need to work closely with the executive director for housing and land, and the commissioner for Transport for London respectively. This will require a clear division of responsibilities between the politicians and the executive to ensure there is a clear strategy, decision making hierarchy and accountability.

Our interviews with those who have been there and done it underlined the importance of the mayor having a clear vision and a team of the best people to deliver it. Time will tell whether his top team has the blend of expertise, experience, political nous and good luck to, as Barber argues, improve the lives of Londoners in ways national government seems less able to do.

Edward Clarke is an analyst at the Centre for Cities think tank, on whose website this article was originally published on the think tank's blog.


To beat rising temperatures, Vienna launches a network of 'Cool Streets'

A Vienna resident cools off at one of the city's new Cool Streets installations. (Courtesy Christian Fürthner/Mobilitätsagentur Wien)

Over the past several months, Austria has recorded its highest unemployment rate since World War II, thanks to the economic aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no job or a suddenly smaller income – not to mention the continued threat of the virus – many Viennese will opt for a staycation this summer.  

At the same time, last year, Austria’s capital experienced 39 days with temperatures of over 30°C (86°F), one of its hottest summers in history according to the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.

Climate experts expect a similarly sizzling 2020 season, and city officials are now doubling down on efforts to combat the heat by launching a “Cool Streets” initiative as well as a new, state-of-the-art cooling park.

“As the city councilwoman in charge of climate, it is my job to ensure local cooling,” Vienna’s deputy mayor Birgit Hebein proclaimed at the opening of one of 22 new “Cool Streets” on 22 June.

“In Austria, there are already more heat deaths than traffic fatalities,” she added.

Hebein was referring to the 766 people the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security included in its 2018 heat-associated mortality statistics. The number was up by 31% compared to 2017, and in contrast to the 409 people who died in traffic collisions the same year.

The project includes 18 temporary Cool Streets located across the city, plus four roads that will be redesigned permanently and designated as “Cool Streets Plus”.

“The Plus version includes the planting of trees. Brighter surfaces, which reflect less heat, replace asphalt in addition to the installation of shadow or water elements,” said Kathrin Ivancsits, spokeswoman for the city-owned bureau Mobilitätsagentur, which is coordinating the project.

Vienna's seasonal Cool Streets provide shady places to rest and are closed to cars. (Petra Loho for CityMetric)

In addition to mobile shade dispensers and seating possibilities amid more greenery provided by potted plants, each street features a steel column offering drinking water and spray cooling. The temporary Cool Streets will also remain car-free until 20 September.

A sensor in the granite base releases drinking water and pushes it through 34 nozzles whenever the outside temperature reaches 25°C (77°F) . As soon as the ambient temperature drops to 23°C (73°F), the sensor, which operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., turns off the water supply.

The sensors were included in part to allay concerns about legionella, a pathogenic bacteria that can reproduce in water.  

“When the spray stops, the system drains, and therefore no microbial contamination can develop,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Health at the Center for Public Health at Medical University Vienna, in a televised interview.

Hutter also assured the public that there is no increased risk of a Covid-19 infection from the spray as long as people adhere to the one-meter social distance requirement.

But Samer Bagaeen of the University of Kent's School of Architecture and Planning notes that air cooling systems, like the ones used in Germany at abattoirs, have been found recently to be a risk factor for Covid-19 outbreaks.

“The same could be said for spay devices,” he warned.

Vienna’s district councils selected the 22 Cool Street locations with the help of the city’s Urban Heat Vulnerability Index. The map shows where most people suffer from heat by evaluating temperature data, green and water-related infrastructure, and demographic data.

“Urban heat islands can occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat,” as the US Environmental Protection Agency states.

A rendering of Vienna's planned park featuring a Coolspot, which is scheduled to open in August. Click to expand.
(Courtesy Carla Lo Landscape Architecture)

Vienna’s sixth district, Mariahilf, is such an area. The construction of the capital’s first “Cooling Park”, a €1 million project covering the 10,600 square-metre Esterházypark, is designed to provide relief. 

Green4Cities, a centre of excellence for green infrastructure in urban areas, designed the park’s main attraction, the “Coolspot”. The nearly 3.40-metre high steel trellis holds three rings equipped with spray nozzles. Textile shading slats, tensioned with steel cables, cover them.

The effects of evaporation and evapotranspiration create a cooler microclimate around the 30 square-metre seating area, alongside other spray spots selectively scattered across the park.

The high-pressure spray also deposits tiny droplets on plant and tree leaves, which stimulates them to sweat even more. All together, these collective measures help to cool their surroundings by up to six degrees.

The landscape architect Carla Lo and her team planned what she calls the “low-tech” park components. “Plants are an essential design element of the Cooling Park,” Lo says. “By unsealing the [soil], we can add new grass, herbaceous beds, and more climate-resistant trees to the existing cultivation”.

Light-coloured, natural stone punctuated by grass seams replaces the old concrete surfaces, and wooden benches meander throughout the park.

Living near the park and yearning for an urban escape close by, Lo says she’s motivated to ensure the park is completed by mid-August.

“If we don't do anything, Vienna will be another eight degrees Celsius hotter in 2050 than it already is,” Hebein said.

Vienna recently came in first in the World's 10 Greenest Cities Index by the consulting agency Resonance.

“There is no one size fits all on how cities respond to urban heat,” says the University of Kent’s Bagaeen, who points out that Vienna was one of the first European cities to set up an Urban Heat Islands Strategic Plan in 2015.

In the short term, prognoses on the city’s future development may be more difficult: Vienna votes this autumn.

Petra Loho is a journalist and photographer based in Austria.