Podcast: Christmas special service

Christmas in Virginia. Image:

There's long been a tradition on British television of Christmas specials. Old characters come back, stories get bigger and more melodramatic, and the whole thing feels just a tiny bit self-indulgent.

This is our Christmas special, so, well, you know what to expect.

Things Stephanie and I talk about this week, in no particular order:

  • The CityMetric Christmas playlist – that is, which Christmas songs are actually about cities/maps/geography/something;
  • How I started the year by wandering around London with a map and a film crew, pretending to be lost, because of this story about station names;
  • How I ended it riding up front in a train (sorry, Jim);
  • The CityMetric Christmas quiz, which Stephanie wrote specially to flummox me (you can see the questions below);
  • How we'd like to hear more from those of you who listen to this thing who aren't in London, New York or another of the cities we bang on about all the time. If you're the person who's listening to this in Tirana or Tehran, please do write in.

Lastly, we are giving serious thought to doing a live episode at some point next spring, probably somewhere in London that serves drinks. If you’d be up for that, have suggestions about topics or guests, or would even like to offer us a venue, you can write in about that, too.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

The CityMetric Christmas quiz

Metros

1. Which metro has the longest metro system by route length?

2. Which has the highest ridership?

3. Which has the most stations?

4. Which is the oldest?

5. Which is the second oldest?

6. Which popular drinking-game destination is the third oldest?

Tube maps

1. Which is the southernmost tube station...

2. Which has the funniest terminal station?

3. Which stations are connected by the Emirates airline?

4. Which of these is not a disused railway station: City Road, Wood Lane, or Church Street?

5. Which station is objectively the worst to change at?

6. Which is the coolest disused railway in London?

City facts

1. The city of Berezniki in Russia is home to the world’s biggest what?

2. Which city has a population of only 824?

3. Where was TV Sitcom Frasier set?

4. Of which city’s aquarium did Matthew Norman say in 2014, “This gigantic aquarium – “the world’s first submarium” – is one of very few Millennium projects that could be called a success by anyone not tripping on acid.”

5. Which two teams feature in the famous Istanbul derby, known as “the Eternal Rivalry”?

Gävle goat round

1. How was the goat destroyed in 1970? (Two drunk teenagers)

2. How was the goat destroyed in 1976? (Hit by a car)

3. What was special about 1979? (First goat burned prior to being erected; second broke)

4. What happened to the 1983 goat? (Legs destroyed)

5. What happened to the 2011 goat, even thought it was sprayed with water to create an ice coating?

6. What happened to the 2013 goat, even though it was soaked in a flame retardant?

7. And in between, what happened to the goat in 2012?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.


 

 
 
 
 

“Every twitch, breath or thought necessitates a contactless tap”: on the rise of the chain conffeeshop as public space

Mmmm caffeine. Image: Getty.

If you visit Granary Square in Kings Cross or the more recent neighbouring development, Coal Drops Yard, you will find all the makings of a public space: office-workers munching on their lunch-break sandwiches, exuberant toddlers dancing in fountains and the expected spread of tourists.

But the reality is positively Truman Show-esque. These are just a couple examples of privately owned public spaces, or “POPS”,  which – in spite of their deceptively endearing name – are insidiously changing our city’s landscape right beneath us.

The fear is that it is often difficult to know when you are in one, and what that means for your rights. But as well as those places the private sector pretends to be public space, the inverse is equally common, and somewhat less discussed. Often citizens, use clearly private amenities like they are public. And this is never more prevalent than in the case of big-chain coffeeshops.

It goes without saying that London is expensive: often it feels like every twitch, breath or thought necessitates a contactless tap. This is where Starbucks, Pret and Costa come in. Many of us find an alternative in freeloading off their services: a place to sit, free wifi when your data is low, or an easily accessible toilet when you are about in the city. It feels like a passive-aggressive middle-finger to the hole in my pocket, only made possible by the sheer size of these companies, which allows us to go about unnoticed. Like a feature on a trail map, it’s not just that they function as public spaces, but are almost universally recognised as such, peppering our cityscapes like churches or parks.

Shouldn’t these services really be provided by the council, you may cry? Well ideally, yes – but also no, as they are not under legal obligation to do so and in an era of austerity politics, what do you really expect? UK-wide, there has been a 13 per cent drop in the number of public toilets between 2010 and 2018; the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Bromley no longer offer any public conveniences.  


For the vast majority of us, though, this will be at most a nuisance, as it is not so much a matter of if but rather when we will have access to the amenities we need. Architectural historian Ian Borden has made the point that we are free citizens in so far as we shop or work. Call it urban hell or retail heaven, but the fact is that most of us do regularly both of these things, and will cope without public spaces on a day to day. But what about those people who don’t?

It is worth asking exactly what public spaces are meant to be. Supposedly they are inclusive areas that are free and accessible to all. They should be a place you want to be, when you have nowhere else to be. A space for relaxation, to build a community or even to be alone.

So, there's an issue: it's that big-chain cafes rarely meet this criterion. Their recent implementation of codes on bathroom doors is a gentle reminder that not all are welcome, only those that can pay or at least, look as if they could. Employees are then given the power to decide who can freeload and who to turn away. 

This is all too familiar, akin to the hostile architecture implemented in many of our London boroughs. From armrests on benches to spikes on windowsills, a message is sent that you are welcome, just so long as you don’t need to be there. This amounts to nothing less than social exclusion and segregation, and it is homeless people that end up caught in this crossfire.

Between the ‘POPS’ and the coffee shops, we are squeezed further by an ever-growing private sector and a public sector in decline. Gentrification is not just about flat-whites, elaborate facial hair and fixed-gear bikes: it’s also about privatisation and monopolies. Just because something swims like a duck and quacks like a duck that doesn’t mean it is a duck. The same can be said of our public spaces.