Podcast: Parklife

Hyde Park in happier times. Image: Getty.

This week's podcast presented me with an unusual challenge: which album by 90s Britpop four-piece Blur should I name it after? Leisure would work. So would The Great Escape. (13 would be silly because this is episode 26, and the less said about The Magic Whip the better.)

Anyway, I went with Parklife because, well, we're talking about parks, and all sorts of other ways of having fun in cities. We've been a bit gloomy of late, you see (and little wonder; have you seen the world recently?). So this week, we're talking about fun things.

Fun thing number one: Christmas. Stephanie and I discuss going home for the holidays, the sad fate of this year’s  Gävle Goat,  Manchester's long and noble tradition of terrifying giant Santas, and why it is I insist on going to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park every year even though it's obviously going to be hell.

Fun thing number two: Parks. Peter Watts swings by, to talk about Britain's parks – their origins, social function, and the fact so many of them are now in serious financial difficulty.

Fun thing number three: Walks. Regular CityMetric contributor Ed Jefferson and I discuss our common, faintly eccentric interest in spending our free time walking for dozens of miles through depressing industrial landscapes for no particular reason. What on earth do we think we are doing?

(Ed recently filled in for me while I was on leave, and wrote some excellent stuff which you can find here.)

Last but not least, we asked the internet: what are your favourite urban Christmas traditions? The answers may surprise you.

No, really.

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

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Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

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