Podcast: So this is Christmas, with Jay Foreman

Woooo, Christmas. Image: Getty.

I realised earlier that this is the fourth Skylines Christmas Special, which apart from being a marker of quite how long I've been doing this thing now, presumably explains why there are giant steampunk robots marching across Victorian London again. 

Anyway. On this week's show, we're not going to talk about the election result – partly because I'm too depressed, partly because we've now got about four and a half years to think about that, but mostly because this episode was recorded 10 hours before the exit poll came out so we had no idea what the result was even going to be. (If you've just joined us: the left lost.)

Instead, we're going to have a lovely conversation with Jay Foreman, distinguished host of such YouTube series as Unfinished London, Map Men and other things that frankly I wish I'd thought to do before he got there first. Jay tells me how he came to make a career making videos about London; how he and his co-host Mark Cooper-Jones had a blazing row about their favourite map projections; and why he's now six months into an online argument with a man who wrongly believes that Woking is in Greater London. 

It was, frankly, tremendous fun to record, so I can only hope it’s as fun to listen to. Not least because I realised afterwards I’d screwed up the recording and am nervous about how it sounds.

Anyway. Happy Christmas, everybody – we’ll see you in 2020.

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

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

Skylines is produced by Nick Hilton.



Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.

The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.