The City of London: New Horizons

Charles Armstrong
The Trampery
Published in
5 min readMar 2, 2021

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Sculpture in the City —Copyright Patrick Tuttofuoco

Since October 2020 I’ve been one of 19 figures from London’s business, government and cultural fields working together in the City of London’s Culture & Commerce Taskforce, chaired by Lord Mayor William Russell. The group is tasked with assessing the impact of the corona pandemic on the City and developing strategies for renewal based on creativity, culture and diversity. I’ve been leading the taskforce’s work relating to workspace and public space, alongside Lucy Musgrave of Publica. In February the Taskforce published its initial recommendations. Work is now underway to translate the ideas into practice.

Over the past 12 months, 350,000 people who’d spent much of their adult lives commuting each day to the City of London suddenly found themselves working from home. Scenes of windswept streets and deserted offices around Bank junction became totemic symbols of the pandemic. Commentators rushed to proclaim the City’s imminent demise. Could this really be the end of the road?

Of course not. For 2000 years, the City has continuously evolved, responding to upheavals in the geopolitical landscape and the global economy. Each century has seen the City reinvent itself for the coming era. Its enduring stature reflects how incredibly successful it has been at this process of serial adaptation, grasping the salient factors of each successive wave and calculating how best it can position itself.

Creative careers workshop at Barbican, image credit Camilla Greenwell

Today the City must evolve once again, reshaping itself to embrace shifting working patterns and new demands for urban living. But the changes will not come in a vacuum. For a decade the groundwork has already been in preparation. Planning policy has moved to prioritise the pedestrian experience, remaking the City as a place that is enjoyable to walk through, punctuated with gardens, quiet corners and moments of delight. Culture Mile has been established as a second pole to the financial-commercial centre of gravity, harnessing the City’s world-class institutions (Barbican, Guildhall School for Music & Drama, London Symphony Orchestra and Museum of London,) as the foundation for a greatly expanded cultural and creative platform.

Many of those who once commuted daily will never return to that pattern after the pandemic passes. However, it’s also clear most people don’t enjoy working from home every day. The new reality will be a more complex tapestry. Your typical working week in 2022 might involve one day in a central corporate office, one day working from home, two days in a local shared workspace walking distance from your house, and one day working intensively with your team in a flexible project space. I refer to this as “multi-modal” working.

Will this new working pattern be catastrophic for the City? On the contrary, it presents tremendous opportunities. In a world where employees are scattered across the periphery of Greater London and South East England, and where remote working is the norm, the periods when teams are brought together face-to-face will become much more important.

We’ve spent 180 years building transport infrastructure to ferry commuters in and out of the City, and other central office districts. That same infrastructure now presents the City with an opportunity to become London’s premier destination to bring scattered teams together, for meetings and project collaboration. The investments made in transport upgrades such as Thameslink and the Elizabeth Line will be vital enablers for this new pattern. Multi-modal working will also have the advantage of reducing the stresses placed on infrastructure at morning and evening peaks, by spreading journeys more evenly through the day.

In the old commuter model, the City’s relevance was focused on the 350,000 people coming in and out every day. With the rise of multi-modal working, the City now has the chance to become part of the monthly working routines for 10 million professionals spread across the whole of South East England. This requires a completely new understanding of who the City is for. Alongside the existing base of financial institutions and professional services, a thousand other groups including startups and creative businesses must now be understood as vital members of the City community. This transition requires a vigorous emphasis on diversity and inclusion, backed up by imaginative policy measures.

Sculpture in the City — Copyright Clive Totman

What must the City do to thrive in this multi-modal world? First and foremost, up to ten million square feet of office space will need to be converted into new kinds of flexible working facilities. However, that alone will not be enough. In a world where people are no longer tied to a single office, they will choose working locations that are not only convenient but also reflect their personal values and lifestyle; with independent cafes and bars within walking distance, plus chances to take in exhibitions or performances when work is finished. The City already has much to offer in these regards, but there must now be a significant expansion both in the scale and the diversity of what’s available.

Humans have created and recreated cities for ten thousand years. Unlike rural societies, the city has always been a place of innovation and change. It’s time to put aside the doom-laden narratives, and put our energy into reinventing the City for the next century. I hope that I, and The Trampery, can make a useful contribution to this process.

The Trampery is London’s largest independent workspace operator, specialised in the long-term development of innovation districts. The Trampery is committed to playing a role in the shift towards a more balanced form of capitalism, supporting entrepreneurs, startups and corporations who pursue social and environmental benefits alongside profit. Learn more here.

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