The following speech was delivered at the “Young People and Opportunity: a Vision for London” conference, promoted by the Institute of Education, on November 8th, 2011.
In 2005, as part of the Canada-UK Colloquium on cities and national success, I was asked to deliver a paper on ‘Diverse and Cohesive Cities: London in 21st Century Britain’. This presentation draws upon that earlier paper and discusses the significance for London of the recent civil unrest and the Government’s response to it.
The key question addressed by the colloquium in 2005 was: “Are cities critical to our national success?”
My answer from the British context is undoubtedly ‘yes’. Yes, because among other things the 8% or so of the British population that are black and ethnic minority typically reside on the inner or outer ring of the nation’s cities. Their future is inextricably linked with that of Britain as a whole, they contribute massively to the economic and cultural development of our cities and if our cities’ success is not also their success, the whole nation will have failed. I suggested then that if the urban protests that had spread across France as a result of the death of two youths who were being chased by the police had anything to teach us, it was surely that.
On October 27, 2005, two French youths of Malian and Tunisian descent were electrocuted as they fled from police in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Their deaths triggered three weeks of rioting in 274 towns throughout the Paris region and elsewhere in France. The rioters were mostly unemployed teenagers from run down and poverty stricken suburban housing projects. They caused over €200 million in damage, a conservative estimate some said of the cost of the 9000 cars and dozens of buildings, daycare centers, and schools they burnt down. The French police arrested nearly 2900 rioters; 126 police and firefighters were injured, and a bystander died after being struck by a hooded youth. Read the rest of this entry →