London’s City Eyes Tech Firms, Artists for Post-Covid Renewal

The City of London wants tech startups and attractions like outdoor gyms to revive a financial hub devastated by staff working from home.

The self-governing district released a five-year plan Tuesday that calls for renewal at a time when traditional ways of working are being upended by a pandemic. To make socially distanced commuting viable in a traditionally crowded place, it wants to permanently expand thoroughfares dedicated to walking and cycling and provide inexpensive space for creative company incubators and art hubs.

“I’m very concerned in the short term about the lack of footfall we are seeing,” Catherine McGuinness, the City’s policy chair, said at a panel discussion on Tuesday. “We are hearing from businesses a real wish to get people back to the City, so that creative sparks can fly and company spirit can endure.”

The government has thwarted that wish so far, urging office staff to work from home for as long as six months after a renewed wave of infections. However, London’s sprawling size and commuting distances have also made many City workers loath to resume a daily grind on trains and buses, and white-collar financial employment has had one of the more seamless transitions to working from home.

Covid-19 has hurt centers that relied on a high concentration of office workers to sustain urban life, but the problem has been particularly acute in the City. It has few full-time residents and less emphasis on the shopping, cultural and nightlife attractions seen in other London districts, and has traditionally focused on the needs of financial companies.

Read More: Even in 2017, Broadgate Pivoted for Tech-Oriented Reinvention

The City is seeking to change that, and wants to boost weekend and evening visitors by half by 2025 -- though “curation and, possibly, subsidies” might be needed to break up the office dominance. One of the recommendations in the report suggested a skateboarding park could help make the district “a place that attracts people from all generations and backgrounds.”

The report also cited Miami’s Wynwood art district as a potential model. “Corporates stuck in long leases could explore offering up unused office space as artists’ residencies or pop-up galleries,” the report said.

The City doesn’t just have a pandemic to navigate, but must also plot its course through a post-Brexit world. With just weeks to go before the transition period ends, U.K. talks wth the European Union on the post-Brexit trade deal have resolved little.

Tuesday’s report called for simpler immigration procedures for skilled workers after Brexit, as well as a review of stock-listing regulations. “The goal should be to motivate equity listings in London, including within the tech sector, where competition is particularly fierce, while maintaining high corporate governance standards,” the report said.

“The capital’s success throughout history has been a story of constant reinvention,” William Russell, Lord Mayor of London, said in the report. “It is more important than ever that London adapts quickly to today’s challenges so that it remains a place where people want to work, live and visit tomorrow.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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