Opinion

#Londonisopen In More Ways Than You Think

Hannah Foulds
By Hannah Foulds Last edited 7 months ago
#Londonisopen In More Ways Than You Think

In July 2016, Sadiq Khan launched a social media campaign hoping to assuage the Brexit worries of Londoners and Europeans alike by pronouncing that #LondonIsOpen.

A host of celebrities and business leaders followed suit, enthusiastically standing by open doors and beckoning the world inside. It's a warming show of cross-city solidarity.

London is open. But Khan's appeal speaks solely to those pondering the economic fallout of recent events. In other words, we believe London's openness encompasses more than being just open for business.

London fosters an open culture, one that goes beyond flinging open the doors and inviting people in; it denotes a willingness to collaborate, to be inclusive and to incorporate a diversity of viewpoints. It means being transparent, openly publishing data that we've collected and sharing our findings (and failures!) for the benefit of all. London, as a world leader in openness, does all of these things and more.

Here, Alexander Leon and Hannah Foulds of London’s Open Data Institute – an organisation co-founded by the inventor of the web Sir Tim Berners-Lee – explore the ways London is a world leader in openness.

#LondonIsOpen in its attitude

London has a history of being open to people of all demographics and has long championed minority causes. Take a walk in any London park on a balmy summer night and find a plethora of cultures and creeds mixing peacefully together: talking, eating and partying until the wee small hours.

Ethnically diverse since it began, London is often cited as one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Almost 40% of Londoners were born outside the UK, and Mr Khan himself has been lauded as the first Muslim leader of a major western capital. London is set to diversify even further, given that a quarter of our students come from abroad.

London has historically played a large role in the feminist movement too, with Mary Wollstonecraft, widely recognised as the first feminist philosopher, born in Spitalfields in the late 18th century. And, of course, the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, was a Londoner.

London is also a place many LGBT people feel able to be open, with the city a popular spot for LGBT tourism since the 60s. This year saw a record turnout at London Pride parade as well as thousands taking to the streets in response to the recent attacks in Orlando.

#LondonIsOpen with its innovative tools and services

As all Londoners know, the monster that is our transport system is often overwhelming in its sheer complexity. That, combined with Londoners' steely resoluteness to avoid conversation with strangers on the tube at all costs, can lead to many a missed connection. But Transport for London's open data initiative has led to the creation of over 460 transport apps, of which TransportAPI and Citymapper, a London favourite, are a part.

Similarly, Rentsquare is a London-based startup that uses open data to help tackle the housing crisis, by helping to calculate the best rent price to find a happy medium between what tenants can afford and landlords need to charge to be profitable. Rentsquare's goal is to foster trust in the relationship between landlords and tenants by helping both parties understand each other's needs.

Open solutions can even be found in unexpected places. Plume Labs made headlines earlier this year when they utilised one of London's bemoaned pests, the humble pigeon, to track air quality around London. Twitter users were encouraged to tweet requests for air pollution levels in their respective areas in an effort to educate citizens on the need for cleaner air in the city. Plume Labs publishes their data openly for the benefit of others.

#LondonIsOpen to international collaboration

It may seem obvious, but the 2012 Olympics Games was an astonishing feat of international collaboration, seeing 204 nations compete. As organisers, London was widely praised and the event marked our third go at hosting the games (more than any other city). Our 'Games Masters' (all volunteers from across the UK) were applauded across the globe for their helpfulness and welcoming natures.

In fact, we’re pretty adept at teamwork all round, especially when it comes to joining forces to overcome challenges. Earlier this year the Mayor of London got together with the Borough of Greenwich to partner with the cities of Lisbon, Milan, Bordeaux, Burgas and Warsaw on a project to use innovative technology to improve the lives of their residents. London also announced a partnership this year with Amsterdam and Copenhagen to work on a joint project to move towards a circular economy, focussing on wastefulness and capturing of plastics.

#LondonIsOpen with the facts

The need for 'real facts' was highlighted with the '£350m for the NHS' Brexit debacle, and data that is opened by governments and businesses to be freely accessed, used and shared is a great way for us average Jo(e)s on the street to scrutinise the facts ourselves.

The UK is a leader in the world in terms of opening up our data (we top the open data barometer charts), mainly because we place a lot of our economic growth potential on the need for it. We also open up data about our essential services, such as the impact of closing fire stations. This is supported largely by the Greater London Authority, who created the London Datastore to allow anyone to access, use and share as much of its data as possible in order to catalyse innovation. We fact-finding Londoners are invited to scrutinise data on the London Datastore ourselves for public spending, house prices, crime numbers, diversity rates and more.

Being open is so much more than it appears at first view. With the UK entering uncharted territory, now is the perfect moment for Londoners to reflect on the open culture they've nurtured and the positive impact this has had on a global scale. After all, openness also means being open to change, and one thing that's undeniable is that change is in the air.

Last Updated 05 May 2017