It isn’t often that I am driven to over-enthused feelings of regionalism, or a real desire to defend the county of my birth. In fact, public chants of ‘Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire!’ often leave me feeling more than off-kilter. Yet, after reading Brendan O’Neil’s characteristically sensational piece, for The Telegraph, I felt as though somebody had to respond.
Despite not really talking about the city specifically, O’Neil entitled his piece ‘I’d rather be skint in London than rich in Hull.’ Obviously, this was an intentional, and frankly crass, attempt to imbue his audience with the stereotypical view that everywhere in ‘The North’ is grim. In fact, grim enough to be insulted with the title of ‘worst city in the UK’ (an alarmist award attributed to Hull exactly a decade ago, which was subsequently belied by the East Ridings port being named UK’s City of Culture for 2017).
[Image: Humber Bridge, The Guardian]
For those of us who are not blindsided by ‘The London Myth’, comments such as this often provoke rather impassioned responses. This has been highlighted by the fact that O’Neill’s piece has been widely shared and disputed over the past few days. However, the intention here is not to simply lambast him, from a biased Yorkshire perspective, but rather to articulate an opposing point of view.
Without question, the words of Benjamin Disraeli are true: ‘London is a roost for every bird.’
With natives from over 270 nationalities and speakers of over 300 languages currently resident in our capital, it is clearly a place that provides room for all. The problem is though, we are not talking about living room, we are talking about room to exist.
[Image courtesy of Getty Images]
The top 10 places in the 2011 census’ population density chart are in Greater London, with Islington achieving the top spot by means of a density of 13,886 (per km²). The aforementioned Hull is 46th, while Leeds is 119th on the list (with a density of 1,361 per km²). This means that the amount of people crammed into the same space in London’s busiest borough is just over ten times that of Yorkshire’s strongest city.
Advocates of ‘The London Myth’ will pipe up at this point and assert that these facts are merely evidence that more people want to live in London, in comparison with anywhere else in the UK.
But, let’s remember a universal truism of the modern age: ‘just because more people like it, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good.’
A maxim evidenced by the fact that Fast and Furious 7 is now the fifth highest grossing movie of all time.
Despite O’Neill’s protestations that paying London prices and dealing with London congestion (while being charged for the privilege) is merely a premium for living in ‘the beating heart of the nation’, we shouldn’t be fooled.
According to an ONS report, London’s GDHI (gross disposable household income) is significantly higher than Leeds’ – at just over £5,000 per head, per year! Even with this head start, far too many still cannot manage to live comfortably in the capital. This was recently highlighted by the charity Trust for London, who claimed that ‘a third of Londoners cannot afford basic costs’.
Far be it for me to take on the Herculean task of convincing you that there are places you can buy a decent latté, ride a fixie bike, or see people playing instruments fairly well, any day of the week. The truth is though, all of the things that people love about London can be found in many northern cities, such as Leeds.
[Image: Belgrave Music Hall]
True, the public transport needs some work, but we enjoy some of the greatest cuisine in the country (such as Salvo’s, Fazenda and The Reliance), regular arts and culture events (such as the award winning Leeds International Film festival) and more quality live music venues per square mile than most places in the UK (with even more great acts to fill them).
All of these essentials for a fully rounded modern life do not evaporate once you pass the Watford Gap. For many of us life in ‘The North’ is not only enjoyable, but comfortable and fulfilling. So, rather than forcing myself to be squashed in a city that has little space for me, living in shared accommodation like a perpetual student, I’ll stay in Leeds and keep on smiling.