Some believe the centre of the world is wherever they are; others believe it is one among several ‘World Cities.’ The definition varies by location, by culture or personal interpretation. What is less ambiguous is the list of these major cities. No version of this list should omit London as one of the great capitals of this world.
It is arguably the most important Western city in history, or was, and it remains one of the top tourist destinations anywhere. Such large cities are considered to share many characteristics, good and bad, such as a greater focus of culture, higher crime, more pollution and greater diversity. London is a good exemplar of these and many other big-city traits.
There is the typical list of ‘pros and cons’: some of the best theatre in the world, heavy traffic, free museums and galleries, high living-costs, density of historical sites, the oldest — and it shows — underground railway systems in the world. There are some surprising contradictions as well.
Living expenses can be very high; rent in particular can be exclusive. On the other hand, groceries are often on sale, and some are regularly quite cheap. Alcohol is usually cheaper than in many other countries, which often leads to public altercations; taking the last train home can be an odious experience.
This national alcoholism is often debated, but remains undeniable; nonetheless, the level of creativity and contribution to the global pool is equally irrefutable. In many cases, the intoxicants might spur the creative contribution. It can be dangerous to walk the streets at night: many know someone who has been beaten for no discernible reason; knife crime is a problem; racial violence is reported on occasion.
Yet London is also far less intimidating than one might expect: it is possible to walk for over an hour at night and see very few other people. Some people are quite friendly; others, who appear threatening, are actually the most gentle and warm — and misunderstood — people one might encounter.
The city boasts a range of museums and galleries full of some of the most famous pieces in the world. Many charge no admission. Access to this culture is considerable, especially given the value of these collections to Western civilization.
In all too typical fashion, it is the arts that are always under attack from the government, whichever party is in power: London, and the entire country, produce more world-class art –whether art, music, film, literature – than almost every other country, and it has some of the most respected and productive schools; still, each government is quick to undermine these national resources by cutting funds.
This is not limited to these islands, of course. London is fiercely proud, and rightly so. It can make fun of itself, and realise its faults. It is exclusive but welcoming; dangerous in parts, safe in others. London can cost an arm for a concert, but smaller venues are often cheaper than a cinema ticket. Alcohol does not cost an arm, but might cost a liver.
The pubs vary from cozy to clubs: one can find an intimate atmosphere or lose one’s hearing with the music. London offers a great density and diversity of experiences; it is expensive, but worth a visit or a longer stay. The contradictions can be a fascinating diversion, and can inspire those who investigate the city.