The city of London has historically been the heart of Western Europe. While across the channel Paris grew in reputation as the favored hub for artists, musicians and litterateurs, London was (and still is) the financial centre of Western European democracies. Given this background, the confines of metropolitan London had expanded gradually. Needless to say, there are limitations to any urban township and the case of London proved to be no exception. With advances in modes of commotion, ever greater numbers of people migrated to London in search of economic opportunity. In the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, these influxes of people originated within continental Europe. This was also a time when the British Empire reached its peak on back of its superior naval force. But, the twentieth century was markedly different, in that the émigré’s were from erstwhile colonies spanning all continents. Such patterns of migration have overwhelmed the city of London, that it now resembles a labyrinthine conglomeration of interconnected locales that lack an underlying uniqueness or a defining quality.
It is no irony that as Britain’s empire expanded to all corners of the world in the nineteenth century, the city of London was taxed beyond its adequacy. This was documented lucidly and vividly by the greatest of nineteenth century English writers Charles Dickens. As opposed to other prominent writers of the Victorian age, Dickens mastered the art of capturing London’s street life. Ugly, squalid and beneath dignity at times, life in London at the time was a real challenge. In the novels of Dickens, as well as in the memoirs of his own early life, one can clearly see the first instances of the problem posed by modernization. Dickens’ novels were as much works of fiction as they were documentations of the underbelly of the most prosperous empire of the time. Highly crowded slums such as St. Giles and Seven Dials were notorious for criminal activity. In this atmosphere of grinding poverty, congested dwelling places, unhygienic food sources and constant threat from criminals, such unsavory professions as prostitution are inevitable. Prostitution also played a role in easily spreading sexually transmitted diseases. These aspects of the modernizing London were recorded by various writers of the era. But more importantly, some of these problems still confront urban mega polis like London in the early years of the new millennium.
Another problem associated with modernization of London is the dilution of the city’s unique character. Many cities in the continent such as Paris,Vienna and Florence still possess their unique flavor, one which reflects the traditions and cultural conventions of the place. This can no longer be said of London, where each locale is dominated by a particular ethnic community, and the air tense with suspicion and distrust of people alien to their culture. In modern London, one can see China Towns, Pakistani neighborhoods, Professional Indians’ suburbia, illegal East Europeans’ havens, etc. These communities try their best to remain secluded from the mainstream, creating problems for city administrators who are keen to assimilate immigrants into the mainstream.
Also, the rapid modernization of London has given rise to pollution of various sorts. Irrespective of the Euro emission standards adopted by automobile manufacturers, the reluctance of many to use public transportation system and the tendency to indulge in conspicuous consumption patterns have made London a unhealthy place to live. Seen in this context, the London Olympic Games of 2012 will only make matters worse. While the broader economy might benefit through the hosting of the event, the large scale changes that will be made to accommodate athletes and officials from across the world will have long term repercussions for the permanent residents of the city.