Last week James Wheare tweeted a link to his Google Map of East London Tech City. That image has stuck with me because it seems to sum up some of the potential problems of the whole idea. Here’s a screenshot for your convenience:
That big blue bit is roughly the “Silicon Roundabout”/Shoreditch area, while the small blue bit, top right, is the area around the Olympic Park Media Centre which the government wants to fill with exciting American and American-style technology companies after the Olympics are over.
I’m not going to try and tease out the varied strands of good and bad that make up the idea of East London Tech City (a phrase which makes me want to stick pins in something squishy and public relations-shaped each time I hear it). I don’t know enough about business to identify precisely what is needed from this scheme, so I’ll leave the details to others.
But this map highlights the broad difficulties, ones my colleague Alex outlined a while back. Those indigo zones are very separate and very different. As separate and as different as the needs of a three person, flat-white-swigging, dubstep-loving start-up off Hoxton Square are to the incentives desired by Facebook or Google, never mind some even more dull, back-office, enterprise solutions, financial services colossus for whose anonymous employal units programming is a plain old skill and a wage-paying job, rather than one page in a hipster’s lifestyle portfolio.
The idea that these two areas are related in any but the most tenuous and opportunistic sense seems like some kind of Derren Brown-style illusion, and it’s only with this map that we can see the truth behind it. Good things could come out of this scheme — every industry wants extra incentives and assistance and publicity after all. But we should at least be honest about the idea that this is a single place with one homogenous population. At the very least we should be honest enough to pluralise that dreadful phrase: East London Tech Cities.