That dreadful phrase

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:

East London Tech City

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.

Comments

  • Big business trying to steal “our” “cool”?

    No surprise that East London Tech Cities is an anagram of Tithed Cocaines Stolen

  • I made that map after someone asked me if there’s any point in trying to tie the two areas together when the cultures are so different.

    First of all, right now it’s a building site. That’s not culture, it’s land. And secondly, the only place I’ve seen them tied together is in the rhetoric of David Cameron’s speech. He made a big deal out of the “1 million square feet” number, but that translates to two large buildings, not exactly what I’d call a city.

    Not to mention it’s a real pain to get to. Try overlaying the transport network on top of the map:

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=207575857880001084929.00049e9afa95756e3eda1&z=13&lci=transit_comp

    1) Liverpool Street is not in Shoreditch.
    2) You have to walk across the whole Olympic Park to get there from Stratford.
    3) Alternatively, going up to Dalston and changing to a different Overground station does not count as “a few tube stops away”.
    4) People better get friendly with the 26/388.

    CIties and cultures are not born from political rhetoric.

  • I really like the East London Tech City Idea not so much for what it represents ideologically but for what it says about the benign but confused understanding of East London, tech and cities in the mind of the modern Conservative Party.

    I suspect the notional Tech City employee wakes up in a penthouse on Kingsland Road, cycles over to East London Tech City for a breakfast meeting with VCs about his startup before occupying his desk at BigCo, pops out to the Strongroom for lunch, back to Tech City for the afternoon and then over to Brick Lane for a curry before bed. These points are all assumed to be within walking distance of each other, because how big can London-east-of-Westminster be? After all, the most important and populous part of it, the City of London, is only a mile or so across…

  • how big can London-east-of-Westminster be?

    It’s a bit like those tourist maps of San Francisco that foreshorten everything west of Divisadero.

  • I’m not particularly a fan of the conservatives and/or techcrunch but the objections to this ironically seem a bit “not invented here” - the proper Silicon Valley (/Fen/ Glen/ M4 corridor) areas are all much bigger than this, and I’m also entertained by Alex’s objection that you can’t (currently) get decent coffee east of Bethnal Green, as if this was only possible via a combination of unique cultural and geographical factors within a 1-mile radius of Hoxton Square :)

  • I’m not anti the whole idea, and also think it’s possible for exciting young start-ups to exist where there isn’t good coffee. I’m not sure Jobs and Wozniak had ready supplies of expert-barista-concocted coffee when starting work in their garage :)

    But I’m not sure about the comparison in size with the Valley/wherever. Yes, those places are big, but they’re also not part of a dense urban area — they’re more spread out (I don’t know about Fen/Glen so this might undermine my point…). But “Tech City” is two very, very precise areas, each having (or planned to have) a high density of businesses in the sector, and probably having quite different kinds/sizes of businesses. In between them, there’s not a lot of related industry.

    So it’s not the overall size, or length from end to end, but that it’s not one large area — it’s two small areas.

  • Possibly the Aeropress is going to be the next great mobility enabler for start-ups…

  • Yeah, my understanding of urban planning is mostly extrapolated from Mega City One/ Gibson’s The Sprawl… That said, if you’re going to try and foster some sort of synergistic hub-like area, you may as well pick locations that already have some tenuous link to the industry - I’m sure if they’d said they were going to put it between White City and Acton/Chiswick, everyone would be complaining that “but Old St is where the real action is”..?

  • I’m not saying they’re the wrong locations, just that they’re different locations, liable to appeal to different kinds of people/companies, rather than a single “Tech City”.

  • I’d agree with Phil that the ‘city’ designation strongly implies some kind of continuity or contiguity, which isn’t really the same for the Valley or other areas that represent tech corridors. If, say, there were a ‘San Francisco Tech City’ that included SoMA and the Mission (which are closer than the Roundabout and OPMC, but still) it’d still sound weird.

    http://www.readwriteweb.com/start/2010/07/top-10-san-francisco-startup-n.php

Photos taken 22 Mar 2011

22 Mar 2011 at Twitter

  • 10:08am: I wrote a bit about that old East London Tech City thing, if you haven’t had enough of it: ‘That dreadful phrase’ http://bit.ly/hXBHrF
  • 10:16am: @ianbetteridge I only heard the bit of @r4today where they giggled embarrassedly about “4G”. Because it’s technology and so beneath them.
  • 10:18am: @FinalBullet A monorail for the corporates and jet-powered childs’-BMX bikes for the hipsters!
  • 01:15pm: Had the @riglondon company meeting on my own. Fired everyone, declared myself king of whimsy.
  • 07:21pm: @GreatDismal Are there any typically "dystopian" novels told from the view of someone it's good for?
  • 09:05pm: @benterrett That's what they want you to do!
  • 10:37pm: I know a few of you like Thomas Dolby… three tracks from a 1984 gig were just played on Gideon Coe on #6Music, no doubt on iPlayer later.

22 Mar 2011 in Links