The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson, at the Tate Modern. Photo: Getty
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Here's why London should bid to be the next City of Culture

London is home to the biggest galleries, the most famous museums and some of the country's most famous cultural destinations. But in outer London, many venues are struggling and deserve a moment to shine.

London should bid to be Britain’s next European City of Culture. It would help to promote the capital’s creative and cultural sectors and create new jobs in these areas; it could revitalise the arts and cultural offer outside of Zone One reeling from huge local government cuts; it could help to draw in the next generation of Londoners to a wide range of new cultural activity and, properly planned, it could be a year-long celebration of the best of Britain and the very best of London’s cultural scene.

Bidding will open at the beginning of 2017 for the honour of being the 2023 European City of Culture, due to take place in Britain. With elections galore between now and then it might be easy for the idea of a London bid to be quietly ignored. London after all is a top European city of culture already and this award is usually a consolation prize for cities in need of a little regeneration or so some have claimed.

Outside of Zone One where the National Theatre, the big museums and art galleries sit, Outer London’s museums, theatres and other cultural activity are under huge pressure as local government and Arts Council cutbacks have had a profound impact.

A European City of Culture bid backed by the big Zone One institutions could help to regenerate and expand Outer London’s arts scene, creating jobs and inspiring new art spaces and cultural ‘quarters’ from Hounslow to Dagenham and Sutton to Redbridge. Museums and theatres struggling in Outer London could be supported by the big Zone One institutions for a year of Zone 2 to Zone 6 cultural excitement. Given the success of the Tate St Ives or the Tate Liverpool, how about the Tate Croydon and the Tate Harrow; even for just one twelve month period.

Why do the great collections of modern and old Masters have to stay firmly within the Circle Line? Why not an Impressionist display in the Dulwich Picture Gallery or the National Opera and Ballet Rambert performing at the Fairkytes Centre in Hornchurch or the Kingston Rose Theatre. And for one year only why couldn’t we bring a bit of Glastonbury to London’s Outer London parks. Instead of a farmer’s field in Somerset, why couldn’t Kasabian, Dolly Parton or Ed Sheeran - last year’s Glastonbury headliners – perform in the great parks and open spaces of outer London – Hackney Marshes, West Ham Park or the green spaces of Epping Forest?

A City of Culture bid is an opportunity to provide a stage to London’s young and emerging artistic talent and to give younger Londoners a chance to access the best of arts and culture on their doorstep, and through their schools and colleges, instead of having to travel just into central London.

Inevitably the campaign against London will be that we don’t need such status and that other cities need it more. London is one of Europe’s top (if not already better than Paris and Rome) cultural destinations, but City of Culture status would help to draw in more tourists to Britain’s wider cultural and arts scene – starting in London but venturing out beyond the capital.

70,000 jobs depend on London’s creative and arts scene. With increasing automation, this sector offers one source of more decent jobs in the future. Putting business and job creation at the heart of any bid ought to be part to be part of the next Mayor’s vision for a European City of Culture bid.

European City of Culture status also offers a platform for co-operation with emerging economies and a further opportunity to promote London and, from there the rest of the UK, to the India’s and China’s, the Brazil’s and South Africa’s.

I have discussed the idea that London should bid with a diverse mix of London’s art and business figures; from Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum to Courtney Pine, Britain’s premier jazz talent and Digby Jones, former Director General of the CBI and Trade Minister. All think the idea of a bid has real merit.

It is for the next Mayor of London to bring London’s great and good together and shape a vision for a City of Culture bid whilst beginning to look for the individual figurehead to lead the necessary London Culture Company.

London cannot rest on its laurels. The Olympics gave London a global stage to perform on but they are now firmly in the past. The world has moved on and London’s leadership needs to look to the future. European City of Culture status offers a further platform to boost London’s economic, social and cultural opportunities. It’s a chance to put Outer London in the artistic spotlight, and to give the next generation of Londoners a huge chance to enjoy the richest range of art and culture.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.