Sad in the city. Photo: Getty images
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Surprisingly, London is the least happy major city in the UK

Can’t get no satisfaction. 

Everyone knows Londoners are grumpy. They file in and out of their fancy underground network with faces of thunder, avoiding each others’ eyes and rushing home to count the pennies left over after they’ve paid their astronomical housing costs.

All this we know anecdotally - but now, you'll be pleased to hear, we have the data to prove it. Urban Audit, a branch of the European Commission tasked with assessing the “attractiveness” and “quality of life” of European cities, has released the results of its 2012 Perception Survey. It asked people in 79 cities, including 6 in the UK, about their satisfaction with everything from their cities’ healthcare to its public spaces. It then used this data to put together average satisfaction levels on 12 different issues for each city. 

If you take an average of those 12 percentages for UK cities, they on the whole turn out to be “pretty satisfied” – all six fall in the 75-85 per cent range. They’re certainly doing better than Athens, which has an average satisfaction rate of 42 per cent.

But lagging in last place among the Brits is London, which feels the least satisfied with its schools, sports facilities, health services, and pollution and noise levels. (Its schools, incidentally, are among the best in Britain.)

The only category where London came out on top was public transport. Here's a graph of the overall satisfaction levels.

The survey also asked respondents whether they agreed with certain statements about their cities. Only 71 per cent of Londoners agreed with the statement “I feel safe in London”, which places it below the European median of 74 per cent and at the bottle of the pile in the UK. Londoners feel less safe than residents of Paris, Barcelona, Zagreb, and Malaga, to name but four.  Finally, in utterly unsurprising news, only 12 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “It is easy to find good housing at a reasonable price in London.”

So should Londoners really be so down on their city? As the UK’s largest, it’s pretty much fated to have the highest crime and pollution levels. And yes, the housing market is awful. 

But when the researchers asked the question “are you satisfied with the place where you live?”, offering respondants the chance to say they liked their city despite its crime and pollution, Londoners were still the most dissatisfied in the UK – 82 per cent said they were satisfied, which sounds OK, but it places London ahead of only 17 European cities, and behind 51. The median satisfaction level for Europe was much higher, at 92 per cent. Here's the results for some major European cities: 

One explanation for London's poor performance could be that Londoners have less pride in their city - a result, perhaps, of the fact relatively few of them were born there. In 2001, Sheffield University conducted a “sense of belonging” study across the UK, based on the number of non-married adults, one-person households and people who had lived at their current address for less than a year. (The thinking was that these were the groups least likely to have roots in an area.) The researchers' results show that, of the six British cities included in the Urban Audit study, it was those who lived in London who were likely to have the lowest “sense of belonging”. Residents of Cardiff – also the winning city in terms of satisfaction – were likely to have the highest.

In other words, despite all their phone contacts, Londoners are lonely, disconnected and dissatisfied. Someone sort out the housing market before it’s too late.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook. 

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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A rape-able sex robot makes the world more dangerous for women, not less

Eroticising a lack of consent is no answer to male sexual violence. 

On Wednesday, the Independent reported a new setting had been added to the personality range of a sex robot made by the company True Companion. Called “Frigid Farrah”, the setting allows men who own the robot to simulate rape. If you touch it in a “private area” when it is in this mode, the website explains, it will “not be appreciative of your advance”.

True Companion says the robot is not programmed to participate in a rape scenario, and the idea is “pure conjecture”. Nevertheless, the news has reopened the debate about sex robots and their relationship to consent. What does a rape-able robot say about our attitudes to consent, sex, violence and humanism? Do sex robots like Frigid Farrah eroticise and normalise male sexual aggression? Or does allowing men to “act out” these “most private sexual dreams” on inanimate objects actually make real women safer?

The idea that allowing men to “rape” robots could reduce rates of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. Sex robot settings that eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, coupled with male aggression, risk normalising rape. It sends a message to the user that it is sexually fulfilling to violate a woman’s “No”.

It’s important to remember that rape is not a product of sexual desire. Rape is about power and domination – about violating a woman’s body and her sense of self. Raping a robot is of course preferable to raping a woman, but the fact is we need to challenge the attitudes and sense of entitlement that cause violent men to rape in the first place.

There is little evidence to back the claim that giving men sexual “outlets” reduces violence. The research that exists is focused on whether a legalised sex industry can reduce sexual assault.

Studies on Dutch “tippelzones” – spaces where soliciting is legal between certain hours – claimed the areas led to a reduction in sexual violence. However, the research lacked precise data on incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and the fact that sex workers themselves can be victims. As a result, it wasn’t possible to determine exactly how the number of rapes and assaults fell in the population at large.

Similar claims made by social scientist Catherine Hakim also failed to prove a causal link between legalised prostitution and reduced levels of sexual violence – again, because low reporting means a lack of accurate data.

Other research claims that access to the sex industry can in fact increase incidents of sexual violence. A 2013 report by Garner and Elvines for Rape Crisis South London argued that an analysis of existing research found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in non-experimental studies”.

Meanwhile, a 2000 paper by Neil Malamuth, T Addison, and J Koss suggested that, when individuals considered at high risk of acting sexually aggressively are studied, levels of aggression are four times higher among frequent consumers of pornography.

However, just as the research fails to find a causal link between access to the sex industry and reducing violence, there is no research proving a causal link between violent pornography and gender-based violence.

Instead, we have to look at the ethical and moral principles in an industry that creates models of women for men to orgasm into. Sex robots are, at their heart, anti-humanist. They replace women with plastic and holes. They create a world for their owners where women’s voices and demands and desires and pleasures – and right to say no – are absent.

That should trouble us – we are creating products for men which send a message that the best woman is a compliant and silent one. That the best woman is one who lies back and “likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike”, to quote the True Companion website, who is “always ready to talk and play” but whose voice you can turn off whenever you want.

“By transferring one of the great evils of humanity from the real to the artificial, sex robots simply feed the demon of sexism,” says Professor Alan Winfield of the Bristol Robotics Lab. “Some might say, 'What’s the problem – a sex robot is just metal and plastic – where’s the harm?' But a 'fembot' is a sexualised representation of a woman or girl, which not only invites abusive treatment but demands it. A robot cannot give consent – thus only deepening the already chronic and dangerous objectification of real women and girls.”

What research does tell us is that there is a clear link between violence and the perpetrator’s ability to dehumanise their victims. That, and a setting designed to eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, suggest that Frigid Farrah will have no impact on reducing sexual assault. Rather, it creates a space where rape and violence is normalised and accepted.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders at this sexualisation of male violence, we should be taking action to end the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies. That starts by saying that rape is not an inevitable part of our society, and the danger of rape cannot simply be neutralised by a robot.

Sian Norris is a writer. She blogs at sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com and is the Founder & Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She was previously writer-in-residence at Spike Island.