Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Since the Brexit vote, an ad campaign has been reaffirming the British capital’s character as a multi-ethnic hub.
Britain may seem to be turning its back on its European neighbors, but London will remain open. That’s the message of an ongoing campaign from the office of Mayor Sadiq Khan. With the tagline #LondonIsOpen, The campaign seeks to reassure the city’s residents and visitors that London is going to keep its face turned outward toward the rest of the world, and will continue to have its diverse, multi-ethnic character celebrated.
Take the video above, which celebrates the polyglot variety of staff on London’s transit networks, as an example. While London’s first language overwhelmingly remains English (spoken as a first language by 78 percent of residents) more than 100 languages are spoken in 30 of the city’s 33 boroughs, even if only 53 languages possess enough London speakers to constitute 0.1 percent or more of the population as a whole. As the clip makes clear, these people are very much embedded in the city’s infrastructure and culture.
The campaign, which began in July, is about more than sending a message about diversity, however. Many London businesses are anxious that after leaving the E.U., trade barriers may rise that will hamper the city’s role as an international center for commerce and shopping. Turning Napoleon’s apocryphal slur about the English being a “nation of shopkeepers” into a virtue, this video seeks to reassure people that this state of affairs won’t change anytime soon.
Having established a theme, the London Is Open campaign has started pushing things a little further. This whimsical short first shared on social media two weeks ago strays into funny-animal-video territory by using London’s animal population as a metaphor for its diversity. Not exactly searing political commentary, but hey, it’s the holidays and footage of a few London pugs may well be in order.
As CityLab noted earlier this week, London’s immediate future isn’t as rosy as the mayor’s campaign might suggest. The city may struggle to have its voice heard in ongoing debate about the direction of Britain, while Mayor Khan’s potential as a cheerleader for London isn’t matched with much executive power. Still as a reminder that heterogeneity is London’s—and any major city’s—lifeblood, city hall’s message couldn’t come at a better time.