Skylines

Skylines

United States

Skylines is the podcast from the New Statesman's urbanism website CityMetric. Every two weeks, Jonn Elledge, Barbara Speed and their guests talk about the politics and workings of cities and transport systems, and test their contention that maps are a great topic for radio. Skylines is a Roifield Brown Production.

Episodes

29. The Permanent Way  

This week, we're not mucking about: we're going full-transport nerd. First up Jonn tells Stephanie about his abortive adventures inter-railing in the long hot summer of 1999 - an almost entirely appalling experience about which he briefly considered writing a very short memoir under the title "Belgian Boy Scouts and Psychosomatic Diarrhoea". The inspiration for this was the news that a German MEP has proposed free interrailing passes for every EU citizen on their 18th birthday. So we share our experiences of scary nuns and Soviet buses on Europe's transport network, and discuss whether better transport links really could create a European identity. Next up, the Guardian technology writer and New Statesman escapee Alex Hern pops by to talk us through the hyperloop: why it is a real thing, why it will nonetheless almost never happen, and why it typifies everything wrong with the entire Silicon Valley culture. To wrap up, the regulars talk about trolleybuses, suspended monorails, outdoor escalators and whatever other weird transport systems come to mind. We also, briefly, get sucked into existential terror by the arrival of president Trump. Skylines is the podcast from the New Statesman's cities site, CityMetric. It's hosted by Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland.

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28. New year, new mayors  

This week, it's cold, it's January, and everything's a bit depressing. So to cheer ourselves up, why don't we have a nice chat about municipal government structures? First up, Jonn talks Stephanie through what is arguably England's biggest local government shake up in 40 years: plans for "metro mayors" in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and selected other cities. We talk about why it is that, just four months before the elections, it's surprisingly unclear how many of these new mayors there are actually going to be; why some of the other big cities aren't getting mayors at all; and we're probably a bit gratuitously mean about yorkshire. After that, to lighten the mood, Stephanie shares some stories of weird local government initiatives from around the world, including "the guy who tried to ban death" and "the foot powder that got itself elected mayor". And finally we talk about Transport for London's tube bylaws for basically no reason at all. Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland.

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27. Christmas special service  

There's long been a tradition on British television of Christmas specials. Old characters come back, stories get bigger and more melodramatic, and the whole thing feels just a tiny bit self-indulgent. This is our Christmas special, so, well, you know what to expect. Things we talk about this week, in no particular order: The CityMetric Christmas playlist – that is, which Christmas songs are actually about cities/maps/geography/something; How Jonn started the year by wandering around London with a map and a film crew, pretending to be lost, because of this story about station names; How he ended it riding up front in a train (sorry, Jim); The CityMetric Christmas quiz, which Stephanie wrote specially to flummox him (you can see the questions on our website); How we'd like to hear more from those of you who listen to this thing who aren't in London, New York or another of the cities we bang on about all the time. If you're the person who's listening to this in Tirana or Tehran, please do write in. Lastly, we are giving serious thought to doing a live episode at some point next spring, probably somewhere in London that serves drinks. If you’d be up for that, have suggestions about topics or guests, or would even like to offer us a venue, you can write in about that, too. Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland.

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26. Parklife  

This week's podcast presented us with an unusual challenge: which album by 90s Britpop four-piece Blur should we name it after? Leisure would work. So would The Great Escape. (13 would be silly because this is episode 26, and the less said about The Magic Whip the better.) Anyway, we went with Parklife because, well, we're talking about parks, and all sorts of other ways of having fun in cities. We've been a bit gloomy of late, you see (and little wonder; have you seen the world recently?). So this week, we're talking about fun things. Fun thing number one: Christmas. Stephanie and Jonn discuss going home for the holidays, the sad fate of this year’s Gävle Goat, Manchester's long and noble tradition of terrifying giant Santas, and why it is I insist on going to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park every year even though it's obviously going to be hell. Fun thing number two: Parks. Peter Watts swings by, to talk about Britain's parks – their origins, social function, and the fact so many of them are now in serious financial difficulty. Fun thing number three: Walks. Regular CityMetric contributor Ed Jefferson joins Jonn to discuss their common, faintly eccentric interest in spending our free time walking for dozens of miles through depressing industrial landscapes for no particular reason. What on earth do they think they are doing? Last but not least, we asked the internet: what are your favourite urban Christmas traditions? The answers may surprise you. No, really. Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland, and is a Roifield Brown production. Skylines is supported by 100 Resilient Cities. Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, 100RC is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

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25. The End of the World  

This week, in keeping with the global mood, we’re talking about threats to civilisation, and the things we can do to combat them. First up, Stephanie and Jonn discuss Trump – yes, again – and fail to discuss the disappearance of the ice in the Arctic because one of us finds the whole thing far too depressing. Then, in an attempt to cheer ourselves up, we discuss the British government's ban on lettings agency fees, and various things we have done to troll estate agents. After that, it's onto more serious matters, as we hear from two people at the forefront of the efforts to protect us from our dangerous age. Dante Disparte, the founder of consultancy Risk Cooperative, tells us about the threats facing our cities; then Michael Berkowitz, president of the NGO 100 Resilient Cities, tells us what we can do to protect them. (If the name of the latter organisation looks a little bit familiar, that's because they've been kind enough to sponsor our fine podcast.) Then, to round off, we share our favourite stories of municipal arson. Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman's cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland and produced by Roifield Brown.

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24. Trumpocalypse Now  

This is, like that Saved By the Bell where Jessie got addicted to drugs, another very special episode. Partly it's because it's, disappointingly, Stephanie-free. (For various boring travel-related reasons, I'm afraid it's been pretty much impossible to get us into the same room at the same time.) But mostly it's because of a sneaking suspicion that, in light of recent events, nobody much cares about things like metro maps and infrastructure right now. So instead, I'm joined by a pair of colleagues from the New Statesman politics desk, Stephan Bush and Julia Rampen, to discuss the big news of the week: President-elect Donald Trump. How is the rust belt like the north of England? Is it economics, culture, or simply racism that cause rural areas to vote differently from urban ones? And most importantly - are we all going to die? We'll be back soon, with our normal co-host, our normal producer and our normal sponsor. Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman's cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge and (mostly) Stephanie Boland and (usually) produced by Roifield Brown.

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Roads, racism and ruins: American Election Special  

This week, Jonn is in America, chasing cool cities along the interstate and catching up with – gulp! – Trump voters.

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22. Northern soul  

This week's podcast is sort of the conclusion of a two-parter. On the last show, we talked about the history and economy of England's post-industrial northern cities. This week, we're north of the Watford Gap once again, but this time we're talking culture. (A note for overseas listeners: don't worry, we've not given up on the outside world, and we'll be back to a more international service soon enough. Also, a bunch of the stuff we talk about on this one does reflect on cities more broadly so you should listen to it anyway. So there.) First up, in what is clearly an attempt to troll me, Stephanie makes me talk about a subject that's absolutely central to life in Liverpool, Manchester, and many other northern cities, but remains absolutely baffling to me: football. To do that, we're joined by Neil Atkinson, the host of the ludicrously successful Anfield Wrap podcast, which chronicles Liverpool FC and Liverpool life through as many as 15 shows a week. He talks about the role football plays in the life of the city, and why he thinks better links to Salford is the key to boosting th Merseyside economy. You can follow Neil on Twitter here. Our other guest this week is the cultural commentator and BBC 6 Music DJ Stuart Maconie. In October 1936, 200 men marched from Jarrow, near Newcastle, to London to protest against unemployment and poverty in the north during the Great Depression. As I write, Maconie is following their route 80 years on. He talks to Stephanie about northern identity and the relationship between north and south from a windy road somewhere in County Durham. (As an actual famous person, he probably doesn’t need me to point you to his Twitter feed, but just in case: it’s here.) Last but not least we discuss – what would it take to get us to move north? Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman's cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland and produced by Roifield Brown.

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21. North and south  

You know there are people – bad, mean people – who've been known to accuse CityMetric of being a bit London-centric. As the world's leading purveyor of news about minor changes to the tube map, we can't understand this at all. Anyway. In an attempt to balance things out a bit, we're dedicating the whole of this week's episode to the world on the other side of the north/south divide. I talk about my recent trip to Liverpool, and what I made of that great city (which is, I'm sure, dying to know what another bloody Londoner thinks of it). Then Stephanie, an actual northerner, tells me about the relationship between Liverpool and her home town of Manchester. While we're at it, we also discuss why it is that, in Lancashire, local identity comes from cities while, across the Pennines, the Yorkshire identity still dominates Leeds and Sheffield. Next two staffers from the Centre for Cities – Newcastle's Ben Harrison and Sunderland's Paul Swinney – talk about their relationship between their two cities and why Sunderland is definitely not just a part of Newcastle. We also discuss how England's city region and devolution deals are coming along, and why the whole process has turned into a bit of a mess. Last but not least, Stephanie and I discuss one of the key questions of our age. Labour should, by rights, storm next year's Manchester metro mayor election – so how will Andy Burnham mess it up this time? Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge (that's me) and Stephanie Boland, and is a Roifield Brown production. Skylines is supported by 100 Resilient Cities. Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, 100RC is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

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20. Before the flood  

This is, as they used to say of the installments of Saved By the Bell in which someone got addicted to drugs, a very special episode. In fact, it's special for two reasons. Firstly it's episode 20 (round numbers are cool). Secondly, it's the first to be supported by our new sponsor, 100 Resilient Cities: an NGO dedicated to helping cities prepare for the challenges of the 21st century. To celebrate, this week, we're talking about an issue very close to 100RC's heart: how coastal cities can deal with rising sea levels. To discuss this, Stephanie and I are joined by our colleague India Bourke, the office climate expert. She talks us through the latest science, and we debate why, when the Arctic ice sheet is in dramatic decline, we aren't more frightened. Then I talk to some of the chief resilience officers in port cities at the front line of the fight to keep cities above water: Arnoud Molenaar of Rotterdam in the Netherlands; and Christine Morris and her deputy Katerina Oskarsson, of Norfolk, Virginia. They tell me what challenges their cities are facing from the water; what measures they're taking to defend against them; and how to win the battle for political support. Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland, and is a Roifield Brown production. Skylines is supported by 100 Resilient Cities. Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, 100RC is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

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19. How it all began  

This week's podcast is a game of two halves. (Stephanie didn't manage to get a football reference onto the tape so I'm putting one here instead.) First of all, we talk about why it is people move to cities – or to be more specific, why people continue to move to London, when the experience of finding somewhere to live here is so completely bloody horrible. Stephanie relates her recent experiences with house-hunting and letting agents, while I look on with the serene sympathy of one who's insulated from this particular hellscape. That covers why people move to cities today – then we look at why people moved to cities in the past. To be more specific: several thousand years in the past. Rob Monaco is the US historian behind the frankly brilliant Podcast History of Our World. He runs me through the latest research on where the first cities could be found; discusses what motivated people to found them in the first place; and, most importantly, explains what sewers and street furniture would have looked like in the ancient past. If you've always secretly want to know how to tell your Ur from your Uruk – and who among us hasn’t – then this is the podcast for you.

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18. Sex* and the city (*gender)  

On this week's podcast, we're talking gender. Which of course is not actually the same as sex – the former is social, the latter biological – but until such time as HBO makes a hit sitcom called “Gender and the City”, this is our title and we're sticking to it. Anyway. This week's guests: Caroline Criado-Perez is the writer, journalist and feminist campaigner, who wrote a fantastic feature for us on why cities need to take women into account when planning. She gives us a whistlestop tour of her findings, from playgrounds in Vienna to toilets in Mumbai. Lauren Elkin is the author of Flâneuse: The (Feminine) Art of Walking in Cities, recently serialised on BBC Radio 4. She tells Stephanie about the origins of the book, and why walking can be a radical act. Sarah Coughlan and Marissa Santikarn are two-thirds of the Berlinials podcast. They tell us about the joys and hassles of ex-pat Berlin. Lastly, Stephanie and I discuss how her experiences of London differ from mine (most notably: I get cat-called surprisingly rarely). And we talk about how cities could be made more welcoming for women. Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland, and is a Roifield Brown production.

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17. Kings in the north  

Last week, Britain's Labour party announced the results of the internal party elections to determine its candidates for three of the new "metro mayor" posts being created next May. Former health secretary Andy Burnham will contest Greater Manchester; Liverpool Walton MP is the candidate for the greater Liverpool region; and Siôn Simon is to run in the West Midlands (Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and the Black Country). The Labour party nationally is – and let's be nice about this – completely knackered. But it remains strong in Britain's cities, and won back the mayoralties in both London and Bristol earlier this year. It's highly probable that Burnham, Rotherham and Simon will all be elected as metro mayors next May. So this seems like a great moment to discuss who these new titans of the British political scene are. Stephanie and I are joined by our colleague Julia Rampen, who edits the New Statesman's politics blog, the Staggers, to talk about what new mayors can do for the Midlands and the North; how Manchester will cope with a Liverpool-supporter as mayor; and, most vexingly, why every one of them is a bloke. Skylines is the podcast from CityMetric, the New Statesman cities site. It's presented by Jonn Elledge and Stephanie Boland, and is a Roifield Brown production.

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16. Let the games begin  

So here’s a funny thing. We managed to do an entire podcast about the Olympics in cities, without saying the words “Rio de Janeiro” once. That’s weird, isn’t it? Anyway. In a shameless bid for news relevance and SEO, this week, we’re talking about whether hosting a massively over-priced sporting jamboree is really the best way of regenerating a city. Stephanie and I talk about why Barcelona ‘92 worked, but Athens ‘04 didn’t; discuss the various alternative models for hosting the Olympics that periodically come up for discussion; explore the long-forgotten time when town planning was an Olympic event (yes, really); and have a long and involved argument about whether dressage (“horse-dancing”) would be improved if the horses were drunk. Then, festival producer Sara Doctors, who’s been working on cultural events in east London for many years, gives us a guided tour of London’s Olympic Park, past, present and future, and explains the role the 2012 games played in speeding up the regeneration of Stratford. We also hear from Peter Watts about a London regeneration scheme with a rather different history: the decades-long failure to do something with Battersea Power Station. Watts recently published a book on this topic, Up In Smoke; if that’s a bit long for you, he wrote an article on the topic for these very pages. Last but not least, listener Jeremy Broome – a Brit, who’s spent the last decade in Singapore – tells us about his city. PS: Just in case anyone out there is paying attention to the numbering of these things, and is wondering why we've gone from episode 13 to episode 16... No, you haven't missed any episodes: for various boring administrative reasons I decided that numbering mini-episodes 7.5 or similar was stupid, and so had to renumber the others accordingly. So, instead of episode 14, this is now episode 16. We're basically the Gregorian calendar of podcasts.

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13. Band on the run  

So, there are two different reasons why this episode is particularly exciting. One is that it's the first with new co-host Stephanie Boland. The other is that we're joined by an actual, literal rock star. Honestly: I write about maps for a living, and now this. My 17 year old self would be so impressed. Anyway. Neil Codling plays with Penguin Cafe, but his best known work has been as keyboard player and backing vocalist in Suede. (For boring legal reasons, the music used in the show is from neither band, I'm afraid.) Neil tells us about life on tour, and how you engage with a new city when you're seeing six of them every week. He also discusses the hollowing out of London’s music industry, and even reads from his tour diaries. Elsewhere in the show, journalist Steffan Storch tells us about Swansea, the second city of Wales - a fact for which it will never forgive its larger rival Cardiff. (You should check out Steffan's own podcast, Well Thanks, too.) Finally, Stephanie and I talk about the origins, history and our more infuriating experiences of busking (it involves an accordion), and we discuss whether it's a good thing for cities. And, somehow, she manages to get me to sing. It's awful.

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12. Barbarexit  

A disaster has befallen the good ship CityMetric: our staff writer Barbara Speed, who has been with us since before we even launched in July 2014, is leaving us. She’s moving on to take up an exciting new job as comment editor of the the i newspaper. This, then, is my last chance to make her talk about the various silly stories I've made her look into over the last two years: think of it as a sort of Barbara Speed greatest hits compilation. In it, we shall attempt to answer the following questions: Are there really alligators in the New York sewers? Is London really awash with bottles of discarded Uber piss? (Yes, really.) What's the world's smallest skyscraper? And, most importantly of all: what's Barbara's favourite map? Oh, and in case you were wondering: no, this isn't the last episode (you don't get off that easily). Nor am I going to have one of those inevitably disappointing solo careers. From the next episode, Skylines will be co-hosted by the entirely excellent Stephanie Boland.

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11. Help! Somebody save us!  

On this week's podcast, we're joined by arguably the biggest political theorist writing about cities today. In 2013, Benjamin Barber published If Mayors Ruled the World, a book in which he argued that nation states are increasingly powerless to deal with the challenges of the 21st century (climate change, migration, terrorism, and so forth). Instead, Barber suggests we should be looking to cities as the building blocks of the global government of the future. I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with Barber after an event organised by the Centre for Cities last week. He told me more about his theories, and how he's putting them into practice by creating the Global Parliament of Mayors, which will hold its first meeting this September. But, with apologies to the 60 per cent of our readers who aren't based in these islands, but there's really only one topic any of us can focus on right now: the gradual collapse of our government, opposition, economy, global status, and very possibly the United Kingdom itself. So that is what we're starting with this week. Barbara and I are joined by our colleague Stephanie Boland to talk about the Brexit vote, and debate why some cities turned out to be so much more pro-European than others.

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10. Crossing continents  

Into double figures already. How time flies when you're having fun. Aaaanyway. If you live in Britain – and if you don't, I sort of envy you right now - you'll know that it's a pretty torrid time in politics right now. Next Thursday, there's a referendum to determine whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union. So, since migration to cities is this week's theme – and since it's, frankly, about all we can think about right now – Barbara and I begin this week's episode by talking about that referendum, and why cities so often have a more international outlook than their hinterlands. This week, you can also hear: Emmanuel Akinwotu on how Lagos has coped with ballooning from a city of 1m, to one of 20m, in under half a century; Olivia Cuthbert on her experiences visiting Za'atari, the refugee camp that's rapidly solidifying into Jordan's fourth largest city (this week's header pic was taken inside that camp); Lyman Stone, an agricultural economist for the US government, on life in the city Americans love to hate, Washington DC; And finally, our map of the week – which, I'll be honest, we do no justice to whatsoever - is a magnificent piece of work by Duncan Smith of UCL's Centre for Advanced spatial Analysis. It shows, at a glance, the growth of all the world's major cities over the past 60 years.

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9.5 Fear and loathing in Miami  

Jonn's been out of the office for a couple of weeks, reading books by a pool, and gradually taking on a mixed red, white and brown colour scheme more usually associated with Neapolitan ice cream. Consequently, we haven't had time to prepare a full episode, with all the guests and bells and whistles that we'd normally include. We'll be back next week. To tide you over, we thought we'd do a mini-episode about the place where Jonn spent his holidays. Miami is a beautiful art-deco sub-tropical paradise that is, almost certainly, doomed. By the end of this century, a combination of rising sea levels and unhelpful geography will combine to make much of South Florida uninhabitable. There's something quite debilitatingly horrifying to realise that you are holidaying in a place that, in your own lifetime, is probably going to die. So, a form of therapy, Jonn talks to Barbara about exactly why Miami is under threat – and why no one in authority seems minded to do anything about it. We’ll be back on Friday 24th with our regular fortnightly service. And if you have any clever plans for saving Miami or other low-lying cities, well, do write in.

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9. Genius loci  

You know, there are some people – mean, cruel, wrong people – who might think our podcast gets a little bit, well, nerdy sometimes. Those people should stop whining and take more of an interest in public transport. Anyway. This week, to mix things up a bit, we're taking a different approach to things: we're looking at how cities and places are portrayed in literature film and TV. First up, Barbara talks about her discovery of the surprisingly not-made-up phenomenon of Paris syndrome, and we discuss how our perceptions of places are so often shaped by culture. Then we're joined by Stephanie Boland, a colleague from our New Statesman mothership, who in her other life is in the middle of a PhD in 20th century literature; together we discuss cities in the works of Shakespeare, Dickens and Joyce and anyone else who comes to mind. Next, Helen Lewis and Stephen Bush – hosts of our sister show, the New Statesman Podcast – pop in to talk about how angry people (read: I) get about on-screen geographical cock ups. Listener Steven Bell tells us about his city, Glasgow. Finally, for our map of the week we talk about the True Size Map, which enables you to drag countries around the world to see how big they really are. (Spoiler alert: India is massive.)

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