On the train in the searing (although doubtless brief) London summer, I read a reissue of E.B.White’s 1948 essay Here is New York – written in the sultry dog days of the August of that year. It’s a delightful essay. This leapt out:
“The collision and the intermingling of these millions of foreign-born people representing so many races and creeds make New York a permanent exhibit of the phenomenon of one world. The citizens of New York are tolerant not only from disposition but from necessity. The city has to be tolerant, otherwise it would explode in a radioactive cloud of hate and rancor and bigotry. If people were to depart even briefly from the peace of cosmopolitan intercourse, the town would blow up higher than a kite. In New York smoulders every race problem there is, but the noticeable thing is not the problem but the inviolate truce.”
For New York in 1948, substitute London in 2012, or any other successful global city. I wrote in The Economics of Enough about this paradox of the high degree of trust manifest in these cities, at a time when trust in so many traditional institutions and political organisations is plummeting. As the Olympics starts, the combination of impatience and tolerance towards strangers of all kinds is on ample display in London. I’ve just ordered Craig Taylor’s Londoners and am really looking forward to it as one of my summer holiday reads.