Developing the Silicon Roundabout
East London is better known for the Kray Brothers than its connectivity, but the government plans to turn it into a “world-leading technology city”.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw (co-founder of the London School of Economics) said that in London ‘every new yard of West End meant one new acre of East End’. David Cameron’s new proposals aim to stretch an existing high tech hub – Silicon Roundabout at Old Street – towards the Olympic site out east, aiming to take the benefits to some of the disadvantaged communities out there.
They have signed up Vodaphone, Google, Facebook, Intel and McKinsey & Co who have pledged to build bases there (or “innovation centres”). And after the 2012 Olympics, the media centre on the site will become an ‘accelerator space’ offering facilities and expertise for companies to develop and grow. It’s an interesting ambition to build a knowledge economy in an area of real disadvantage.
But, even if offices are available, there are still big problems to tackle. The technological skills shortage in the UK will still apply. There also a real shortage of funding in the venture capital market in London (where are the i5invests? Or the Plug n Plays?) And will the big tech companies surrounding the site just buy up any good ideas developed nearby?
One quote in the media coverage was particularly interesting. "Startups sprang up in [Silicon Roundabout] because it was cheap and vibrant and cool, and applying that to the Olympic site will be challenging," said Joe White, CEO of a web design service (full story here).
In reality, what the area probably needs is a funkier reputation, and to do this it needs more artists, nicer housing, closer connections to the centre of London and a few more cultural facilities to draw on. It already has a great theatre and some exciting artist run spaces, perhaps all it needs now is for the world to recognize them?
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