David Bodanis: Fusion of talent in the City is the right recipe for success

Midweek View: London's diversity is greatly impressive now, but doomed to collapse probably within a generation

What will happen to the City of London if the new Obama administration – as seems likely – makes it easier for educated immigrants to work in the United States?

London has a strength that hardly any other cities do. It's not just the English language, or its unbribable judges, or the legacy of Empire. Those are fine, but in addition London has an odd sort of diversity: greatly impressive now, but doomed to collapse probably within a generation, independent of what America does.

Let me explain. When there's too little mixing in a city, you don't get a chance to learn from others. Frankfurt is very German, Paris is very French – and that does not stimulate massive creativity. As Percy Barnevik, the long-time head of the Swedish-Swiss group ABB, put it, you can't have a successful board composed entirely of Swedish men talking about moose.

Although London too has German bankers, and French mathematicians – and no doubt even a good number of Swedish financiers, easily excited when thinking about naked moose – it also has financially astute citizens of seemingly every nation on earth, as a Friday evening strolling past any of the pubs on the outskirts of Liverpool Street shows.

That itself is good, but a vast range of nationalities on its own still isn't enough to spark creativity. Much of the American Midwest has people who came from many different countries, but they've largely become homogenised.

A closer listen-in to those conversations in Liverpool Street or Shoreditch shows it's different here. The multiple nationalities in London are often dressed similarly enough – and are most happy, in their early evening flirting, to go home with whoever responds – but they still, very much, carry different styles. The French quants know they should look bored, and the California women know they should talk loudly, and the …

Well, it's the intermediate zone astrophysicists have spent billions of dollars hunting the heavens for. Too far from a star, and a new planet is too ice-ridden for life. That's Frankfurt. Yet orbit too close to a star, and everything on a planet has melted to a uniform protoplasmic goo. That's our Midwestern shopping malls.

But in-between, when everything's just right? Then there can be wondrously diverse life: sharing enough similarity that everyone can interact, but not so much that everyone operates in lock-step.

There's even a benefit from the rest of the world being less diverse. France's grandes écoles are superb, but hire far fewer non-native professors than, say, Imperial or MIT do. This means Paris's Polytéchnique has had the space to develop a distinctive mathematical style.

Its students will learn that style, but if they get frustrated by Paris's formality and old-boys networks, they'll waft like dandelion seeds across the Channel, drawn by visions of cash, of no old-boys networks (and perhaps even by those very, very un-French California women). Similarly for South African accountants, graduates of India's Institutes of Technology, and all the rest. All bring the distinctive training they had at home.

Will it last? To some extent the diversity will naturally come to an end as hormones take their course, and new families form, settled in London, where although the children might pick up a smattering of foreign words from their parents, their attitudes will be British 100 per cent.

This is the failure of all arbitrage: wonderful opportunities arise, but as soon as they're taken up, the original opportunities disappear.

We see this already happening in restaurants. Just a half generation ago, someone like Ken Hom could excite people by suggesting that Italian basil would be unutterably exciting if mixed with Chinese soy sauce. Now, fusion restaurants have to stretch ever further afield to get a chance of standing out.

Let's make that our litmus test; our canary in the mines. At the moment a restaurant like Hakkasan captures our city's diverse mix to perfection. But if Hakkasan ever goes too far – if we ever start finding vindaloo ceviche, or gravadlax tacos there – then we'll know it really is time to short Hoxton prices, pack up, and start afresh in the land of Mr Bloomberg and yellow cabs.

So long, that is, as enough diversely educated travelling companions are allowed.

David Bodanis is a consultant on innovation and the future of financial trading. His 'History of the Ten Commandments' is published by Bloomsbury next year

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links