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How Could London's Next Mayor Do Better Than Boris? Make Our City the Best Place in the World to Grow Up

25/06/2014 15:29 BST | Updated 25/08/2014 10:59 BST

George Osborne argued yesterday that other cities should have directly elected Mayors with 'clout' like Boris, to drive growth and development outside London. So what is there to learn from Boris and Ken on how to be good Mayors, and what more could their successors in London and their equivalents elsewhere do?

The London Mayoralty is an idiosyncratic institution - the largest directly elected mandate in the country with but limited formal powers. He or she convenes, cajoles and coerces rather than controls. Outside of transport (where both Ken and Boris have seen headline projects like the congestion charge, bike sharing, and Crossrail come to fruition) their most important function is to set an ambitious vision and tell a big story about the kind of city we want to be.

And on this score - whatever their individual merits - neither of the two incumbents have used the mayoralty to develop a particularly distinctive approach or to deliver a radical long term vision. The 'world's most competitive city' doesn't compel us voters out of bed in the morning, and the 'greatest city on earth' can mean whatever you want it to.

Instead what if, for example, the mayor, its businesses, public services, charities and citizens determined to make London the greatest place on earth to raise a child?

London can be a difficult place to grow up. Low pay and high costs consign a third of children to living in poverty. Densely-packed, often poor quality housing damages health. Cars dominate public space, leaving little room to play. Insecurity and transience stop neighbours getting to know each other. Violence and fear blights the lives of a minority. We are a young city - a quarter of us are aged under 19 - yet we don't want to grow up here: a recent poll asked Londoners where they would rather spend their childhood if given the chance again, and most opted for elsewhere.

The former Mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa said:

"We know a lot about the ideal environment for a happy whale or a happy mountain gorilla. We're far less clear about what constitutes an ideal environment for a happy human being...if we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people."

What could that look like?

London's streets account for 80% of our public space - we could reclaim them for our children by designating 1000 'play streets' throughout the capital within the first year of a new Mayoral term.

The UK's Child Trust Fund was 'the most successful savings scheme there has ever been' but was cancelled by the new government 2010. But San Francisco didn't need national Government - their Kindergarten to College programme does the same thing. Why not a London equivalent?

London's businesses benefit from operating in one of the most successful cities in the world - we should expect more of them in return. To start with, a Mayoral Compact with Business would see inspiring work experience, apprenticeships, and fair starting pay become a hallmark of every reputable company to support our children and young people into great jobs. Harnessing potential, not taking away benefits.

A London Young Mayor would give children the right to be heard. A ban on advertising near schools would ensure space free from commercial pressure. We could replicate the success of the London Challenge in transforming London's schools by rolling out a London Challenge 2 focused on children's social services. And London Sundays - backed up by free tube travel - would replicate the success of Bristol's Make Sunday's Special in bringing families together to enjoy our city's rich cultural resources.

These and many more ideas are included in a paper we're launching today to stimulate discussion and generate new ideas for London's next Mayor. It suggests a set of expectations each child and young person could demand of their Mayor and their city: the rights of a London child, spelt out because many are denied them at present.

It is the first of six to be released over the next six months, it draws on 150 contributions made to Changing London over the winter of 2013/14, and it is just the beginning. We should expect an ambition from our Mayor that matches the scale of the opportunity. It should be bold and deep-rooted and, above all, it should be ours.