By Ellen Greenberg

It’s the morning after the morning after. After 21 months of residence in London I can in no way claim to understand the UK or even to have had a rational basis for my shock at the outcome of the EU referendum.  But to write about anything else seems trivial, so I will set aside my post-in-process and try to write something coherent, and plannerly, about Brexit.

My London colleagues were mostly stunned by the outcome, and upset to varying degrees. For many it was personal, emotional. For some there was outrage and a few seemed close to heartbreak.  The memo sent around by company leaders had soothing words about preparation and confidence, and a clear statement that there will be no immediate impact on the many continental Europeans working in UK offices, but uncertainty and disappointment dominated.  I was reminded of the weirdest work days ever in the US – the days between November 8 and December 12 2000 when most of each day was spent obsessively watching the painful unfolding of the Bush – Gore saga.

Late in the day I talked with two younger colleagues and one showed me the data on vote breakdown by age. The results are wildly imbalanced, and to them (and me) wildly unfair, with three quarters of British voters aged 24, and 56 % of people 25-49 voting to remain. This is probably the brightest glimmer of hope in the results. But what have the 50+ voters done to the next generations?

The answer will play out over many years – that seems to be widely agreed.  And there’s abundant commentary in every media from every angle. So just a few thoughts from my own particular angle – through my London lens – plannerly with a bit of the personal and reference to some of my professional experiences in the short time I’ve been part of the EU workforce.

What does Brexit mean for planning, and more importantly, for people and places? Just a few thoughts, and more questions:

Environment – The very first project I contributed to after arriving in the London office was a highway project in Ireland, which later was expanded into a multimodal transportation strategy for the City of Galway. The project was driven by the EU habitat directive which had been the basis for the rejection by the European Court of Justice of a previously-designed bypass around the city.  EU regulations have spurred and focused environmental protection activities, from the proposed Galway bypass to London’s air quality improvement strategies. What now?

London – Forecasts of continued steep population growth in London and the wider southeast region have been driving policy and investment.  Shortly after arriving in London I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop following up on then-mayor Boris Johnson’s London Infrastructure Plan. The focus on needs for fixes, upgrades, extensions, innovation, new capacity etc. etc. was predicated on continued dramatic growth (see graphic prepared by the Greater London Authority) and on London’s continued role as “the greatest city in the world.”  I have to think that some serious re-forecasting is underway.  What will the revised trend look like? What will be the knock-on effects (UK lingo) on revenues, projects, and opportunities? In the short to medium term at least it’s difficult to imagine anything other than a chilling effect. On the question of “the greatest city in the world” I’m taking a wait and see position.

2015 population projection from the GLA Intelligence Unit. What will the Brexit-era adjustments look like?

Alongside questions about infrastructure projects at all scales is the enormous question of what the revised population trend line will do to housing demand. Will this mean a welcome easing of the housing crisis, a very unwelcome crash of the housing market, a chilling of investors’ desires to try innovative strategies in funding and design, a backing away from major brownfield regeneration schemes, or some or all of the above?

WWBM (my new acronym) – What Will Brexit Mean — for London’s overheated commercial and housing markets?

England’s Cities and Towns – Outside of London, particularly in the north,  there has been considerable recent energy around new governance models “metro mayors” and “local enterprise partnerships” and new brands (“the Northern Powerhouse”).  In these areas, the fundamentals of the economy are much weaker than in London, so the peril appears greater if there is overall economic contraction.  These are the places where voters strongly supported BREXIT. A colleague commented last night that with very few exceptions (he thought perhaps one) the places that voted leave are the places that are net recipients of financial benefit from either the EU or from London — i.e. the redistribution of wealth within England moves money from London, which voted remain, to cities and towns that voted leave. These same places benefit from EU support.  Its hard to make sense of a lot of this.

Above all –  the morning after the morning after feels sober and sad. Personally, I’m struck by how little the public debate highlighted post-war European stability. My travels on the continent and the almost-constant reminders of both World Wars in the UK and on the continent have made me view the EU  as something of a miracle. Now we know it may be a fleeting one that cannot withstand the crises and pressures of the moment. The biggest takeaway seems to be about the fissures between groups and places, the differences between the bubbles and the hinterland, and what appears to be an ever-increasing chasm between people who all ultimately want the same things – stability, identity, opportunity and prosperity – but who see the world through very different lenses.


For more info, google “Brexit”

For a bit of Brexit comic relief, go to


6 thoughts on “Brrrr…..

  1. Very interesting post. I liked it a lot, but on the east coast I think the weirdest work days were right after 9/11.

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Hi Ellen,
    Interesting read from your perspective. Most people I know in the US were shocked by the outcome and none too happy either. Most here are pointing to it as evidence of our fate if Trump is elected. I have to agree with Lisa, regarding 9/11 being the strangest time I remember in my profession. I was also in NY then.



  3. “But what have the 50+ voters done to the next generations?” Perhaps the vote was not about the next generation but something more eternal? The future of the UK is uncertain after this vote however the present and future had been getting worse for wide swaths of the country under the EU anyway. It would be wise to look back through history and try to understand what fuels the fires of revolution in societies
    What might be the future of the city and UK financial institutions? Much brighter than EU based ones, try cutting through the red tape the EU will create without the free market bravado and vision of an investment culture like London.
    Security? UK military and intelligence capability exceeds the combined resources and experience of all other EU member states.
    Language? The EU is already thinking of dropping English, good for the UK, Asian, Middle Eastern and African traders, diplomats and businesses are unlikely to wish to conduct business in other EU languages.
    The bottom line is that the world is not coming to an end and Brexit is an opportunity to re-group and improve with an eye toward improving the lives of people.


  4. Ellen
    A good read. Well done. I would agree w the other commenters about 9/11. That said a reign of the Trumpet will cause Brexit to pale in comparison to the havoc he will create around the world for our cities big and small.


  5. Thanks to all for your comments. I certainly see your point about 9/11 in the US. I think because I never made it to work that day it didn’t come to mind as powerfully as the memory of hanging out online for days and days during office time following the 2000 election. And now as doubts about the chances of an orderly UK Government transition increase, the parallels to the days of Bush v Gore seem increasingly relevant. The irony of course is that in this case the transition is intra-party, and it seems nonetheless to be out of control.


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