London could be Columbia’s sister city

Saturday, July 26, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT

LONDON — In this last of my dispatches from the mother country, I’ll offer a modest suggestion: Columbia should consider adding London to its already-impressive list of sister cities.

True, the similarities aren’t all that immediately apparent. The most obvious difference is one of scale. We’re living temporarily in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of London’s 32 boroughs. It alone has nearly as many people as does Columbia.

Nor is the Daniel Boone City Building, even once its expansion and refurbishment is complete, likely to be confused with Westminster. No clock tower, for one thing.

Despite differences, London and Columbia have a good deal in common.

Remember when our beloved Mayor for Life Darwin Hindman publicly longed for a double-decker bus downtown? Well, you may have noticed that London has those. In fact, the new mayor here has announced that he wants to bring back the iconic Routemasters — the ones with the conductor standing at the rear door to take your ticket. He has even launched a campaign for public support and suggestions.

Surely the city that sold the London Bridge to Arizona could spare a classic Routemaster for Columbia.

Then there’s the matter of trails. We have the MKT along Flat Branch. Here, there’s something called the Thames Path along a river by that name. It’s paved, by the way. There are also London Walks, an extensive offering of guided strolls through the more interesting parts of town. Couldn’t we copy those? Tourists love them. Here, each walk lasts about two hours. In Columbia, 20 minutes or so should do it. Still, I see exciting possibilities.

London also could be a big-sisterly role model when it comes to other ways of getting around. I doubt Columbia is quite ready for a full-fledged subway system, but there are other options. For example, Smart cars. You’ve seen them on TV if not on Broadway. They’d fit in the bed of my pickup, and they appear to hold two full-sized people in some comfort. We could have shorter parking spaces downtown.

And bicycles. London’s streets are full of bicycles. Riders here even obey the traffic laws. In nearly three months out and about, I’ve yet to see an accident. There are lessons we could learn.

Londoners also share Columbians’ concern for the environment. Recycling is practically a fetish. They’ve done a better job of cleaning up the Thames than we have Flat Branch or the Hinkson. I’m told that salmon have returned to the river.

They love their parks, too. Take away the palace and Kensington Garden could almost be Stephens Park. That suggests another possible exchange. Maybe we could trade our Canada geese for a few of Kensington’s swans. The swans are certainly more elegant, and they don’t seem to poop as much.

We have the Show-Me state games. London’s preparing for the 2012 Olympics. Now we’ve got something to offer. Our games boost our economy. Theirs are predicted to cost billions. We could send Gary Filbert as an adviser.

A big sister in Britain? Think about it. And with any luck, I’ll be back in the paper come September.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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