London poised to snatch New York's crown as world's leading city

Indian steel tycoon Laskhmi Mittal and Russian oil baron Leonard Blavatnik are the new boys on the block at London's Kensington Palace Gardens, a street with houses so lavish it's known as billionaire's row.

Farther west in the suburb of Ealing, store fronts boast signs offering Polish delicacies to cater to an influx of less wealthy, but no less driven immigrants.

Watch out Big Apple, Big Ben may be ringing in a new age of dominance for the British capital.

In the same way immigrants flooded to the bright lights of New York last century, they are now drawn to London's galloping financial markets, inviting job market and high-octane lifestyle. New York's attractions, meanwhile, are languishing as stringent post-9/11 travel restrictions, heavy-handed financial regulations, and intrusive Homeland Security policies combine to make it less welcoming or, at times, even somewhat parochial.

"When people decide to leave their own country, more and more they choose London," said Jonathan Faid, senior economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

Along with record immigration levels, property prices are skyrocketing and employment remains robust. Financially, London dominates global foreign exchange trading, leads New York in new stock market listings and is pulling ahead on hedge fund management.

On the lifestyle front, the arts and party scenes are breaking new ground in innovation (and excess), tourists keep coming in droves despite terrorism fears, and to top it all off the 2012 Olympics are coming to town.

Celebrities are giving their nod.

Woody Allen, the filmmaker perhaps most closely associated with New York, has recently made London his muse. And international non-British superstars like Madonna, Kevin Spacey and Gwyneth Paltrow make their home here, drawn to the mix of buzz and Old World elegance, reports AP.

Behind the boom is money: the capital is underpinned by thriving international financial markets. While New York remains the world's largest urban economy, its wealth is founded on domestic business; experts say London has already stolen back its crown as the premier international financial market.

It all started two decades ago, when then-Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher implemented her 1986 Big Bang financial reforms that deregulated the London Stock Exchange virtually overnight. Long the exclusive preserve of the rich or well-connected, the exchange became cheaper, faster and more transparent for foreigners and individual investors.

There was also a philosophical shift in Thatcher's vision of a "classless society" in which the best and the brightest of all races and backgrounds would be given the conditions to thrive often, critics said, at the expense of the weakest.

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