The Slogan is a Lie

“We love it here because we love you here,” read the enormous ad covering the side of a red double-decker New York City tour bus, touting H&M’s new Hudson Yards location. The slogan is a lie. Hudson Yards does not love you. We do not love Hudson Yards. And we especially do not love it here, in a city that is desperately trying to maintain the illusion that we are all something more than props in a metropolis-sized variety show put on for the benefit of bored hedge fund employees.

“Hudson Yards, the biggest private real estate development in US history, may be slightly less offensive to the memory of Jane Jacobs than a freeway running through Greenwich Village, but not by much. As urban planning visions go, it is a familiar one: an ultracapitalist equivalent of the Forbidden City, a Chichen Itza with a better mall and slightly better-concealed human sacrifice. The development has been dubbed a “billionaire’s fantasy city”, but it is something more sinister than that. It is a billionaire’s reality city. The other 8.6 million of us are just character actors in this drama starring the most unbearable people you can imagine…

If someone were to give you a 28-acre blank canvas in the Manhattan metropolis, what might you create? 

“There are the mandatory celebrity chef-branded food caverns, where BlackRock financiers can sit with Thomas Keller-approved wagyu steaks and contemplate the democratic civic spirit of the Big Apple, or slurp David Chang-branded noodles without having to venture to any of the messy places where noodles are usually consumed. And there will be ample apartments for sale, in tower after tower, posh glass cages for those whose definition of a starter home begins with a seven-figure price tag. Indeed, it will be a neighborhood-sized version of another Ross project, the Time Warner Center – not the rarefied luxury of Central Park West, but the luxury of buying a $40m apartment next to a Russian oligarch, with a Whole Foods in the basement, a restaurant with an $1,100 tasting menu above that, and a quantum foam of tourists stretching out around you in all directions.

“But let it not be said that Hudson Yards does not promote the arts. It will be centered around “The Vessel”, a 15-story high answer to the question: “How much money could a rich man waste building a climbable version of an MC Escher drawing?” (The answer is $200m.) As a work of public art, it will reach its full form as Related Co security forces roust the city’s 63,000 homeless people from its welcoming stairs and landings, a powerful creative statement on the fundamental righteousness and nobility of structuring complex real estate transactions for a living.”

Text: Hamilton Nowlan, Hudson Yards is an ultra-capitalist Forbidden City

Image: Upside Down.


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“The evil that travels in a straight line…”

“Was it Laurie Anderson who said that VR would never look real until they learned how to put some dirt in it? Singapore’s airport, the Changi Airtropolis, seemed to possess no more resolution than some early VPL world. There was no dirt whatsoever; no muss, no furred fractal edge to things. Outside, the organic, florid as ever in the tropics, had been gardened into brilliant green, and all-too-perfect examples of itself. Only the clouds were feathered with chaos—weird columnar structures towering above the Strait of China…”

“Singapore is a relentlessly G-rated experience, micromanaged by a state that has the look and feel of a very large corporation. If IBM had ever bothered to actually possess a physical country, that country might have had a lot in common with Singapore. There’s a certain white-shirted constraint, an absolute humorlessness in the way Singapore Ltd. operates; conformity here is the prime directive, and the fuzzier brands of creativity are in extremely short supply.

“There is no slack in Singapore. Imagine an Asian version of Zurich operating as an offshore capsule at the foot of Malaysia; an affluent microcosm whose citizens inhabit something that feels like, well, Disneyland. Disneyland with the death penalty.

“But Disneyland wasn’t built atop an equally peculiar 19th-century theme park—something constructed to meet both the romantic longings and purely mercantile needs of the British Empire. Modern Singapore was—bits of the Victorian construct, dressed in spanking-fresh paint, protrude at quaint angles from the white-flanked glitter of the neo-Gernsbackian metropolis. These few very deliberate fragments of historical texture serve as a reminder of just how deliciously odd an entrepot Singapore once was—a product of Empire kinkier even than Hong Kong.

“The sensation of trying to connect psychically with the old Singapore is rather painful, as though Disneyland’s New Orleans Square had been erected on the site of the actual French Quarter, obliterating it in the process but leaving in its place a glassy simulacrum. The facades of the remaining Victorian shop-houses recall Covent Garden on some impossibly bright London day. I took several solitary, jet-lagged walks at dawn, when a city’s ghosts tend to be most visible, but there was very little to be seen of previous realities: Joss stick smouldering in an old brass holder on the white-painted column of a shop-house; a mirror positioned above the door of a supplier of electrical goods, set to snare and deflect the evil that travels in a straight line; a rusty trishaw, chained to a freshly painted iron railing. The physical past, here, has almost entirely vanished.”

Text: William Gibson, Disneyland with the Death Penalty, Wired.

Pic & Video: Singapore 2065.

Democracies versus Dictator Regimes

water_caprica_city

“But from the 1980s, … cities recovered. An increasingly complex financial sector needed more sophisticated networks of lawyers and accountants. Corporate mergers and takeovers meant global headquarters got concentrated in fewer places. Crime declined, making cities less scary. And so great cities grew richer. Fancy architects put up lovely buildings. House prices rose.

“First, the working classes and bohemians were priced out. Nowadays the only ribald proletarian banter you hear inside Paris is from the market sellers, who don’t live there anymore.

“That was gentrification. Now comes plutocratisation: the middle classes and small companies are falling victim to class-cleansing. Global cities are becoming patrician ghettos. In 2009, says Sassen, the top 1 per cent of New York City’s earners got 44 per cent of the compensation paid to its workers. The “super-prime housing market” keeps rising even when the national economy collapses. After Manhattan, New York’s upper-middle classes are being priced out of Brooklyn. Sassen diagnoses “gradual destruction”.

“Global cities are turning into vast gated communities where the one per cent reproduces itself. Elite members don’t live there for their jobs. They work virtually anyway. Rather, global cities are where they network with each other, and put their kids through their country’s best schools. The elite talks about its cities in ostensibly innocent language, says Sassen: “a good education for my child,” “my neighbourhood and its shops”. But the truth is exclusion.

“When one-per-centers travel, they meet peers from other global cities. A triangular elite circuit now links London, Paris and Brussels, notes Michael Keith, anthropology professor at Oxford. Elite New Yorkers visit London, not Buffalo.

“Sassen says: “These new geographies of centrality cut across many older divides – north-south, east-west, democracies versus dictator regimes. So top-level corporate and professional sectors of São Paulo begin to have more in common with peers in Paris, Hong Kong et cetera than with the rest of their own societies.”

Text: Simon Kuper, Priced Out of Paris, FT.com

Pic: Caprica, Battlestar Galactica.