The Production of Space

“[Agree To All] offers an immersive but unsettling glimpse of how the future urban experience might look like for some, with smooth, frictionless landscapes, smart technologies in control and elite access to differentiated services. […] Whether a city will look like this or not, it will invariably be a part of a very unequal ‘winner-takes-all’ societies, which ‘thrive on debt and cheap money and the quick and massive burning of fossil fuels’. It’s in this kind of society that half of our cities will still have to be built […] We wonder however – what if these ‘alternative urban configurations’ don’t materialize? What if the dystopian imagination in the opening installation becomes reality? Let’s imagine what that city would look like.”

“Hajer writes that ‘real estate has given rise to an ever more speculative economy, especially during the last couple of decades. Instead of social need, it focused on the opportunity to make money on offices, shopping malls and housing for the upper class’. It did indeed, and cities of the future will see an even more powerful real estate sector and the increasing influence of the corporate sector on the production of space in general. This also means that decisions made democratically will gradually be replaced by decisions taken in corporate board rooms. Likewise urban interventions with a social or cultural dimension will increasingly be replaced by projects that produce the highest possible financial return.

“Money made in the real estate sector, but also elsewhere in the city, will quickly leave and end up in the hands of a few, and most likely in some tax havens as well. The urban economy will rapidly become an ‘extractive economy’, as Hajer calls them. Cities will increasingly open themselves up for extraction, competing for global flows of money through city-marketing campaigns aimed at foreign investors and visitors. This will result in a race to the bottom, and erode social and cultural capital at the local level. A crucial development allowing this extractive economy to expand is the continuing flexibilisation of the housing market. State-owned or rent-controlled housing is being rapidly sold off, providing investors with a host of new opportunities. The simultaneous elimination of housing rights allows for a quicker succession of rent hikes and will further consolidate the position of large real estate owners.”

Text: What the city of the future looks like if we don’t change course, Failed Architecture.

Pic: Eliel Saarinen’s Munkkiniemi–Haaga town plan. Aerial view from the north.

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A Sidewalk War

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“A sidewalk war has erupted in Lower Manhattan.

“Paul Proulx is caught in the middle of it. Just to get to his apartment in the financial district, he has to contend with hordes of commuters and selfie-snapping tourists clogging narrow sidewalks. But these are the least of his problems.

“Security barriers around landmarks and key government posts send him in circles if he forgets to plan ahead. Scaffolding stretches above him in an impenetrable line, ensuring that the walk home is dark and claustrophobic. He is not even safe on his side of the curb. Delivery trucks routinely park on the sidewalk as if they own it.

“If that was not enough, there is the trash. Supersize contractor bags of smelly, leaking garbage are stacked up to 10-feet high outside gleaming high-rise towers, ready to topple over on someone who is not paying attention, or is just really unlucky.

“We fight every day for every square inch,” said Mr. Proulx, 44, a land-use lawyer and soft-spoken father of three who moved to the area from Brooklyn in 2007.

[…]

“We have turned a corner out of the challenges we faced in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and we’ve gone much farther than I think a lot of us ever would’ve imagined already,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a meeting called “Getting Ready for Nine Million New Yorkers” hosted by Crain’s last month in Midtown Manhattan. “And this growth has been extraordinary.”

“Still, Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, added that the “pathway to nine million” would not be easy. “It will come with challenges to say the least,” he said. “We all are experiencing the congestion in this city, and that is in part because we are victims of our own success.”

“Roughly seven out of eight neighborhoods now have more residents than in 1990, according to an analysis of census data by Queens College using neighborhood boundaries as defined by the city’s Planning Department.

“The biggest change was in Lower Manhattan-Battery Park City, which gained 30,502 residents for a total of 42,485 in 2014, up 255 percent from 1990.

“Crowding exists in other parts of the city,” said Patrick Kennell, 40, a lawyer who is also a member of the Financial District Neighborhood Association. “But it’s unique here because of the sheer amount of development that has happened post-9/11.”

Text: Downside of Lower Manhattan’s Boom: It’s Just Too Crowded, The New York Times.

Pic: Soylent Green, 1973.

Displacement Hotspots

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Data from the Sentinel-1 satellites acquired between 22 February 2015 and 20 September 2016 show that Millennium Tower in San Francisco is sinking by about 40 mm a year in the ‘line of sight’ – the direction that the satellite is ‘looking’ at the building. This translates into a vertical subsidence of almost 50 mm a year, assuming no tilting. The coloured dots represent targets observed by the radar. The colour scale ranges from 40 mm a year away from radar (red) to 40 mm a year towards radar (blue). Green represents stable targets. Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2015–16) / ESA SEOM INSARAP study / PPO.labs / Norut / NGU

“The Sentinel-1 satellites have shown that the Millennium Tower skyscraper in the centre of San Francisco is sinking by a few centimetres a year. Studying the city is helping scientists to improve the monitoring of urban ground movements, particularly for subsidence hotspots in Europe.

“Completed in 2009, the 58-storey Millennium Tower has recently been showing signs of sinking and tilting. Although the cause has not been pinpointed, it is believed that the movements are connected to the supporting piles not firmly resting on bedrock.

“To probe these subtle shifts, scientists combined multiple radar scans from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 twin satellites of the same area to detect subtle surface changes – down to millimetres. The technique works well with buildings because they better reflect the radar beam.

“It is also useful for pinpointing displacement hotspots over large areas, thanks to Sentinel-1’s broad coverage and frequent visits.

“Working with ESA, the team from Norut, PPO.labs and Geological Survey of Norway have also mapped other areas in the wider San Francisco Bay Area that are moving. These include buildings along the earthquake-prone Hayward Fault, as well as subsidence of the newly reclaimed land in the San Rafael Bay.

“An uplift of the land was detected around the city of Pleasanton, possibly from the replenishment of groundwater following a four-year drought that ended in 2015.
Text and Pic: Satellites confirm sinking of San Francisco tower, Physics.org

An Eerie Stillness Settles

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“You should know the script by now. A previously overlooked inner-city area becomes newly fashionable, and its housing prices start to edge up. At first, the ensuing transformation creates some buzz—a new paint job here, a new luxury shop there—but soon the population who would previously have called the neighborhood home realizes it can no longer afford the area’s rising costs. They scatter to cheaper lodgings elsewhere and the area becomes the shell of its former self. That this process is happening in London right now is no surprise. What’s more unusual is the social group that is being displaced: the rich.

“According to a new conference paper presented last week by Dr. Luna Glucksberg of the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics, London’s wealthiest families feel they are being pushed out of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods. Families that raised their children in areas such as Mayfair or Knightsbridge (at least during the periods said children weren’t away at boarding school) are now finding prime London property so expensive that they are stooping as low as buying their offspring homes in farther flung neighborhoods, including Fulham, Battersea or the Georgian parts of Islington.

“This plutocrat displacement […] displays London’s top-end globalization. Areas such as Belgravia were once synonymous with the British ruling class—Oscar Wilde fans will remember that in The Importance of Being Earnest, Jack Worthing is castigated by Lady Bracknell for having a house on “the unfashionable side” of Belgrave Square. And the area is still the ruling classes’ home, it’s just that this class is now international.

“Today, 60% of properties for sale in this part of London go to international buyers. The general tenor of the place has changed nonetheless. In the evenings an eerie stillness settles on it. That’s because these new owners are so rich in both money and global property that their London addresses frequently sit empty, functioning more as dust-sheeted deposit boxes rather than actual homes.

Text: The Guardian, No One Feels Sorry for the Latest Victims of London ‘Gentrification’

Pic: Empty London, Nick Dolding.

Marxist Hipsters, Poundland, Job Centre

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“Carl Neville’s recent novel Resolution Way takes place in a slightly near-future London, recognisable as the capital as it is today but subtly worse. Set in the historic, working-class, rapidly gentrifying riverside districts of south-east London – Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich – and in the Kent seaside towns that its residents are moved to by hook or crook – Margate, Broadstairs, Folkestone – it barely perceptibly mixes things that have and haven’t happened.

“Prefabricated, developer-built ‘pens’ house key workers such as cleaners, nurses and teachers in single-aspect microflats, as a ‘social enterprise’. A new Tube line, ‘SoftRail’, is invite-only, conveying financial services employees from their riverside housing complexes to their jobs in the City and Canary Wharf, safe from the inhabitants of a restive, riot-torn inner city. A widely used social media app allows you to explore all the contacts of complete strangers. Nightclubs purvey ‘twinning’ evenings – the ’90s as the ’60s, the 2000s as the ’70s – and retro cool hunters compete over the private mix tapes once made by now middle-aged ravers. A private security firm, a nightmarish combination of Capita and Blackwater, forcibly ‘decants’ the inhabitants of council tower blocks from their homes. Workfare programmes involve compulsory relocation from London to the coastal towns.

“Other than that, the novel’s protagonists worry as they do today – how to make ends meet, how to defend their neighbours against the police, how to pitch their next novel to their agent.

“But what makes this book so much fun for anyone – like myself – who has lived in the areas described for most of the last two decades, is spotting the things that are real and are put into the novel unchanged. The title refers to Resolution Way, a street along a railway viaduct in Deptford, which really boasts a gallery called Enclave, where Marxist hipsters wordily plot resistance to gentrification. Genuinely around the corner is a block of luxury flats with a Poundland as its piece of ground-floor active frontage. Off the High Street, a railway carriage with a café inside really did make the area safe for another expensive apartment block, designed in reality by Rogers Stirk Harbour. The old Job Centre really has become a bar called Job Centre. Science fiction as it may partly be, what would strike anyone reading Resolution Way is a certain shock and surprise that someone has managed to register the experience of, and the typologies created by, inner London in the 21st century. This is something which has usually been addressed in terms of problems which London hasn’t actually faced for some time – spatial segregation, ‘no go areas’, ‘sink estates’, ‘social exclusion’ and a dearth of ‘aspiration’, all of which may be problems elsewhere, but are less relevant for Londoners, who face a bizarre and unnerving lack of spatial stratification, where it increasingly seems as if entirely different lives and economies coexist on the same street, in the same estates, in the same block of flats.”

Text: Owen Hatherley, ‘In 20 years Inner London may really be like Paris, a wealthy centre surrounded by racialised poverty’, The Architectural Review

Disaster Capitalists

1979 space colony paleofuture

“The wealthy and powerful may in fact take climate change seriously: not as a demand to modify their behaviour or question the fossil-fuel driven global economy that has made it possible, but as the biggest opportunity yet to realize their dreams of unfettered accumulation and consumption. The disaster capitalists behind Eko Atlantic have seized on climate change to push through pro-corporate plans to build a city of their dreams, an architectural insult to the daily circumstances of ordinary Nigerians. The criminalized poor abandoned outside their walls may once have served as sufficient justification for their flight and fortification – but now they have the very real threat of climate change as well.

“Eko Atlantic is where you can begin to see a possible future – a vision of privatized green enclaves for the ultra rich ringed by slums lacking water or electricity, in which a surplus population scramble for depleting resources and shelter to fend off the coming floods and storms. Protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising. A world in which the rich and powerful exploit the global ecological crisis to widen and entrench already extreme inequalities and seal themselves off from its impacts – this is climate apartheid.

“Prepare for the elite, like never before, to use climate change to transform neighbourhoods, cities, even entire nations into heavily fortified islands. Already, around the world, from Afghanistan to Arizona, China to Cairo, and in mushrooming mega-cities much like Lagos, those able are moving to areas where they can live better and often more greenly – with better transport and renewable technologies, green buildings and ecological services. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, the super-rich – ferried above the congested city by a fleet of hundreds of helicopters – have disembedded themselves from urban life, attempting to escape from a common fate.

“In places like Eko Atlantic the escape, a moral and social secession of the rich from those in their country, will be complete. This essentially utopian drive – to consume rapaciously and endlessly and to reject any semblance of collective impulse and concern – is simply incompatible with human survival. But at the moment when we must confront an economy and ideology pushing the planet’s life-support systems to breaking point, this is what the neoliberal imagination offers us: a grotesque monument to the ultra-rich flight from responsibility.”

Text: “New, privatized African city heralds climate apartheid”, The Guardian

Pic: Space Colony, 1979, NASA via Paleofuture.