Issue of the Week: Economic Opportunity
Penthouses and poor doors, The Guardian, 4 Feb 2021
As London has become another hot spot central in the never-ending world of Covid-19 and the fastest globally spreading variant at the moment, penthouses in construction which were supposed to be part of a project to bring more affordable housing to those in need has a protest sticker attached with the words: “MAKE THE RICH PAY FOR COVID-19”
How do a socialist former mayor of London and a conservative former mayor of London, currently prime minister of the UK, end up enabling the same thing over two decades–the inequality of housing, of wealth, of the ownership of land, of everything, epitomized in a project advertised as the opposite, as Europe’s “biggest regeneration project”?
Here’s how–when the policy is not part of systemic policies designed to achieve the end with certainty, but rather is part of a system designed to achieve the opposite of equality and security for all.
As we’ve said, labels don’t mean anything by themselves.
The Long Read in The Guardian a few days ago tells a story worth knowing.
by Oliver Wainwright, The Long Read, The Guardian, London, 4 Feb 2021
Few places have seen such turbocharged luxury development as Nine Elms on the London riverside. So why are prices tumbling, investors melting away and promises turning to dust?
Every morning, when Nadeem Iqbal wakes up and walks into his living room, he has a view of a miraculous world first. A crisp oblong of crystal clear water now hangs in the air between two apartment buildings opposite his balcony, a liquid blue block suspended against the sky with the gravity-defying quality of a Magritte painting.
This is the Sky Pool, the latest addition to the luxury residential enclave of Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms, south-west London – one absurdist step beyond the private cinema, indoor pool, gym and rooftop lounge bar. It was dismissed as a “crackers” PR stunt when the plan was unveiled by Irish developer Ballymore in 2015, a fantastical aquarium of captive high net worth individuals for the rest of us to gawp at from far below. Surely it would never materialise. But last week the scaffolding was taken down to reveal a bright blue rectangle hovering against the leaden January skies, 10 storeys up in the air – just outside the 30-metre bomb blast seclusion zone around the new neighbouring US embassy.
It has been billed as the world’s first swimming-pool bridge, a dazzling feat of acrylic engineering that will span the 14-metre gap between the two buildings and give residents the feeling of “floating through the air in central London”. But, although he lives in Embassy Gardens, Iqbal and his neighbours will never enjoy the thrill of going for an aerial dip. “We have a front-row seat of the Sky Pool,” he told me. “But the sad thing for us, living in the shared-ownership building, is that we will never have access to it. It’s only there for us to look at, just like the nice lobby, and all of the other facilities for the residents of the private blocks. Nobody expects these amenities for free, but we’re not even given the choice to pay for them.”
For Iqbal to reach his two-bed flat – valued at £800,000, of which he owns a quarter and pays rent on the rest – he must walk past the grand, hotel-style main entrance to the complex, flanked by supercars with personalised number plates, to the back of the development, past construction fences and piles of rubble, to a small door located between ventilation grilles and a bin store, facing on to a railway line. “There’s a reason they’re called ‘poor doors’,” he said. “I grew up in South Africa, in a country that was racially segregated, but in London there is still really bad class segregation. We have a mortgage and we pay our rent, but every day we are made to feel inferior, like the have-nots of Nine Elms.”
Stretching across a 230-hectare riverside swath from Vauxhall Cross to Battersea Power Station, straddling the boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth, the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea (VNEB) “opportunity area” has been trumpeted as the biggest regeneration project in Europe. When Boris Johnson, as mayor of London, launched the plans in 2012, he described it as “the greatest transformational story in the world’s greatest city”, the “final piece in the jigsaw” of central London. Once a place of low-slung warehouses and logistics depots, it is now a very visible presence on the London skyline. Competing stacks of luxury flats have sprouted along the river, replacing the elm trees that once stood here with a forest of concrete and cladding, a garish collage of mirrored glass, coloured plastic panels and fake bricks.