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Shardenfreude.
June 26, 2012 3:13 PM   Subscribe

"So, the Shard: it's expensive. It's off-limits. It's largely owned by people who don't live here. And it is the perfect metaphor for what London is becoming."
posted by Sebmojo (112 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
You know if you're going to build a terrifying Balliard social experiment/dystopian metaphor you really can't be that on the nose with the name.
posted by The Whelk at 3:16 PM on June 26, 2012 [42 favorites]


It would be interesting to compare the rates in other major cities around the world. We get a piece like this in SF every few years; I suspect NYC does as well.
posted by smirkette at 3:19 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not all uncomfortable-looking architecture is "brutalist," that term refers specifically to a movement which used unfinished concrete (béton brut) as an intentional aesthetic element

It's a pretty minor peeve but I only get to air it out once or twice a year
posted by theodolite at 3:25 PM on June 26, 2012 [106 favorites]


King Tutankhamun would have bought two, if he was alive today.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:26 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I first learned what the word "shard" meant from The Dark Crystal (I have no idea why "shards of glass" hadn't registered before). I've always had somewhat foreboding associations with the word because of that, so this seems fitting.
posted by argonauta at 3:27 PM on June 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


One thing that I find interesting and worrying about the shard (or any of these great projects) is how little say the people who actually live in the area have. I kinda feel like before you go ahead and add such a huge and potentially deforming addition to the skyline you should at least have to survey the residents or something similar. We're the ones that are going to have to be living with it.

Planning permission?
"But the plans were on display"
"I eventually had to go down to the cellar,"
"That's the display department,"
"With a torch,
"The lights had probably gone,"
"So had the stairs,"
"But you did see the notice,"
"Yes. I found it at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign out side the door saying beware of the leopard. Ever thought of going into advertising?" (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

posted by litleozy at 3:29 PM on June 26, 2012 [25 favorites]


Not all uncomfortable-looking architecture is "brutalist," that term refers specifically to a movement which used unfinished concrete (béton brut) as an intentional aesthetic element

It's a pretty minor peeve but I only get to air it out once or twice a year
posted by theodolite at 12:25 PM on June 26 [+] [!]


Apologies and thanks for the terminological heads up. I just liked the way 'fantasy brutalist' sounded, and 'THE SHARD' sounds like the McGuffin from the new D&D movie.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:31 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm wary of any article that decries the presence of "foreigners" and "foreign money."

And having a structure that looms over the city in strange, new ways is hardly undesirable.
posted by spaceheater at 3:32 PM on June 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


More from the Guardian

Houston-on-Thames. Burrrrn!
posted by zabuni at 3:33 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know if you're going to build a terrifying Balliard social experiment/dystopian metaphor you really can't be that on the nose with the name.

It gets even better when you know that the name was actually inadvertently coined by English Hertiage themselves who described it as a 'Shard of Glass'. What's that? Your resistence is futile and helpful?
posted by litleozy at 3:33 PM on June 26, 2012


But, as Louis Moreno of University College London points out, what's happened over the past 15 years is that an unprecedented amount of foreign money has come into London – and lodged there, in its property

But if they bought it from people in the UK, didn't that money actually go into the UK economy? I suppose "foreigner to foreigner" sales would be a little different.

Also, don't they pay property tax on these huge valuations? I admit I know nothing about property tax in the UK.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:36 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Where syrt sucks jargling javels mad,
And carcants cast a luring light
From mildewed screes and mounts that scyle
Veiled augueries of battling Hell,
A charnel shard assails the damn'd
Thro' vapours green and siffling night...

-Betelgeuese: A Trip Through Hell, by Jean Louis De Esque (1908)
posted by Your Disapproving Father at 3:36 PM on June 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


Dubious social impact aside, I have to admit I actually think it's a potentially cool-looking building. Then again, I love weird skylines and I don't live in London.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:41 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first thing I thought of when I saw the picture in the article was Ryugyong Hotel, North Korea. It must be the angle of the glass. And the need for the rich to make monuments to themselves and their greatness. I wonder how long it will take for them never to be seen in public again for fear of being killed outright. As they should be.
posted by Zack_Replica at 3:43 PM on June 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


Reminds me of the fucking Shangri La in Vancouver.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:45 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


How can someone have worked so hard to build an entire article around the "Shard-en-freude" pun and not notice "...what our capital is becoming" in the last sentence?
posted by cromagnon at 3:46 PM on June 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Oh, and no, the property tax in the UK doesn't move anywhere near fast enough to catch actual market cost. The last domestic revaluation was, off the top of my head, in 1991.
posted by cromagnon at 3:48 PM on June 26, 2012


The first thing I thought of when I saw the picture in the article was Ryugyong Hotel, North Korea.

The first thing I thought of is "That looks like the setting for the final dungeon in a Shin Megami Tensei game." Mark my words, there are demons in there. And save points.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:50 PM on June 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Go long on crowbars.
posted by fullerine at 3:55 PM on June 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Aesthetically speaking, I like the shard. And as a Torontonian, I can attest to the practicality of obscenely tall buildings you never go inside, just for the purpose of wayfinding.

With all that glass, though, you'll probably want to open an umbrella while walking through the neighbourhood, lest you be showered in dead birds.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:03 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's a decent article, making some good points, but I have to say (as one who lives in London, albeit not centrally) that as a building I really like it. Sure, it bears an uncanny resemblance to City 17's Citadel, but it's elegant, undeniably striking and completely unlike anything else on the skyline. It's like the Gherkin in that respect, another building which was controversial when it was built and is now mostly loved and definitely almost as recognisable a symbol of London as Big Ben The Clock Tower on the Palace of Westminster The Elizabeth Tower.
posted by ZsigE at 4:05 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will always associate it with the identically named tower from Mirror's Edge, the city hall/network hub of a clean, sterile panopticon dystopia, looming over it like the Citadel over City 17.
posted by figurant at 4:05 PM on June 26, 2012


Reminds me of the fucking Shangri La in Vancouver.

The Shard will house a Shangri La hotel.
posted by Kabanos at 4:06 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Imma start calling it "The Shart". That'll show 'em.
posted by LordSludge at 4:07 PM on June 26, 2012 [16 favorites]


I see it everyday as I drive my trains into Waterloo and I think it looks stunning. I really like it.

That aside, this guy desreves both an award and a painful death for "Shard-enfreude"
posted by Decani at 4:13 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Felix Salmon has an interesting take on this essay.
posted by justlooking at 4:13 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


But if they bought it from people in the UK, didn't that money actually go into the UK economy? I suppose "foreigner to foreigner" sales would be a little different.
Also, don't they pay property tax on these huge valuations? I admit I know nothing about property tax in the UK.


That was my first thought too: "Damn foreigners, coming over here, buying our products and paying our taxes. Shouldn't be allowed...". Could someone a little less ignorant than me elaborate on this a bit?

It is quite a cool-looking building, in my opinion. It comfortably dwarfs the godawful Guys Hospital tower next door, and anything that draws attention away from that monstrosity can only be a good thing. When you stand at the base and look up, it looks even bigger; I think the tapering has a sort of forced-perspective effect, fooling your brain into overestimating its height. As for the skyline, the London skyline is already a very mixed bag, with a mix of "old stone", "dirty concrete blocks" and "shiny glass curves" visible from basically anywhere you choose to stand inside Zone 1. I agree that it would be a real shame to have St Paul's, Tower Bridge, Parliament, etc dwarfed by new developments, but the Shard on its own isn't going to do that, and isn't particularly near anything like that.

My only real complaint is that the name sounds far too much like it was chosen by a PR company. Not in the same league as the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater or the Testicle.
posted by metaBugs at 4:13 PM on June 26, 2012


Looking at it and reading about it, it would perhaps be appropriate to refer to it as "The Shaft" as in "Look! London is getting The Shaft!"
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:15 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There have been plenty of examples of horrible redevelopment projects. For example, projects where the government has put up large amounts of money (and as often as not seen it squandered) and where existing local businesses and residents, which reliably paid their modest taxes, have been thrown out in the name of the shiny new idea. These are truly bad for cities.

But this? Eh. In 50 years, the city will still stand, the building will still stand (and will become an integral part of the city), and the financiers and foreign investors and all the rest will be footnotes in history. San Francisco's construction during the gold rush was funded not by the gold, but by the speculators who came chasing it. Most of them ended up broke, but so what? The city's still there.

The government should monitor construction standards, to make sure than the physical structure outlives whatever shady financial instruments are used to fund it, and it should make sure that the maintenance costs aren't extortionate, so that the building can age gracefully and be an asset to the city instead of a white elephant. It should avoid getting involved in the financial dealings, because that way lies corruption. After that, just sit back and see what these crazy people come up with.
posted by alexei at 4:19 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


More than a passing resemblance to other popular towers of recent memory.

I am one of those locals in its shadow. Typical that if they build a target that big they put it in South London where it won't damage anyone that matters if something goes wrong.
posted by Grangousier at 4:20 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Felix misses the point a little here I think: "Shard will attract more money and gentrification to London Bridge in general, which is great news if your worry, like Aditya’s, is the area’s “deprivation and unemployment"

I was under the impression gentrification generally just had the effect of forcing deprivation and unemployment elsewhere. Residents who are lucky enough to own their own homes benefit, but well, if you're deprived, chances are you don't.
posted by Grimgrin at 4:22 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mainly because of the name, I've always imagined the building to be the first line of defence for London against Godzilla and other massive marauding, city-destroying creatures. Just as Godzilla is about to stamp down on Burough Market, for instance, it would stub its toe against this sharp piece of glass and writhe in pain or something.
posted by the cydonian at 4:23 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I tend to think city planners are just trying to attract some fresh young blood to their economy whenever some funky modern building goes up against a more traditional skyline.
posted by DisreputableDog at 4:24 PM on June 26, 2012


I was under the impression gentrification generally just had the effect of forcing deprivation and unemployment elsewhere. Residents who are lucky enough to own their own homes benefit, but well, if you're deprived, chances are you don't.

I've actually been wondering about this - it seems like anything that brings money in to an area, or makes it more attractive, will chase the poorest residents out (see current Seattle complaints about putting light rail in). How do you solve that?
posted by jacalata at 4:25 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to compare the Shard to the previous tall tower visible from everywhere in London: the old Post Office Tower, owned by the state, paid for by extracting tax wealth from the rich, occupied only by technicians, and run for the sole purpose of serving the people. How times have changed.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 4:28 PM on June 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Residents who are lucky enough to own their own homes benefit...If they can afford to pay their skyrocketing property taxes.
posted by tapir-whorf at 4:33 PM on June 26, 2012


It does seem a bit out of place in some pictures and a bit North Korean in others. As for foreign owners, well, remember the great "The Japanese are buying everything OMGWTFBBQRockefeller Center!!!" scare of the '80s? The thing about real estate is that it can't be moved. So what if Qataris own it, it will remain in London for its entire lifespan.
posted by MikeMc at 4:34 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Perhaps this is the kind of thing Chakrabortty sees The Shard as a symbol of: Public spaces in Britain's cities fall into private hands.
posted by catchingsignals at 4:38 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, Britain has a virtual monopoly on oppressive architecture.

At least, the steel and glass stuff doesn't (always) look terrible in the rain, unlike the brutalist stuff. I never understood why a country where it is always raining would have such an affection for the only architectural style that looks awful when wet.
posted by schmod at 4:44 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Public spaces in Britain's cities fall into private hands.

I take it Britain doesn't have a lot of "this bit of pavement sticks out a teeny bit and I tripped over it which is your fault and not mine and now you owe me lots and lots of money because I scratched my knee a bit so my lifelong dream of becoming a world-class knee model has been shattered" lawsuits?

(That's how that problem would fix itself elsewhere.)
posted by Sys Rq at 4:53 PM on June 26, 2012


Spot-on article and I have no love for the 1% or this tower, but I also firmly like the architecture, for one reason. London is a clusterfuck when you're trying to find your way due to the chaotic streets which often don't even have signs, so you learn to orient with landmarks. I find church steeples are often what save me when I'm in semi-familiar territory, and I always scan the area for them when I'm in a new place. I've grown used to spotting them looming, like this or this, to name a couple that I'm personally familiar with. In those places where the Shard is visible from a large distance poking above the local scenery, it's very similar in size and shape to these local church steeples one can often spot.

The design of the tower is obviously influenced by these steeples, of course. But it's really unexpected the way it blends into the local landscape once you get away from the city centre. A 1000m tall monolith that's 10km away becomes the same size as a neighborhood steeple 50m tall and 500m away. Except one is crystal, and the other stone.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, don't they pay property tax on these huge valuations?
There isn't quite a property tax in the UK. Council tax is the nearest thing, with payments falling into different bands according to the value of the house. However, the bands top out quite low, which makes one of these £30m to £50m flats have a "property tax" of...£2,437.72.
posted by Jehan at 4:57 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris London, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French English taste, against the erection... of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower Shard... To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris London like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Nelson's Column, the London Eye1, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years … we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal glass and concrete."

1 lol
posted by Behemoth at 4:58 PM on June 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Re: taxes. When sold, the buyer will have to pay stamp duty (7%) on the contract of sale; this is probably where cleve scheming can be done most easily in this case. After purchase, if the apartments are truly residential the the owner will have to pay council tax yearly. This is closest to US property taxes; every house in the country in 1991 was put into a series of ranked bands by value. Local authorities are free to set the yearly tax on each band with the proviso that no higher band pays less than a lower band (believe me, many would try). These apartments would be the highest band, which for Southwark this year would be, er, £2437 for a £45 million apartment (with 25% off if occupied by one person, and 10% if a second home in the UK and often unoccupied!) Frankly that makes the usual tax avoidance shell companies etc. rather useless: if taxed in the UK as a business property, you'd be paying a nominal but potentially negotiable 45% of the yearly market rent as business rates.

tl;dr - these will be effectively tax free apart from a one-off 7% when the property changes hands.
posted by cromagnon at 5:03 PM on June 26, 2012


It's going to be interesting to see who they will get to do the building's custodial work given that it is becoming ever more impractical for somebody to live in the London area on a blue-collar, or even middle-class white-collar, wage.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:08 PM on June 26, 2012


One thing that I find interesting and worrying about the shard (or any of these great projects) is how little say the people who actually live in the area have.

Giving local people too much of a say is a sure recipe for planning paralysis and endlessly-increasing rents and prices. Sorry, but living in San Francisco has soured me on local democracy, which is far too easily manipulated by political actors.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:11 PM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sorry, but living in San Francisco has soured me on local democracy, which is far too easily manipulated by political actors.

I think I must be confused. Are you saying that since ordinary people are too easily manipulated by political actors, we should put those political actors in charge directly without consulting the ordinary people?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 5:18 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The shard really does look like an incarnation of pure evil. "This is my god. the god of flesh, hunger and desire. Leviathan, lord of the labyrinth.
posted by boo_radley at 5:26 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


San Francisco's construction during the gold rush was funded not by the gold, but by the speculators who came chasing it. Most of them ended up broke, but so what? The city's still there.

Well, not exactlythat city....
posted by IndigoJones at 5:26 PM on June 26, 2012


No, I meant that it's too easy to get up a crowd of Concerned Citizens and then take credit for throwing sand in the works, while failing to actually improve the city in any meaningful fashion. The last project I was directly involved in was an attempt to open up a cannabis dispensary in a somewhat sleepy neighborhood, which resulted in planning meetings being packed by the local supervisor and going until 4am. When approval was granted, the same supervisor publicly backed an ADA lawsuit against the still-unopened business...which was the project of a guy confined to a wheelchair. This seems to me like obstructionism rather than constructive criticism. I would need to write several pages to fill out a more general theory to back up my initial off-the-cuff remark, so write me off as jaded and cynical if you prefer.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:29 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's going to be interesting to see who they will get to do the building's custodial work given that it is becoming ever more impractical for somebody to live in the London area on a blue-collar, or even middle-class white-collar, wage.
Well, it is right next to railway and subway stations, so they can always commute. Government unemployment is predicated on your being willing to commute up to 90 minutes to and from work. The cleaners can live in Colchester. Worry over.
posted by Jehan at 5:34 PM on June 26, 2012


London can't change because many of its buildings are protected and there are so many churches in places you would not expect. What goes up in London are monuments because nothing else gets major funding. London is a one skyscraper per decade city.
posted by parmanparman at 5:34 PM on June 26, 2012


anigbrowl, I'm not trying to write you off. I often disagree with you, but you usually have something interesting to say. I just couldn't make sense of it this time. If you want to go into more detail, I would be happy to read some memail.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 5:35 PM on June 26, 2012


anigbrowl: "Giving local people too much of a say is a sure recipe for planning paralysis and endlessly-increasing rents and prices."

Recently I've been watching the British show Grand Designs that follows people building new or renovating old houses. It's kind of fascinating to see the hurdles thrown up by the planning councils. At least it is from my prospective, for builders it's probably a nightmare.
posted by the_artificer at 5:36 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Doesn't London have some sort of low income housing scheme? I am all for building huge towers and letting them fill with people, rather than sprawl into the country side the way they do so often.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 5:47 PM on June 26, 2012


tl;dr - these will be effectively tax free apart from a one-off 7% when the property changes hands.

I'm beginning to see why London is so attractive to foreign investment. If you can, buy something expensive that's already there. If you can't, find a spot where you can build something expensive and new. Taxes don't seem to be a worry.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:49 PM on June 26, 2012


The first thing I thought of is "That looks like the setting for the final dungeon in a Shin Megami Tensei game." Mark my words, there are demons in there. And save points.

This is London. If anything, there are Cybermen in there.
posted by maryr at 5:50 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, what the hell? Yes, the rich arguably have too much money. But if they're gonna spend it, isn't it better for Londoners that they spend it in London?

The argument he seems to me making is that the Shard is bad for London per se. But the argument he's actually making, or rather the position he's asserting, is that it's Bad and Wrong for something like the Shard to exist anywhere, (because: inequality!) and quite possibly for finance to even exist as an industry (because: bankers!). But because both of those positions are silly, he's left with one of the least compelling NIMBY arguments I've never seen.

Seriously, if it weren't in the Guardian, I'd be tempted to accuse him of nativism. Whence the paranoia about foreign ownership? Is this the Guardian or a press release by the British National Party?
posted by valkyryn at 5:51 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Question: If the UK government is short on money, shouldn't re-appraising/raising the council tax be in short order? Especially if the top band is so ridiculously low?
posted by maryr at 5:52 PM on June 26, 2012


China Mieville must be just ever so pleased.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:55 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


If the UK government is short on money, shouldn't re-appraising/raising the council tax be in short order?

Yeah, except (1) raising property taxes by reappraising properties is universally unpopular with voters, and (2) it tends to have a disproportionate effect on the elderly, who mostly own their homes, live on fixed incomes, and vote like the dickens.
posted by valkyryn at 5:55 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it seems to be written without real estate bubbles in mind.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:55 PM on June 26, 2012


Sorry, that was a reply to maryr.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:56 PM on June 26, 2012


Sorry for three comments in a row, but surely there's a middle ground between forcing seniors out of their homes and allowing almost tax free £30 million apartments. Something that kicks in at the level of giant new developments like this one.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:00 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


When the revolution comes, it will be quite satisfying to throw stones.

(ugly monument to self-satisfaction)
posted by BlueHorse at 6:00 PM on June 26, 2012


psycho-alchemy: "Doesn't London have some sort of low income housing scheme? I am all for building huge towers and letting them fill with people, rather than sprawl into the country side the way they do so often."

I looked at Google Maps satellite imagery of the UK and Western Europe and compared it with Eastern Seaboard cities like Boston and NYC.

In Europe, suburbs are compact, and past them it's just countryside. In the US, the blight goes on and on and on.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:03 PM on June 26, 2012


Silly, histrionic, xenophobia-tinged rant.

The Shard is no more or less a symbol of income inequality than Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden and pretty much all of Kensington and Chelsea.

All were built by the rich, for the rich, in the midst of extreme poverty and suffering. The difference is that now a (relatively) robust safety net ensures the poor don't starve or die from lack of medical care.

Arguing that the Shard is somehow qualitatively different or sui generis is just silly.
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:08 PM on June 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Question: If the UK government is short on money, shouldn't re-appraising/raising the council tax be in short order? Especially if the top band is so ridiculously low?
Houses are appraised as though they were on the market in 1991. So a house with a value of £150,000 in 2012 would be given a nominal value of, say, £45,000 for figuring out the council tax. The assumption is that house prices rise but they rise equally, so that an expensive house in 1991 would be expensive today, and a cheap house then still cheap now. Of course, that's not always quite true, so some properties may be undervalued in relation to similar houses. However, a bigger worry is that the top band lumps houses of hugely varying worth together, so that a £50m flat pays the same council tax as a £5m house, which pays the same council tax as a £500,000 house.

But neither of these are the real problem. The main issue is that people simply don't pay a level of council tax which represents the value of their house relative to others. A house in Band F might be worth twice a house in Band D, but pay only 50% more tax. Wealthier people pay a smaller amount of their income in council tax compared with poorer people, even when the value of their house is in proportion to their wealth. The tax burden effectively decreases the bigger the house you have.
posted by Jehan at 6:29 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whence the paranoia about foreign ownership?
I think it could have been better presented as "outside ownership" rather than "foreign". Money entering an economy from the outside is usually taken as a good, but it can be a bad if it serves to overheat certain sections of that economy. If money from outside is used to buy land and housing it can artificially raise prices and put them beyond those working and earning solely within that economy. Also, rents to outside owners can drain productive money from the economy. It is a fair concern.
posted by Jehan at 6:38 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Whence the paranoia about foreign ownership?

>I think it could have been better presented as "outside ownership" rather than "foreign". (..) It is a fair concern.

It's a matter of having "skin in the game".

I am a foreigner, an immigrant here in Melbourne, but I live in the flat that my wife and I bought. I work in this city, my children go to school here, we play in the local parks, we shop in the local shops. I too would be worried if the place were full of holiday flats and offices belonging to foreign interests, defining "foreign" as "they don't even live here, and they have nothing staked on whether ordinary people can live well here".
posted by kandinski at 6:53 PM on June 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh hey , I just realized this is an arcology basically. If you blanket London with the things in every possible corner, you win at Sim City 2000
posted by Bwithh at 6:54 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that raising property taxes could disproportionally hurt the elderly, but doesn't cutting lots of other social services also run a risk of disproportionally hurting the elderly?
posted by maryr at 7:04 PM on June 26, 2012


When I first saw the Shard it was perhaps a year ago, I think the structure was mostly finished but the top floors were still naked. I had come off a late-night easyjet flight to Stansted, or Gatwick - it's all the same, a dance of machines you participate in, and I guess that's the point. At London Bridge station a friend picked me up and we chatted a bit, walking across the bridge towards Shoreditch. I was still a bit dazed from the airport handling, or perhaps I was already a bit sick. Everything had the color of nicotine fingers and the few stragglers and the odd cab or Vauxhall speeding by just made the place seem all the more desolate. When we crossed the bridge I turned and saw it, if not beautiful, then spectacularly fitting, a jagged mess of metal rising up into the sky like a wrecked spaceship, just a stone's throw from the London Tower and the Tower Bridge, with HMS Belfast in between, all these symbols of power, like riddling sphinxes glowering in the dark.
posted by deo rei at 7:13 PM on June 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


If money from outside is used to buy land and housing it can artificially raise prices and put them beyond those working and earning solely within that economy.

1) There's nothing artificial about it. People value housing in London and they're willing to pay for it.

2) There is a nearly limitless supply of housing in London - the barriers to actually providing it with denser and taller buildings are more political than real. The existence of the Shard does not preclude significantly upzoning other plots of land to provide more housing.
posted by ripley_ at 7:19 PM on June 26, 2012


Seriously, what the hell? Yes, the rich arguably have too much money. But if they're gonna spend it, isn't it better for Londoners that they spend it in London?

Except if the Londoners want to be able to continue to still barely afford to live in the London. This influx of foreign wealth distorts local prices for everything and is why the Chelsea Garden show features £25,000 patio sets (the UK median after tax household income was £26K) and 400 foot tall swinging gardens hanging from cranes or 8 story scaffold pyramids.
posted by srboisvert at 7:24 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


For something designed by a prominent architect, that is a really ugly skyscraper.
posted by polymodus at 7:38 PM on June 26, 2012


This influx of foreign wealth distorts local prices for everything

Citation please? Given the huge numbers of financial professionals in London, it's not actually obvious that a significant chunk of the wealth in London is foreign.
posted by ripley_ at 7:38 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


1) There's nothing artificial about it. People value housing in London and they're willing to pay for it.
Artificial because the money to pay such prices comes from outside. The prices do not necessarily reflect the reality of the economy within the city or country, but rather the money available form all sources. Where local wealth and outside wealth are mismatched, it is fair to privilege the viewpoint of local wealth and say that the prices are artificially high.
posted by Jehan at 7:39 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jehan: "Artificial because the money to pay such prices comes from outside."

Exactly. In Bar Harbor, ME, where I've worked for the past 4 years, it's incredibly difficult to get an apartment anymore because landlords have realized it's much more profitable to rent out the place on a weekly basis for $1000/week. Combine that with shitty wages and it means workers can't afford to live anywhere nearby, and have to drive in (which also costs money).

The only people who can afford to live in town are the Eastern European kids, who live 12 to the apartment because any money they take home will last them the whole year. The influx of money from somewhere much more affluent (in this case, Massachussetts and NY) skews the whole market and makes it impossible to live there full-time.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:56 PM on June 26, 2012


Whence the paranoia about foreign ownership?

I'm not finding the recent-ish post I saw here (I think), but I thought the issue is that foreign 1%ers living in the UK pay practically no or maybe totally no taxes. It was about this article, which says:

The relevant policy is the notorious provision in relation to "domicile", as a definition of an individual's tax status. Every other civilised country in the world taxes its inhabitants on their income and capital: the basic rule is that if you live in a place, you pay its taxes. But it's different in the UK. Here, if you come from overseas, and can prove strong links with overseas, and can prove that you are going to return to overseas, and can therefore establish a "domicile" overseas that is different from your "residency" in the UK – well, in that case, you are treated entirely differently for tax purposes. You pay tax on your income in the UK, like the rest of us; and you can remit capital to the UK; but your overseas income, as long as you keep it overseas, is out of the reach of the Inland Revenue.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:01 PM on June 26, 2012


The Shard seems a worthy target of the Crimson Permanent Assurance
"You and you, break open the weapons!"
"You, you and you - into the rigging!"
"And you, put the kettle on!"
posted by islander at 8:05 PM on June 26, 2012


As I see it, one of the bigger downsides to the phenomenon of a large influx of money is that it leads to flats, which were once occupied by a family of four or five year-round, being occupied by a couple for three months of the year. That leads to empty neighborhoods where ordinary local establishments like greengrocers and pubs go out of business for lack of a clientele, and which are not particularly pleasant for actual residents. Pretty and well-maintained, but dead.

At least in San Francisco they have to pay a sizable chunk in property taxes, so they fund the city if nothing else.
posted by alexei at 8:11 PM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


... It's off-limits. It's largely owned by people who don't live here. ...

Would this be a complaint about the imperialist mentality from one of the world's foremost (former) imperialist countries? Did the Shard owners not even offer reserve lands where displaced Londoners could go about their traditional lives in peace, foraging in the shops, living in their rough native dwellings?

I'm on your side, Sebmojo. I get your concern. And I am damn sure that you were not personally responsible for annexing the northern half of North America without holding a proper planning process for the native Cree inhabitants (among many, many others). But the irony here was just too blatant for me not to comment.
posted by dmayhood at 9:02 PM on June 26, 2012


Sebmojo's post is a quotation from the article; pretty sure he did not write it and was not quoting it in order to endorse its views (necessarily).
posted by en forme de poire at 9:20 PM on June 26, 2012


Not all uncomfortable-looking architecture is "brutalist," that term refers specifically to a movement which used unfinished concrete (béton brut) as an intentional aesthetic element

It's a pretty minor peeve but I only get to air it out once or twice a year


Not such a minor pet peeve for someone that lives within commuting distance of SFU (Simon Fraser University), which along with Boston City Hall, the Macmillan Bloedel building and FBI headquarters is a textbook example of brutalist architecture. SFU is brutalist architecture.
posted by thewalrus at 9:59 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


When does the flaming eye get lit up?
posted by telstar at 10:21 PM on June 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


[Added quotation marks to the linked quote to avoid any further possible misunderstanding over who is speaking.]
posted by taz at 10:54 PM on June 26, 2012


Sebmojo's post is a quotation from the article; pretty sure he did not write it and was not quoting it in order to endorse its views (necessarily).

This is true, of course, but dmayhood's point is still a very good one when directed at the proper person. Especially considering a certain remnant of British imperialism that's a little more germane to this particular issue.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:59 PM on June 26, 2012


The cash hasn't gone into productive enterprises that will benefit or employ ordinary Londoners. It has sat in plush new flats or office blocks. And now it's setting up its biggest home yet, on the South Bank.

I think the problem is not that the money is foreign, it is that the money is basically inert. The "trickle-down" theory of wealth and its variations are bunk, anyway, but doubly so in this context, when the super-rich who buy these flats are highly unlikely to spend any time in the area at all (and whose tax burden will be negligible).

Instead, as he says, this money is going to drive up local property prices, by encouraging people to build more large, flashy, expensive residences for a small number of billionaires. Prices have spiralled to ridiculous levels in London already, partly driven by the financial services industry, which is centred in the city, and which has provided much higher wages than any other industry in the UK; but also driven by the large numbers of foreign-born billionaires that the City of London consciously sets out to attract - hence the boast, a few years back, that London had more billionaires than anywhere else on earth.

I'm not quite sure what London gets out of encouraging the super-rich to live here, but I think it's that they wind up giving their financial and legal business to the City. This benefits London's financial district, which has become enormously rich and powerful, but it doesn't benefit anybody else - and worsens an ever-growing wage gap between the financial services and every other profession. And since the financial services have managed to minimise their tax burden to almost nothing, so there really isn't much of public benefit even on the tax side of things.

On a wider note, speaking as a Londoner, it is not very polite or helpful to start throwing around phrases like "Is this the Guardian or a press release by the British National Party?" when someone points out that this is going on.

It is perfectly possible to be concerned about the effect of non-domiciled super-rich people on the local economy without being a nativist. There is no call for that kind of hyperbolical rhetoric: it just seems to boil down to accusing people you don't agree with of being fascists, just because they are prepared to criticise the privileged and powerful. There is a great deal more fascism on the Christian right than the English left and phrases about motes and beams spring to mind.
posted by lucien_reeve at 11:51 PM on June 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


I have cousins who live in London. They're definitely 1%, but more in the "always fly business class" sort of way, not the "private 747" way. They had a beautiful house in London that they sold when (they thought) they permanently moved to New York for his job, but then he got a better offer back in London a year later. They've been back almost two years now and can't buy a place anything like their old one, because foreign investors from Europe, figuring the pound is way more stable than the euro, have bought up every bit of property they can in London. And as someone alluded to upthread, those owners have no skin in the game. All those houses stand empty; they're just a stable investment. So my cousins, who legitimately want to live there and be a part of the neighborhood and community, can either pay the same amount they did two years ago and get something half the size, or they can pay twice as much to have what they had two years ago, and either way there are neighborhoods full of beautiful empty houses.

So what's going to happen when those investors want to get out of London real estate after the currencies stabilize? Is anyone going to be able to afford the prices they'll want to sell at?
posted by olinerd at 12:38 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the problem is not that the money is foreign, it is that the money is basically inert. The "trickle-down" theory of wealth and its variations are bunk, anyway, but doubly so in this context, when the super-rich who buy these flats are highly unlikely to spend any time in the area at all (and whose tax burden will be negligible).

The meat of this complaint is in parentheses.

Use your powers. Tax the rich. Problem solved.

No amount of BEWARE QATARIS AND THEIR GIANT ERECTIONS is a suitable substitute. British law is not a foreign problem.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:41 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Shard worker here - whilst like most new developments it has its pros and cons, in discussions about new buildings being given planning permission people rarely seem to consider what they replace. The Shard replaced Southwark Towers and various bits of the old dark un-maintained London Bridge station concourse and the Place, the new building across the road from the Shard replaces New London Bridge House.

Whilst it is always sad to see buildings demolished within their architect's lifetime I think the old buildings had substantial drawbacks, both in terms of how they looked on the skyline and how they interacted with the surrounding areas at the base around London Bridge Station and Guys.
posted by Albondiga at 1:16 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kings gonna kingdom...
posted by roboton666 at 4:39 AM on June 27, 2012


Do not think of it as the shard that you know. Think of it as a B Arc that helpfully attempts to ensure that nobody need come out.
posted by jaduncan at 4:42 AM on June 27, 2012


Article said: It skulks in your eyeline as you amble along Hampstead Heath.

First off, unless it means something different on the other side of the Atlantic, skulk is the wrong word unless you are trying paint a false picture here. Pretend you are a journalist and use objective descriptions that don't tug at the heartstrings, please.
posted by JJ86 at 5:27 AM on June 27, 2012


It's going to be interesting to see who they will get to do the building's custodial work given that it is becoming ever more impractical for somebody to live in the London area on a blue-collar, or even middle-class white-collar, wage.

Foreigners will. Different ones, who are 'non-dom' in the sense that they have to share rooms as well as houses.

So one of London's most identifiable buildings will have almost nothing to do with the city itself. Even the office space rented out at the bottom is intended for hedge funds and financiers wanting more elbow room than they can afford in the City or Mayfair. The only working-class Londoners will presumably bus in at night from the outskirts to clean the bins. Otherwise, to all intents and purposes, this will be the Tower of the 1%

London feels very much like a city of the rich. It is astonishingly expensive to buy property here - a 'cheap flat' is £150,000, which doesn;t sound like a huge sum until you remember that most mortgages are only given with a 30% or higher deposit, and the average wage in the capital is £24k. (Think of all the people who sweep your streets, who serve you in shops, who process your loan application paperwork, who make the sandwich that you treat yourself to on a Friday and who check your tickets on the way home, remember that they will probably be paid considerably less than that average, and then think for a moment about how many people must be being paid so very much more for that figure to exist.) There are kids growing up here who have never been on a Tube, because they can't afford to, and there are also people in very middle-class occupations who won't be able to own their own place until they have the 'blessing' of a grandmother's passing on. The ;'foreigners;' they talk about here aren't the educational immigrants or those who come and work for little for a better life - rather they mean 'non-doms', people who buy or construct property with oil or share money and don't stay long enough to be charged taxes.
posted by mippy at 7:03 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a nearly limitless supply of housing in London

...because nobody can afford to buy it, and few can afford to rent it. Affordable housing, now, that's not in great supply.
posted by mippy at 7:04 AM on June 27, 2012


Not a Londoner but after seeing the shard for myself, I now likes it architecturally. Hopefully the area doesn't become infested with clones, but as a one off statement I think it works.

I'm also surprised no one has made the point about London being a global city, so somewhat detached from the rest of the UK.
posted by Z303 at 7:06 AM on June 27, 2012


I take it Britain doesn't have a lot of "this bit of pavement sticks out a teeny bit and I tripped over it which is your fault and not mine and now you owe me lots and lots of money because I scratched my knee a bit so my lifelong dream of becoming a world-class knee model has been shattered" lawsuits?

You obviously haven't watched British daytime TV. Personal injury solicitors are a huge industry here, along with claiming back PPI on loans or similar compensation schemes. I don't think we're where the States are yet, but they certainly do exist. (In one of the Adrian Mole novels, Pauline Mole recieves a payout from the council for walking up a mountain in stilettos, on the grounds that 'there was insufficient warning against the wearing of specific heels'.)
posted by mippy at 7:06 AM on June 27, 2012


Not a Londoner but after seeing the shard for myself, I now likes it architecturally

Based on the pictures I've seen, it sure seems out of place, both in terms of architecture and sheer height.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:03 AM on June 27, 2012


spaceheater: I'm wary of any article that decries the presence of "foreigners" and "foreign money."

And having a structure that looms over the city in strange, new ways is hardly undesirable.
I'll agree with the first half; the second is hardly a reliable rule for architecture.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:37 AM on June 27, 2012


ripley_: This influx of foreign wealth distorts local prices for everything

Citation please? Given the huge numbers of financial professionals in London, it's not actually obvious that a significant chunk of the wealth in London is foreign.
Third paragraph: ...52% of the City of London is now owned by foreigners, up from 10% in 1980.

This is property ownership, and not the more general "wealth", but I think it's a reasonable vindication of the premise of majority foreign wealth. As for this distorting prices... prices always rise in a buyer's market, which London today appears to be. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's often described as
"a boom".
posted by IAmBroom at 8:59 AM on June 27, 2012


52% of the City of London is now owned by foreigners

Interesting, but that's only office properties within the main financial district. Doesn't seem like a result you can generalize to the residential market across all of London.
posted by ripley_ at 9:24 AM on June 27, 2012


"it is the perfect metaphor for what [insert your own city here] is becoming."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:29 AM on June 27, 2012


So what's going to happen when those investors want to get out of London real estate after the currencies stabilize? Is anyone going to be able to afford the prices they'll want to sell at?

Well, this at least is not an issue. If they want to sell, they'll have to sell to whoever's willing to buy at a price they're willing to pay.
posted by alexei at 1:05 PM on June 27, 2012


52% of the City of London is now owned by foreigners

Much of the property holdings (particularly in the City) are in the form of real estate funds, which, while nominally foreign, are invested into by British pension funds, British institutions and British charitable endowments.
posted by emergent at 1:08 PM on June 27, 2012


psycho-alchemy: "Doesn't London have some sort of low income housing scheme? I am all for building huge towers and letting them fill with people, rather than sprawl into the country side the way they do so often."

Yes, indeedy -- in fact, some friends of mine used to live in one of the estates bordering Deptford and New Cross. Then someone realized that those council tenants had awesome views of the Thames that they were getting for free -- so those (admittedly ugly) blocks were demolished and newer, fancier private flats were built in their place, renting for close to 1000GBP a month each.
posted by vickyverky at 2:01 PM on June 27, 2012


The Guardian, again: The Shard Slashed The Face of London
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:32 AM on July 4, 2012


Love the caption on that illustration: The Thames is to become a ditch of cash running through a canyon of glass

"A ditch of cash." The horror! (They know the Thames is currently a ditch of shit and garbage, right?)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:35 AM on July 4, 2012


spaceheater: "I'm wary of any article that decries the presence of "foreigners" and "foreign money." "

Do you know how much it pisses me off that none of the town centers in the place where I grow up can support businesses or a year-round population of working people, because all the quaint old houses have been bought up by rich people from away who have no investment in the community and only live there six weeks out of the year?

It's like that.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:50 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Al Jazeera: London's 'Shard' skyscraper now EU's tallest: Elongated 87-storey glass pyramid opens in London's financial district, but developers must still fill 26 vacant floors.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:21 PM on July 5, 2012


Renzo Piano’s Shard in London. Not bad, but NOT a ‘vertical city’.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:18 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


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