Towering Skyscares: on building upwards

At any given point I am engaging in an active internal battle against the woes that come with being away from the city life.

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Moving is not an uncommon event in my life. I have moved houses and countries and the coping mechanism I developed to deal with such regurgitated Hollywood plotlines was to turn the soft reflections on why I loved my past abode to the crunchier, more digestible analysis of its flaws.

I first did this when I moved from the United Arab Emirates, a land of sun and shawarma, to this damp place of donners1.  My self-preservation had an excellent success rate leading to the alarming 180 of never wanting to live in the UAE ever again.

As a person who generally thrives in cities, I’ll admit applying this thought process to London is a tad more excruciating. The most I have managed is to turn my longing into a lengthy whine about something I do find irksome about London, and possibly the UK as a whole.

Where are the apartments?

And I don’t mean flats or large scale estate housing either. Those were poorly managed, poorly researched forays into an altogether dark idea about the management of the poor. No, I mean actual apartments; having your 3 bedroom house in the sky. I have glanced at a few here and there but they are much too small or much too expensive. And don’t give me that ‘there’s no room bullshit’. I’ve seen plots of land be turned into housing areas and all I see is a lonely Y-axis.

London has an issue with its housing infrastructure. I hear talks of building on the green belt and can only turn to the skies and wonder. However, it turns out I am not the only one to do a 180 turn on my views. Within the last 30 years the association of high-rises has shifted from the notoriously shifty council flats to the adorably named “Skypads”….with asking prices in the millions2.

It’s not what I asked for but it’s a step towards change, and I’ll take that thank you.

Born of a desire for pragmatism in an unsteady economic climate, high-rises have been in planning for a while now. The purpose is for developers to get creative and also get more for their land whilst meeting a rising population. Whilst the last 5 years saw an initial decline in this industry due to rising mortgage costs and trouble gaining the funding needed, there has been a recent resurge with 236 new buildings being given the green light in 2014.

Currently there are over 250,000 people employed in the residential building construction market with a 2% annual growth resulting in £50 billion annual revenue. Whilst a great deal of the money may be going to big wigs, we do need growth in this industry and with high-rises becoming more accepted it is time to take notice that the landscape of the housing systems in London at least, are very much changing.

Another key hurdle was overcoming powerful lobbying by heritage groups claiming high-rises are “eyesores”.  Key person for these claims was Prince Charles. He grew up in a palace. I don’t much care about the heritage perspective. However, I do believe in efficiency and some of the hoops developers have to jump through are legitimate. Driven by planning policies, there is a need to develop these high rises in clusters both to preserve the visual aesthetic and help develop an entire area. These same policies also drive development away from the existing skylines and views of the river.  This also preserves the value of the property once it’s built.

My main concern does lie with sky-rocketing house prices. Whilst I’m all for living in the sky, I don’t like the prospect of paying millions to do it. This cannot just be a fad or some luxury ideal. This needs to be for the people, because it exists ultimately due to their growth in numbers.  We need people, we need growth – countering a 3 decade old notion of what the tower block represented with swanky new unaffordable living spaces is not the solution.

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But if these are being used to start forging a trend towards more affordable rectangular abodes, I’m actually all for it. Let the rich play and the rest of us get our bit. Such is the way it’s always been. You can throw the 1% argument around all you want but changes in infrastructure are to be carefully observed.

This isn’t just a personal desire. This comes from a notion that growth is not an element to be feared. By all means discuss the possibilities of visual pollution, of overcrowding and overcrowded infrastructure, or the perils of house pries increasing further. Discuss them; don’t use them as rejection stamps on a budding prospect for future stability. These are legitimate concerns but raising them as a final word helps no one. It sticks a fence between you the thinker and they the doers; which is counterproductive.

Lessons have been learnt from previous tower block schemes that succeeded mainly in developing wind-tunnels worthy of NASA study. But there is also a need for deeper social change in thought from the architecturally flat tower blocks of the 1960s to future luxurious flats. The resistance to these is not wholly based on aesthetic ideals either. Structurally there is something to be said of so-called luxury housing that does not actually offer much more space whilst costing considerably more than its worth.

Essentially what’s required is a significant rethink of how best to approach the new housing landscape we aim to live in, because growth is happening. We cannot afford to continue in our NIMBY ways. There is no consensus on how best to manage situations because within our political spheres population growth is seen as a burden to be managed and not as a cause for celebration.

Even worldwide population growth is grossly over exaggerated. The areas where success can be sought, such as cities, are obviously concentrated which can lead to pressure and competition but the role of our governments is not to whine about the burden they are faced with but to help facilitate their peoples to reach their potential. Here, there or anywhere. Housing is the most basic thing to get right and if we have to abandon an inefficient housing system born of a haphazard industrial era population boom then so be it. If we can take from it and make it better, let’s do that. Let’s move into the intelligently built, moderately priced clouds.

1 Yes, I have tried donner. Hahahahahahahahaha.

2 *facepalm*

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