Roger Burrows, Professor of Cities, presented ‘The haves and have yachts’ sharing the project ‘Life in the Alpha-Territory’ which explores the impact of super-gentrification on neighbourhoods of the merely wealthy in contemporary London.
Over 50 years ago Ruth Glass described the invasion of the upper middle-class taking over working class areas of London, devising the term gentrification. Her predictions invasion would spread across London are concurrent today, now redefined as ‘super-gentrification’. An intensified gentrification to an area already gentrified, where the super-rich are replacing the middle-class (Butler & Lees, 2006).
Laura Nader equally pre-empted the need to ‘study up’ the affluent society in 1972, to understand the processes shaping our economy and people’s life chances. Hay & Muller (2012), Oxfam and others have acknowledged the super-rich have substantial effects on space and society, however have been broadly overlooked, two key reasons being; misguided sense of insignificance and methodological issues in identifying the super-rich.
You Are Where You Live
Piketty puts forward the theory that when return on capital is greater than economic growth, there is a greater concentration of wealth in a smaller amount of hands. This social inequality can be crudely evidenced by a decreasing number of identifiable billionaires whom possess the same wealth as half the poorest global population. Much of this wealth being concentrated in London, with 134 identified billionaires living in Britain in 2017 (The Times, 2017).
It is interesting why billionaires clusters within London, with Hay & Muller, (2012) consolidating key drivers; small tax relief paid, stock exchange deregulation and London’s welcoming approach compared with Americas uncomforting immigrations securities. The latter will be of interest in the coming years from Brexit and the discomfort this may bring. More complex justifications of governmental policies are also perceived to line up with residential preferences, with the affluent more likely to engage and influence political activity or in fact run for electorate, as some may agree with in today’s American presidency.
Research from Oxfam demonstrating the disparity between the rich and poor. (Source: BBC)
Where you live is also a significant social distinction marker, acting as a contemporary sorting process to predict a person’s cultural preferences and consumption habits ‘you are where you live’. The way an individual perceives and reacts to the social process is codified by the marketing sector through geo-dynamics software programme Mosaic. People are codified into 11 groups and 67 types based on postcode and habitus, with the super-rich classified as ‘the alpha territory’.
Wealth is not assumed uniform, the Alpha Territory is broken down into four different categories based upon the residents habitus. Possibly the wealthiest being ‘the global power brokers’ described as ‘people with substantial wealth who live in the most sought after neighbourhood’, many clustered in London.
Beaverstock et al, (2004) claimed the super-rich are transnational and extremely mobile dwelling in global-space time. In contrast Butler & Lees (2006) describes the super-rich as largely the product of global connections of Oxbridge education and are often closely tied to highly restricted areas of London, arguing they are globally mobile but occupationally localised, where face-to face meetings and ability to socialise with their cohort is important. To demonstrate this point, Barnsbury is compared with Brooklyn Heights, where multiple similarities are present; easy access to the financial districts, mature gentrification levels, local consumption infrastructure and available single family housing that can be ‘renovated’. Butler & Lees, (2006) argue they are reconstructing elite space at neighbourhood level.
7 bedroom house for sale, The Boltons, Chelsea, London, SW10 £49, 500,000 (Source: Rightmove)
Lights out London
Higher incomes of residents in super-gentrified areas is to some extent a function of rising house prices, with higher incomes required to afford a house being demonstrative of the social nature of its gentrification. The super-gentrifiers are able to buy overpriced properties, however such capital investment is not matched with their presence, arguably having little attachment to the local community.
An investigation by Atkinson (2016) identified the super-rich make residential choices to avoid negative aspects of daily life. This may bring justification to why ‘super-gentrifiers’ have chosen neighbourhoods already gentrified as demonstrated by third level gentrification in the Barnsbury study. In unequal cities, public space can portray a ‘cosmopolitan canopy’ cutting across social divisions. However social difference can be more embedded, resulting in non-overlapping pathways, preventing contact, making mutual empathy unlikely and eroding any pro-social urban design measures (Lees, 2008). Atkinson (2016) suggests the wealthy desire an ‘oysterization’ of the world around them that offers security, free-flowing access and closure. In such their closed circuit lifestyles are achieved by personal drivers, private cars, spatial division, buffers and personal guards, supplemented by manned doorways, fortress homes, and gated communities, blocking access to those who don’t belong.
2 Bedroom Flat For Sale in St Pauls Court, Lily Close, £750,000. A gated community within West Kensington (Source: Property Pigeon)
It is well reported many homes are bought by the super-rich to appreciate in value with their owners rarely present. Such phenomenon is often referred to as ‘Lights out London’ the impact of this prime ‘buy to leave’ London housing market and subsequent ripple effect across the chain, with many seeing the value of their home and realising the asset, resulting in disaster at the bottom of the market. Buying a house for many is unattainable, with thousands of people in temporary accommodation, facing social housing waiting lists, saving years for a deposit, or in the worst case, homeless.
Close to 20,000 homes are sitting empty across London, with the hot spot for absentee owners being the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. This phenomenon is having a devastating impact upon the local community, pushing property and rental prices up, coupled with shrinking populations and little local economy, businesses and residents are been driven elsewhere, or ‘ordinary’ people are unable to afford the prices. The place becomes one of social decay; no children play in gardens, shops and restaurants close, and houses sit in darkness. What originally made these areas desirable may become lost.
Atkinson, R (2015) Limited exposure: Social concealment, mobility and engagement with public space by the super-rich in London. Environment and Planning A 48(7): 1302–1317
Beaverstock, JV, Hubbard, P, Short, JR (2004) ‘Getting away with it? Exposing the geographies of the super-rich’ Geoforum, 35 (4): 401-407.
Butler, T, Lees, L (2006) Super gentrification in Barnsbury, London: Globalization and gentrifying global elites at the neighbourhood level. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 31(4): 467–487.
Hay, I, Muller, S (2012) ‘That Tiny, Stratospheric Apex That Owns Most of the World’ – Exploring Geographies of the Super–Rich. Geographical Research 50(1): 75–88.
Lees. L (2008) Gentrification and Social Mixing: Towards an Inclusive Urban Renaissance? Urban Studies, (45)12,: 2449-2470