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Put us on the map, please: China’s smaller cities go wild for starchitecture

From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to the centre of braised chicken reinventing itself as Solar Valley, Chinas second (and third) tier cities are hiring big-name architects to get them noticed

From egg-shaped concert halls to skyscrapers reminiscent of big pairs of pants, Chinas top cities are famously full of curious monuments to architectural ambition. But as land prices in the main metropolises have shot into the stratosphere, developers have been scrambling to buy up plots in the countrys second and third-tier cities, spawning a new generation of delirious plans in the provinces. President Xi Jinping may have issued a directive last year outlawing oversized, xenocentric, weird buildings, but many of these schemes were already well under way; his diktat has proved to be no obstacle to mayoral hubris yet.

From Harbin City of Music to Dezhou Solar Valley, provincial capitals are branding themselves as themed enclaves of culture and industry to attract inward investment, and commissioning scores of bold buildings to match. Even where there is no demand, city bureaucrats are relentlessly selling off land for development, hawking plots as the primary form of income accounting for 80% of municipal revenues in some cases. In the last two months alone, 50 Chinese cities received a total of 453bn yuan (54bn) from land auctions , a 73% increase on last year, and its the provincial capitals that are leading the way.

At the same time, Xis national culture drive has seen countless museums, concert halls and opera houses spring up across the country, often used as sweeteners for land deals, conceived as the jewels at the centre of glistening mixed-used visions (that sometimes never arrive). Culture, said Xi, is the prerequisite of the great renaissance of the Chinese people, but it has also proved to be a powerful lubricant for ever more real estate speculation even if the production of content to fill these great halls cant quite keep up with the insatiable building boom.
From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to cavernous libraries, heres a glimpse of whats emerging in the regions.

Fake Hills, Beihai

Fake
A render of how the Fake Hills would look. Illustration: MAD architects

Forming an 800 metre-long cliff-face along the coast of the southern port city of Beihai, the Fake Hills housing block is the work of Ma Yansong, Chinas homegrown conjuror of sinuous, globular forms whose practice is appropriately named MAD. Having studied at Yale and worked with Zaha Hadid in London, where he nourished his penchant for blobs, Ma has spent the last decade dreaming up improbable mountain-shaped megastructures across the country.

The
Less scenic mountain and more lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners The first phase of construction on Fake Hills has been completed. Photograph: MAD

As it rises and falls, the undulating roofline of Fake Hills forms terraces for badminton and tennis courts, as well as a garden and swimming pool. Sadly the overall effect is less scenic mountain range than a lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners.

Greenland Tower, Chengdu

Greenland
Greenland Tower, Chengdu. The building harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut. Illustration: Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

A crystalline spire rising 468 metres above the 18 million-strong metropolis of Chengdu, the Greenland Tower will be the tallest building in southwestern China, standing as a sharply chiselled monument to the countrys (and by some counts the worlds) largest property developer, Greenland Holdings. It is designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, architects of Dubais Burj Khalifa, who say the faceted shaft is a reference to the unique ice mountain topography of the region. It harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut, who imagined a dazzling glass city crown to celebrate socialism and agriculture; whether Sichuans farmers will be welcomed into the penthouse sky garden remains to be seen.

Sun-Moon mansion, Dezhou

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A rival to Silicon Valley the Sun-Moon mansion of Solar Valley, Dezhou. Photograph: Alamy

Once known as a centre of braised chicken production, the city of Dezhou in the north-eastern province of Shandong now brands itself as Solar Valley, a renewable energy centre intended to rival Californias Silicon Valley. At its heart is the Sun-Moon mansion, a vast fan-shaped office building powered by an arc of solar panels on its roof. It is the brainchild of Huang Ming, aka Chinas sun king, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon who heads the Himin Solar Energy Group, the worlds biggest producer of solar water heaters as well as purveyor of sun-warmed toilet seats and solar-powered Tibetan prayer wheels.

Harbin Opera House

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Harbin Opera House, with the St Petersburg of the east in the background. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Nicknamed the St Petersburg of the east, the far northern city of Harbin has long had a thriving cultural scene as a gateway to Russia and beyond. In the 1920s, fashions from Paris and Moscow arrived here before they reached Shanghai, and it was home to the countrys first symphony orchestra, made up of mostly Russian musicians.

Inside
Inside Harbin Opera House. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Declared city of music in 2010, Harbin has recently pumped millions into a gleaming new concert hall by Arata Isozaki, a gargantuan neo-classical conservatory and an 80,000 sq metre whipped meringue of an opera house by MAD. Shaped like a pair of snowy dunes, up which visitors can climb on snaking paths, the building contains a sinuous timber-lined auditorium designed as an eroded block of wood.

Tianjin Binhai library

Tianjin
Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Due to open this summer in the sprawling port city of Tianjin, this space-age library by Dutch architects MVRDV is imagined as a gaping cave of books, carved out from within an oblong glass block. The shelves form a terraced landscape of seating, wrapping around a giant mirrored sphere auditorium that nestles in the middle of the space like a pearl in an oyster.

The
Inside the space-age Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Along with a new theatre, congress centre and a science and technology museum by Bernard Tschumi, the building forms part of a new cultural quarter for the city, itself being swallowed into the planned Beijing-Tianjin mega-region population 130 million, thats more than Japan.

Huaguoyuan Towers, Guiyang

Huaguoyuan
Arups twin towers are almost complete. Illustration: LWK & Partners

Nowhere in China is the disparity between economic reality and architectural ambition more stark than in Guiyang, capital of rural Guizhou, the poorest province in the country, which has the fifth most skyscraper plans of any Chinese city. The twin 335-metre towers of the Huaguoyuan development, by Arup, are now almost complete, standing as the centrepiece of a new mixed-use office, retail and entertainment complex, while SOM is busy conjuring the even higher Cultural Plaza Tower, a 521-metre glass spear that will soar above a new riverfront world of shopping malls and theatres. It has the glitz and gloss of any other Chinese citys new central business district, but as Knight Franks David Ji points out: It will be hard for a city like Guiyang to find quality tenants to fill the space.

Yubei agricultural park, Chongqing

Will
Will Alsops Yubei agricultural park. Illustration: Will Alsop

Architectural funster Will Alsop may finally have found his calling in the supercharged furnace of Chinas second-tier cities booming leisure economy, crafting a number of fantastical dreamworlds from his new satellite studio in Chongqing where he is busy building a new cultural quarter around his own office, with a restaurant, bar and distillery. He is also plotting an enormous agricultural leisure park in Yubei, 20 miles north of the city, designed to cater to the new middle classes nascent appreciation of the countryside, a place hitherto associated with peasants and poverty. The rolling landscape will be dotted with cocoon-like treehouses, a flower-shaped hotel and a big lake covered by an LED-screen canopy, so visitors can enjoy projected blue skies despite the smog.

Zendai Himalayas centre, Nanjing

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A limestone mountain range : Zendai Himalayas Centre, Nanjing. Illustration: www.i-mad.com

Erupting across six city blocks like a limestone mountain range, the Zendai Himalayas Centre will be Mas most literal interpretation yet of his philosophy of fusing architecture and nature. Taking inspiration from the traditional style of shanshui landscape brush painting (literally meaning mountain-water), the 560,000 sq metre complex is designed to look as if it has been eroded by millennia of wind and water, not thrown up overnight by an army of migrant labourers. Once again, Ma appears to be forgetting that elegant feathery brushstrokes dont often translate well into lumps of glass and steel. It is one of many such green-fingered schemes in Nanjing, including Stefano Boeris vertical forest towers and the Sifang art park, where Steven Holl, SANAA, David Adjaye and others have built pavilions in a rolling landscape as another decoy for a luxury real estate project.

Huawei campus, Dongguan

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/18/real-estate-revolution-unstoppable-building-boom-china


All under one roof: how malls and cities are becoming indistinguishable

Suburban malls may be a dying breed, but in cities from New York to Hong Kong, new malls are thriving by seamlessly blending into the urban fabric

We didnt expect to see stores, says Yulia, as her husband browses for shoes in one of the shops lining the Oculus, the new focus of New Yorks World Trade Center.

Visiting from Ukraine and on their way to the 9/11 memorial, they were beckoned by the Oculuss unusual architecture: from the outside, the Santiago Calatrava-designed ribbed structure reminds you of a bird or a dinosaur skeleton; inside, it is teaming with tourists taking pictures with selfie sticks.

But the Oculus, named after the eyelike opening at the apex that lets in light, is more than a piece of striking architecture. It exists as a mall, with more than a hundred stores, and as a hub connecting office buildings in Brookfield Place and One World Trade Center with 11 subway lines and Path trains, serving 50,000 commuters every day. Thats a lot of eyeballs on shopfronts.

The mall company Westfield, of course, hopes that the tourists and transit users will stray to the stores. The New New York Place to Be, reads the malls tagline. Shop. Eat. Drink. Play. All under one magnificent roof.

Oculus was Westfields $1.4bn bet that New York, a city known for its love of the street, could also have a successful mall. And judging from the crowds, it counters the narrative that the mall is dead, like those thousands of empty suburban malls dotting the American landscape, ghostboxes decaying on cracked asphalt parking lots.

Boxpark
Boxpark turned shipping containers into an urban mall that merges directly with the London street. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Michael Sorkin, professor of architecture at City College of New York, points out that Westfield is an example of a kind of global urbanism. The Westfield mall is virtually indistinguishable from Dubai duty-free, he says, pointing out that the same generic multinational shops are now to be found not just in malls, but on the streets of cities. The effect is compromising and imperial a real estate formula.

Certainly, the Westfield World Trade Center seems to demonstrate that it is not the mall that is declining, but suburbia. The mall, meanwhile, is becoming urban.

In fact, a new breed of shopping centre is integrating so seamlessly into its urban surroundings that it can be difficult to draw any line between city and mall whatsoever. Londons Boxpark, Las Vegass Downtown Container Park and Miamis Brickell City Centre are examples of mall-like environments that try to weave into the street life of a city.

Across the Pacific Ocean from the Oculus, developers in China are experimenting even more radically, with new mall configurations catering to the rapid rise of domestic consumerism and quickly evolving tastes.

Sino
Sino Ocean Taikoo Li in Chengdu, China, an outdoor mall with streets. Photograph: Oval Partnership

In the early 2000s, when enclosed malls were the standard, architect Chris Law of the Oval Partnership proposed an open city concept for San Li Tun, an area in Beijings central business district. He proposed to inject the big box with a heavy dose of public space. He says people had a common reaction to his plan: You guys are crazy.

Instead of laying out asphalt parking lots, Law wanted sidewalks and trees that would cool and shade pedestrian outdoor space. He designed the shops and restaurants around two distinct plazas one brimming with an interactive water feature and a massive screen to televise events, the other for quietly reading a book over a cappuccino.

Rather than designing the whole complex himself, he created a masterplan with an urban design framework for other architects to fill in, making it appear as if the complex grew organically just like cities do, Law says.

As a result, the mall has the look of a modern village complete with irregular facades and zigzagging alleyways. It became a large success, not least for being a pedestrian respite in a city of cars.

The developer then tasked Law to design another outdoor retail development in Chengdu near an ancient temple. Law respectfully designed structures with timber portal frames to match the cultural heritage, laying out the stores and restaurants along intimate, tree-lined lanes. He added a hotel, serviced apartments and an office tower to create a mixed-use district centred around intricate public space.

Modern
An escalator gives the game away at this outdoor retail space in Chengdu, China. Photograph: HeZhenHuan

As innovative as his projects may be, we simply continued the urban pattern that has been around for hundreds of years, Law says. He mentions medieval cities such as Sienna, or those depicted on the Qingming scroll, where shops and food stalls lined thriving public space.

It raises the question: was the enclosed, suburban mall, located far from the city centre, a discontinuity? An invention for the age of cheap fossil fuel?

They certainly waste energy. The typical big box is thick and fat, says Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at Harvard University and founder of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities. In contrast, the outdoor retail village typically has a smaller ecological footprint. Thin structures allow for the possibility of natural ventilation and daylighting, and hence can be more energy-efficient, Malkawi says.

Malls first appeared in suburbs in the 1950s, when reducing energy was not a priority, says Malkawi, and they were only accessible by car. The more you move shopping away from where people live, the more you increase transportations impact on the environment, he says. (The transport sector accounts for nearly a quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions.)

Architect Friedrich Ludewig of the firm Acme takes the idea a step futher. Knowing that the point to shopping in stores is to offer something physical that is interesting, otherwise we can do it all online, he designed a suburban mall extension in Melbourne around a town square, with a public library at its centre, not an anchor store.

Suburban
Offer something physical or we can all do it online … Friedrich Ludewig, whose suburban mall in Melbourne is designed around a town square with a public library (pictured) at its heart. Photograph: Acme

Customers prefer to be outside and to feel less artificial, Ludewig says of what is, in fact, an outdoor mall. His company has taken steps to create a seamless urban feel. There are guidelines for storefronts, including about colour, to ensure the visual coherence of the public space and avoid screaming yellow storefronts. When there are lots of people shouting, he said, you cant hear anyone.

He also thinks about the right ratio between landscaping and paving of the open spaces, and makes an effort to think about the city planning of how the space is used throughout the day. We spend a lot of time thinking: what does it feel like at Wednesday morning 11am?, when there are not a lot of shoppers around. He also argues that outdoor malls save money by having open spaces and buildings that are naturally ventilated rather than air-conditioned.

Above all, however, he says: It shouldnt feel like something is wrong. He describes a feeling akin to what is known as the uncanny valley: the hypothesis that when human replicas appear almost (but not quite) real, they trigger disgust and revulsion because they seem unhealthy.

Langham
Langham Place, like many Hong Kong malls, is deliberately placed to capture natural pedestrian flows. Photograph: Alamy

The city of Hong Kong solves this issue by going one step further it weaves malls into the very urban fabric.

The city counts more than 300 shopping centres. Most do not perch on asphalt parking lots, but on subway stations and underneath skyscrapers. Hong Kongs transit provider is also a real estate developer, and has capitalised on the value created by its subway stops: it sandwiches malls between stations and skyscrapers, establishing pedestrian streams that irrigate the shopfronts.

Tens of thousands of people often work, live and play in a single megastructure, without ever having to leave. And the mall is deliberately placed on the intersection of all pedestrian flows, between entry points into the structure and the residential, office, and transit functions. These malls are, by design, impossible to miss.

Langham Place, for instance, is a 59-storey complex in Hong Kong that includes retail, a five-star hotel and class-A office space. It is connected to the subway with its own tunnel and pulls in an estimated 100,000 people per day.

My whole life is here, says Katniss. She works in the buildings office, where she also shops, eats her meals and watches movies. Even on her daysoff, she enjoys going on dates in the malls soaring atrium, and drinking coffee near the huge escalator.

This expresscalator whisks people up four storeys in a matter of seconds. To get shoppers back down, the Jerde Partnership designed an ingenious retail-lined downward spiral path, shaped like a corkscrew. Langham Places retail portion alone measures 15 storeys, which is a skyscraper in its own right a vertical mall.

On both sides of the Pacific, the mall is not dead. It has simply transformed into an integrated part of cities themselves.

For Sorkin, that comes with a risk. While the idea of the shopping mall becoming urban has a certain appeal, the net effect is to turn the city into a shopping mall.

Stefan Als books include Mall City: Hong Kongs Dreamworlds of Consumption and The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/16/malls-cities-become-one-and-same


Montpellier in the spotlight: development mania in France’s fastest-growing city

This sun-kissed city has just become Frances seventh largest on the back of students, biotech … and a lively skanking scene

This compact, sun-kissed city of 275,000 people, located six miles inland from Frances Mediterranean coast, should be passing Strasbourg as the countrys seventh-biggest. Any time now.

Often overlooked for the bigger southern metropolises of Toulouse and Nice, and even Provenal tourist-draws such as Avignon and Arles, Montpellier has been the fastest growing French city over the last half-century, more than doubling in size from only 119,000 in 1962.

Growing pains

Spend five minutes on 18th-century plaza Place de la Comdie, and youll feel the livening effects of the citys massive student intake, who comprise up to one-third of residents. But for some people, the growth has been too abrupt.

My feeling is that the city has lost a bit of its soul, says Marie Laure Anselme-Martin, 70, from a local family going back four generations. There are very few Montpellirains with real roots only about 15% of the population now. You could put us all in the zoo.

The citys journey from poky provincial capital started in the 1960s, when it was first swollen by the influx of pieds-noir (Christian and Jewish people whose families had migrated from all parts of the Mediterranean to French Algeria) and Spanish exiles from Franco. Enter outspoken socialist mayor Georges Frche. This frank mayor once declared he would name the municipalitys cleaning-supplies room after Franois Mitterand: Un ptit president, une petite salle. (A small president, a small room.) His development programme including the love-it-or-hate-it neoclassical Antigone quarter, and later the Jean Nouvel-designed town hall, a kind of black Rubiks cube made Montpellier Frances urbanist laboratory. Montpellier took off with him, says Anselme-Martin, even though she stood in opposition to Frche as a municipal councillor. When he arrived, the city raised the bar very high.

City in numbers

300 Annual days of sunshine.

2,680 Species in the Jardin des Plantes, Frances oldest botanical gardens.

82 Points with which Montpellier HSC did a Leicester and unexpectedly won the French football championship in 2011-12 for the sole time in their history. (Theyre currently mid-table.)

37 Percentage of youth unemployment in the city testament to ongoing economic stagnation in the south, and Montpelliers reputation as a cushy beach-bum option.

and pictures

Theres a Lynchian frisson to Montpellier by night, according to photographer Yohann Gozard. His local nightscapes are currently showing at La Panace gallerys Retour sur Mulholland Drive exhibition.

#sunset #montpellier #france

A post shared by Laurena Stanos (@laurenastanos) on

History in 100 words

Unlike its illustrious neighbours, Montpellier has no Greek or Roman heritage. First mentioned in AD 985, it grew to prominence in the Middle Ages, thanks partly to a school of medicine that quickly became a European leader and is now the worlds oldest active medical faculty. Former pharmacist Anselme-Martin says Montpelliers research culture is one of its highlights: I bathed in it. Ive got lots of friends in the research world, theyre people I appreciate because theyre humble. Open-mindedness was key: in 1180, William VIII decreed that anyone, including Jews and Muslims, could practice in Montpellier though not apothecaries, as Nostradamus, expelled for being one, would learn. Today, the medico-botanical influence is still evident in the scores of biotech and agribusiness companies.

Montpellier in sound and vision

Profound late-career Truffaut or misogynist misstep, depending on who youre talking to, the great director let his wandering eye rove on Montpelliers streets for 1977s The Man Who Loved Women. Here is local directors Yann Sinics airborne tribute to the film.

The Meds little-known skanking outpost, Montpellier has a vibrant roots-reggae scene dating back to the late 1990s. Since 2010, record label Salomon Heritage has taken the reins broadcasting the Jamaican sound system tradition to the Languedoc and further afield.

Whats everyone talking about?

Surprisingly for a small city, Montpellier has ranked high in recent studies of Frances most congested places, rivalling Marseille and Paris. Its less surprising when you look at the thick tangle of arterial roads and exurban sprawl surrounding it. Cutting a 12km scar through the red loam to the south of the city since 2014, is the massive A9 building site currently the countrys largest motorway construction project, designed to siphon off all non-commuter traffic and reroute it southwards.

Whats next for the city?

With real-estate development sprouting up on every side, Montpelliers mayor, Philippe Saurel, is still fixated on showy flagship projects. The Belaroia (jewel in Occitan) is a new luxury hotel and apartments complex expected to be completed opposite central Gare St Roch at the end of 2018, where a fifth tram line a new axis linking villages to the north and southwest may intersect by 2025.

Then there is the flashy 55m LArbre Blanc tower, stylistically situated between Japan and the Mediterranean. Anselme-Martin has her doubts: These showcase buildings are they going to work? Can people afford this housing? Because Languedoc-Roussillon is nearly Frances poorest region. Not much work, a lot of unemployment.

There are certainly signs of development mania. The overarching Occitan region recently withdraw its share of funding for a new 135m out-of-town train station already under construction, after learning that only four TGVs a day will stop there on its initial opening in 2018.

With all this activity, one thing is sure: Nantes, Frances sixth biggest city with a population of about 285,000, is now in Montpelliers sights.

Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro)

Au tour de @montpellier_ davoir sa photo spatiale! Je crois bien avoir loup de peu la Grande-Motte et Palavas-les-Flots #Proxima pic.twitter.com/BpGbVAG2wr

January 30, 2017

Close zoom

The lively but slightly-too-Saurel-friendly Gazette de Montpellier is the local Time Out. MontpellierCityCrunch is the buzziest events guide. The underground-orientated Jacker magazine is Montpelliers answer to the Beastie Boys Grand Royale.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/mar/13/montpellier-spotlight-development-mania-france-fastest-growing-city


Building Zion: the controversial plan for a Mormon-inspired city in Vermont

A Mormon businessman is buying up land to build master-planned towns from scratch, based on the church founders idea for a plat of Zion

The roads through rural Vermont wind past rolling forested hills and quaint small towns, including South Royalton used as the quintessential New England village in the opening sequence of the TV series Gilmore Girls.

A short drive away, the Tunbridge Worlds Fair has run almost continuously since 1867, with games, contests for best pig or pumpkin, and displays of old-time printing presses and candle making.

And not far from there, one stop on the areas low-key tourist trail dotted with maple syrup farms, pottery workshops and picturesque covered bridges, is the birthplace of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church.

The site now hosts a museum, run by the church and staffed by cheerful missionaries. Outside, a giant granite obelisk rises towards the sky. Calming music flows from speakers located high up in the trees. It is a peaceful place, designed to inspire reflection.

But, over the last year, it has also found itself at the centre of a controversy. In front of many houses and shops, signs exclaim: Save our communities. Stop NewVistas.

NewVistas is the name of an unusual, indeed, one-of-a-kind project led by a Mormon businessman named David Hall to build new, master-planned towns from scratch inspired by notes written by Joseph Smith himself in 1833.

Hall says these designs, which described how ideal Mormon settlements should be laid out and were drafted almost 200 years ago, offer answers to modern-day challenges of sustainable living. And to make it happen, he has been buying land lots of it.

The first goal is to build a NewVista community near Smiths birthplace in Vermont, which would be home to about 20,000 people. The next step: to build more. Ultimately, Halls vision describes a new city of connected communities, with a total population of up to one million.

The fantastic story first came to light last spring, thanks to the careful eye and diligent research of a librarian in the small town of Sharon, who uncovered a series of local land purchases that she traced to the businessman and his plans.

Reflecting on that time, Nicole Antal, 30, says shed found it all hard to believe particularly the scale.

City
Plat of Zion by Joseph Smith in 1833. Photograph: https://newvistasllc.sharepoint.com

This is very big for Vermont, she says. Burlington is 40,000 people. Montpellier, the state capital, is 7,000. This is not one guy buying a house and trying something new.

To date, the NewVistas project is thought to have purchased as many as 1,500 acres in central Vermont with plans to buy much more. Its focused on a largely rural area at the intersection of four tiny towns Royalton, Sharon, Stafford and Tunbridge which have a combined population of just 6,400.

Nor is the project just buying up vacant lots. It appears to be purchasing whatever it can. Antal says a few properties sold to NewVistas were second homes. But so far acquisitions have been fragmented parcels.

Antal first blogged about the land purchases in March 2016, setting off a flurry of articles in the local media. Soon Bloomberg Businessweek and the Wall Street Journal picked up the story, revelling in its unusual characters, audacious vision and local controversy.

Residents in Vermont, meanwhile, had started to organise in opposition.

This threat is like nothing weve ever seen or could have conjured up ourselves, says one long-term local resident Jane Huppe, 58, describing it as a top-down venture that doesnt fit with the areas own ideas for how it should develop.

It hit us like a ton of bricks, she adds, suggesting it could completely overwhelm existing communities. Why does he not bring this to where they need massive amounts of housing, instead of disrupting the rural countryside?

Building Zion

Joseph Smith left central Vermont as a child with his family, moving to rural New York, where he later founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But despite his rural upbringing, Smith outlined a vision for new and compact settlements that would go on to influence the planning of hundreds of American towns.

This farm boy … dreamed to build a metropolis that rivalled the large seaport cities he had only heard about, writes the academic Benjamin Park, in a 2013 paper.

In the 1830s, Smith laid out a detailed plan called the plat of Zion. It described new towns, designed to be self-sufficient, ordered by rigid grids, and surrounded by farmland and wilderness.

The
The memorial of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church at his birthplace in Vermont. Photograph: imageBROKER/Rex/Shutterstock

The plan included ideal sizes of streets, blocks and lots. Roads should be straight and oriented to the points of a compass. Homes, built in uniform stone or brick, should sit within deep individual lots, with front yards and back gardens.

Significantly, the plan lacked designated areas for government buildings and town halls, as well as for markets or commercial districts. Instead, central blocks would be set aside for temples and community buildings.

Once fully occupied, with 15-20,000 inhabitants, the settlement would not be expanded. Instead, others would be built, to fill up the world in these last days.

This wasnt a theoretical plan. Smith hoped to build a new town like this in Missouri, specifically. In 1831, he said that Independence, in Jackson County, had been revealed as the land of promise and the place for the City of Zion.

Unlike other new religious movements in America at the time, which were warning congregants of the evils rooted in urban cities, Smith believed that cities were not to be fled, but sacralised, writes Park. This reflected key Mormon principles that focused on establishing a righteous civilisation … rather than individuals.

[Zion] was literally the centre place for a new civilisation destined to expand as Gods people multiplied. Gathering and city building were not incidental parts of sanctification, but the goal.

In the summer of 1833, Smith and other church leaders met in Kirtland, Ohio, and drew up specific blueprints for a city of Zion, including designs for specific buildings. Smith sent these to church members in Missouri, who were to purchase this whole region of country, as soon as time will permit.

It didnt happen; early Mormon settlers were driven out of Missouri. And in 1844, Smith was killed, before his city plan could be realised.

NewVistas,
A computer rendering of a plan for NewVistas that would house, feed and employ 15-20,000 residents. Photograph: NewVistas Foundation

His designs survived, however, and were later used as a blueprint for as many as 500 communities in the American West. In the 1990s, the American Planning Association went so far as to recognise the plat of Zion documents for their historical significance and influence.

Most famously, church leader Brigham Young drew on the plat for the design of Salt Lake City, which was established by Mormon settlers in 1847. The citys core still reflects this: it features wide streets, oriented north-south, and mammoth blocks focusing on Temple Square, where a church museum also holds the original plat of Zion documents.

The concept of Zion remains key to the Mormon faith. The church explains that it represents the pure in heart, but also a place where the pure in heart live. It says: In the latter days a city named Zion will be built [in Missouri] … to which the tribes of Israel will gather. In the meantime, members are counselled to build up Zion wherever they are living.

Salt Lake City itself was also, of course, heavily influenced by broader trends in American life, such as the completion of the transnational railroad in the 19th century, which brought new visitors and migrants, and later by car culture and sprawl.

In December 2016, a popular architecture and design podcast noted that the citys design means that addresses can read like sets of coordinates. 300 South 2100 East, for example, means three blocks south and 21 blocks east of Temple Square. But, it said, the most striking thing about Salt Lakes grid is the scale:

The streets are so menacing and crossings so long that the city has placed plastic buckets on lampposts which hold flags that pedestrians can carry to the other side while crossing. In present-day Salt Lake City, its hard to get around without a car.

Nevertheless, some experts argue that the plat of Zion was a precursor to intelligent urban planning and leaves a legacy that could help tackle haphazard developments today.

The NewVistas project

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A design of food production in the NewVistas Mormon development, Vermont. Photograph: NewVistas Foundation

This is of little comfort for those Vermont residents who oppose NewVistas. The Mormon church, too, is apparently displeased: they dont support the plan.

David Hall, the businessman behind the contemporary and controversial NewVistas project, lives in Provo, Utah. His background is in big energy: he reportedly made his fortune selling sophisticated drilling tools to the oil and gas industry.

In an interview with the Guardian, he says Smiths city plans remain remarkably relevant for todays challenges.

The plat describes a very low footprint, 20,000 people on only three square miles. Everything else was supposed to be wilderness. Its telling us not to sprawl, which is what we do, we even go into the mountains, Hall says. It really makes sense for our time.

The projects website says it follows the plat laid out by Smith and that its architectural plans are also based on the same sizing specifications for early Mormon temples, which were designed to fulfil multiple functions.

David
David Hall with a modular kitchen design in Provo, Utah. Hall, a wealthy Mormon businessman, plans communities of tiny dwellings based on the teachings of church founder Joseph Smith. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

But, Hall says, the goal is to develop secular, sustainable communities taking advantage of modern technology, including food production techniques that make it possible for people to live in ever-smaller spaces. It is envisaged for Mormons and non-Mormons alike.

The NewVistas Foundation argues: Sustainable living in the modern world requires high density urban development, pointing out that sprawl consumes too much energy and other resources, not just in urban areas but rural as well.

It presents a detailed, wide-ranging plan, including specific designs for three-storey standard buildings with apartments, businesses, and some farming and manufacturing, all located in one place.

More futuristic ideas include internal walls and floors that could be moved by robotic systems, so that families could live in small spaces that are easily rearranged. Outside, walkway-podway systems (something like elevated sidewalks and an underground tube network) would operate on multiple levels to transport people and goods. New toilets would monitor users health.

Not unlike Smiths original vision, the foundation says the goal is massive scalability, so that these communities can be replicated to encompass all of the earths billions of people. It calls itself nothing less than a new urban model and economic system for the 21st century.

Each complete NewVista would have as many as one million people, but be composed of 50 similar and carefully designed communities, each with a population of 15,000 to 25,000 and the capacity to be self-sufficient with respect to basic needs.

There are also unusual proposals for how these places will be run: organised according to a private capitalistic economic structure. The community is not a political entity but a productive enterprise, like a company town.

There is even a suggestion that a NewVista Community Corporation would have control over things like land use, transportation, and community environment, which are usually matters of government concern.

Hall predicts that the first NewVistas community could require as much as $3bn (2.3bn) to build, expecting 20% to come from the first residents and the bulk from other investors with nothing from the church.

NewVistas is my own modern interpretation of Joseph Smiths community documents and I have not ever discussed the ideas with the church and wont involve them in the future.

Vermont strikes back

We didnt waste any time when this came up, says Michael Sacca, 61, director of the Alliance for Vermont Communities, a new non-profit organisation formed by local residents in opposition to Halls plans and any other similar large-scale developments in future.

Sitting on the porch outside the house he and his wife built themselves 15 years ago, with the sun setting below the hills around him, he says: We want to protect our future and our childrens future and the region … we want to maintain our lifestyle and our communities.

The NewVistas plans simply dont fit into local, regional or state visions of how Vermont should develop, Sacca argues, which instead aim to concentrate development as much as possible in village centres, town centres, leaving rural areas for rural life.

Sacca also describes the corporate structure envisaged for NewVistas as Orwellian and as an experiment designed to stand on its own as an insulated corporate town.

Residents
Residents attend a public meeting in Tunbridge, Vermont to discuss the NewVistas development, which many oppose. Photograph: Lisa Rathke/AP

Opposition to the project, which would transform the area, has been vibrant and vocal. Sign and stickers are visible on the streets of central Vermont, and petitions are calling for discussion at town meetings in March.

The Alliance is also tracking land purchases. By their count, NewVistas has already acquired an estimated 1,200-1,500 acres of land with purchases continuing despite the controversy.

The Mormon church is itself, a significant land and real estate developer, with farms, ranches, residential and commercial properties across the US. In Florida, a church-owned property is now set to become the site of a new city for as many as half a million people by 2080.

However, it does not seem to be too happy about the NewVistas project either.

In August 2016, a church spokesman said: This is a private venture and is not associated with The Church … [which] makes no judgment about the scientific, environmental or social merits of the proposed developments. However, for a variety of reasons, we are not in favour of the proposal.

The NewVistas website explains that the community layout envisaged follows a city plot pattern created by Joseph Smith in June of 1833. But it also carries an Important Note stating that its model is not presented as a fulfilment of Joseph Smiths vision. It is not supported or endorsed by the Church.

The church in Salt Lake City did not respond to requests for comment or further elaboration of its position.

In Vermont, some of the projects opponents hope they can use Act 250 the states premier land use law to stop it. This law was enacted decades ago after new highways and ski resorts lured investors into the state. It requires that developers comply with regional plans, as a way to manage growth and protect the environment.

Hall acknowledges his project has been controversial and many people are against it. But he says hes drawn to Vermont in particular because of its connection to Joseph Smith, because land is relatively cheap, and because there is too much of what he calls rural sprawl.

Theres lots of rules that keep you from building things, so Vermonters would eventually have to approve it but not right away, Hall adds, stressing that nothing is happening overnight and it would take decades to realise his plan.

He says technical components must first be worked out, and he needs to consolidate land, which can take generations because weve had this trend of subdividing and sprawl, so the reverse process will take a long time. The project, he argues, is very unique, but I have a hard time getting people to really look at it and study it.

Meanwhile, land is also being bought in his home town of Provo, Utah, where NewVistas is again facing local opposition. Professor emeritus at Brigham Young Universitys Marriott School, Warner Woodworth, who lives in Provo, described it as a takeover.

To have someone with money and power enter our area and gradually buy up homes, offering distorted purchase power to grab residences, is troubling. It shakes the peace and violates the sense of continuity and mutual care for one another, Woodworth wrote in September, arguing that Halls plans are also a far cry from the original plat of Zion idea:

Halls system is corporatist, while Josephs was more communal. Hall wants to establish a top-down power structure, whereas Joseph envisioned a bottom-up community of common consent. Hall seeks to control. Joseph sought to liberate. The early Zion plat consisted of large family yards and agriculture. In contrast, Hall plans for tiny urban apartments of 200 square feet in a bare, boring apartment.

But, he suggested: It may have been more achievable and acceptable if he had engaged more participants from the beginning. While one may disagree with some of his ideas, its the process he uses that becomes the fatal step.

As for Antal, who first discovered Halls project, she is concerned about the impact on her family.

There are some good ideas [in the NewVistas project] … Polluting less, creating local agriculture. But I dont think it applies to Vermont. I think Vermont is doing a pretty good job at being sustainable, she says. I dont like that this is being imposed on us.

Read the first part of Claire Provosts investigation into the role of Mormons in city planning here. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/31/building-zion-controversial-plan-mormon-inspired-city-vermont


Beirut’s last public beach: residents fear privatisation of Ramlet al-Baida

A private development close to Beiruts last remaining public beach is sparking anger among residents who fear companies will leave nothing for the poor and middle classes encroaching further into a city that already lacks public space

Take a stroll down the golden sands of Ramlet al-Baida, Beiruts last public beach, and youll see families fishing and smoking shisha in ramshackle palm frond cabanas, boys kicking footballs under battered lamp-posts, and children building sandcastles in the waves. It is a rare outlet in a city where public spaces are few and far between. But at the beachs southern end, the scene abruptly gives way to looming cranes and men in hard hats driving rebars into a rising edifice of concrete.

The development, known as the Eden Bay resort a more than 5,000 sq metre project billed by its website as a sanctuary of luxury and refinement began constructionlast year, sparking outrage among beachgoers, civil society activists and public space advocates. The company behind the project says they have complied with the law and are set to inject vital investment and hundreds of jobs into Lebanons bruised economy. But many of the poor and middle class Beirutis who have been going to the beach for generations see it as an encroachment on one of the few public spaces they have left.

Poor people are trash here, says Hisham Hamdan, 59, glancing at the development as he lounges with a lunch of fish, hummus and vegetables alongside half a dozen friends. Its Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, he adds, listing a few prominent politicians and businessmen. Theyre mafiosos, all of them.

He plucks a cane topped with a bust of Nefertiti from the sand and gestures toward a row of apartment buildings. Look, he says. You know how much that is? Four million dollars. And everyone here has nothing. (Some nearby properties do indeed sell for that much.)

A little way up the beach, Abu Rami, a 43-year-old department store worker who asked to be identified by his nickname so he could speak freely, kicks a football with his son. When I was a bachelor I used to come out to Ramlet al-Baida every day, he says. Id run down here with my friends around six or seven and wed play football. Wed even come out and play football at night wed swim and play and stay out late. Everyone has memories like that.

Eden
Eden Bay resort is set on 5,188 sq metres of Beirut coast. Photograph: Achour Development

Now, he says, people are afraid private companies will overwhelm the beach, leaving nothing for the citys poorer people and middle classes. The way I see it, the people here need to come out and protest against these companies this is repression against the poor.

The roots of anger and suspicion go much deeper than one resort. For a city its size, Beirut has a shocking lack of public space. There is just one major central park Horsh Beirut, which was recently reopened to the public after years of closure while miles of Mediterranean coast are covered with luxury apartments, clubs, restaurants, hotels and resorts that charge hefty entrance fees. For the many Beirutis living on just a few hundred dollars a month, the price to bring a family into one of these clubs could amount to a major chunk of a months salary. If youre poor, you dont always have the right to enjoy the outdoors.

Mohammad Ayoub, executive director of Nahnoo, a civil society group that advocated to reopen Horsh Beirut and is now working to revitalise Ramlet al-Baida, compares the citys situation to a house without a living room the space where a family comes together.

The salon is where you have to learn how to deal with your differences, because everybody owns it. You cant watch TV alone, so you need to discuss what to do. It teaches you dialogue, it teaches you democracy, it makes you feel a sense of belonging. This is why its important.

People
Ramlet al-Baida is Beiruts last public beach. Photograph: Jamal Saidi/Reuters

Such spaces are especially vital given the legacy of sectarian division left by the countrys 1975-90 civil war, he says. But a lack of sufficient public regulation has allowed developers to chip away at such spaces over the years, leaving only a handful open to the public. What do we own in the city? Ayoub says. We own nothing. Why are we here in the city; what can we do in the city? You have to pay for everything.

As one of the few exceptions, Ramlet al-Baida (white sands in Arabic) has long been a magnet for suspicions about developers intentions. Activists point to a 1925 decree declaring everything up to the highest point the waves reach to be public property. However, since the 1960s, a string of exemptions, loopholes, violations and favouritism bestowed upon developers has gradually eaten away at the coastline and left the beach one of the last bastions of free access, they say. The nearby Dalieh outcrop is also under threat, although construction hasnt started.

In a cluttered and dimly lit office in central Beirut, Ali Darwish, head of Green Line, a Lebanese environmentalist group, runs his finger over a satellite image of Ramlet al-Baida, ticking off the plots where he says private developers are bent on building. Ask any older Beiruti above 50 or 60 and they wont even know that this is [privately] owned, he says. Its enshrined, its anchored in our brains that this is public land.

Back in the late 90s, Darwish says his group discovered a plan which showed that former prime minister Rafik Hariri famous for his extensive postwar real estate dealings wanted to turn the area into a marina, an effort quashed by public lobbying. Controversy flared up again in 2015 when a judge permittedtwo companies owning plots on the beachto close them to the public.The judge reversed her decision, but activists were on high alert.

Security
Security forces stand guard during a protest outside the gates of the Eden Rock development last year. Photograph: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Amid the atmosphere of distrust, civil society leaders have trouble seeing the Eden Bay development as anything less than a precursor to a full-scale takeover. Green Line has filed a suit to stop the project but pending a decision, construction has continued. If Eden Bay succeeds, activists believe other developers will undoubtedly follow. Darwish says one plot owner has already filed for a building permit a little further up the beach: This is the door-opener.

Achour Development expresses a very different view of the situation. In an office overlooking downtown Beirut nicknamed Solidere after the company Hariri founded before his 2005 assassination its lawyer Bahij Abou Mjahed, flips through a thick folder of documents which, he says, definitively prove the companys right to build on the land.

An assistant brings copies of the plots ownership records, the projects building permit, clearance from the order of engineers, and a map showing that the development is hundreds of metres from the part of the beach considered public.

Given regional turmoil, the new resort represents a courageous and ambitious project that will add hundreds of jobs to an economy badly in need of them, Abou Mjahed says. Lebanese departments are travelling all over the world to encourage investors to invest in Lebanon. If we create a war against this project, which has all the legal documents and all the legal permissions and permits and decisions, whats the message were sending to the investor? Come to Lebanon and invest, and in a moment somebody will decide that its a public area and stop you?

He says objections to the project are rooted in misunderstandings and, in some cases, conspiracy theories that assume the entire Lebanese government is arrayed against the public. Its against the laws of nature.

Back at Ramlet al-Baida, the nuances of the legal debate are of little interest to most beachgoers; many take it as a given that the system is rigged against them. There are politicians who are monopolising everything. They come down and take money and, so long, its over. They can do what they want, says Abu Rami, the department store worker. The Lebanese people need to stand together. Youll find people coming out and demonstrating against this repression, this theft three quarters of people are with them but they stay in their homes.

Why? Maybe people are distracted, he says. Theyre busy just getting by.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/02/beiruts-public-space-last-beach-residents-fear-privatisation-ramlet-al-baida


‘The building creaks and sways’: life in a skyscraper

From Chicago to Dubai, Manchester to Melbourne, our cities are climbing above the clouds. Whats it like to live on the 64th floor?

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Manhattans avenues stretch north like tracks through a forest, eventually disappearing into Harlem. Below me, Central Park is laid out like a picnic blanket, its largest trees rendered shrub-like. To the south, the Empire State Building pierces the citys canopy of stone and iron, and the blue glass of the new World Trade Center glints beyond it. Between them, the Statue of Liberty is almost lost in the haze.

This is the view from the worlds highest home, as enjoyed virtually, using Google Earth. Because to enjoy it in person would require knowing the unnamed owner of the 800 sq m penthouse at 432 Park Avenue or buying it for more than the $88m (71m) it sold for last year.

But there are alternatives for those with a head for heights and the money to match. Next year, the 426m Park Avenue tower will lose its title to 111 West 57th Street, rising two blocks to the west. Meanwhile in India, the 442m Mumbai World One will push higher still, its Armani-designed penthouses on level 117 offering airliner views of the Arabian Sea.

Once, only offices reached so high. In 2000, there were 215 office towers worldwide above 200m high (the first, the Metropolitan Life Tower in New York, was completed in 1909), but only three residential towers that high. Today, there are 255 residential towers above that height, with a further 184 under construction. Mixed-use towers, with apartments as well as offices and hotels, include the Burj Khalifa, still the worlds tallest building, at 828m. The Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, due to be completed in 2020, will be the first to break 1,000m. Its highest apartments will be on the 156th floor.

What is life like up there? For decades, tower blocks typically comprised social or affordable housing in crowded cities or on new estates. Hundreds were built in the postwar social housing boom, in cities across Europe. But today the highest residential towers are overwhelmingly luxury developments, and many remain empty, weeks after selling. If skyscrapers broke ground as barometers of corporate hubris, increasingly they now stand for personal excess, applying gravity to the wealth divide.

Britain, traditionally a low-rise country, is part of the boom. Skyscraper clusters are casting shadows across London. In Manchester, the first 200m building outside the capital is due for completion next year. Even in Bristol, where St Mary Redcliffe church has been unrivalled in its heavenwards reach for more than six centuries, there are plans for a 22-storey residential tower that would come close.

Jason Gabel, an urban planner at the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which keeps a global skyscraper database, says advances in building technology partly explain the trend. Lifts can now travel at more than 40mph and climb for hundreds of metres, thanks to lightweight carbon fibre ropes. Sophisticated dampening systems at the tops of towers mean slender buildings can rise higher, on smaller urban plots, without toppling in a storm or swaying to the point of causing nausea.

For a growing number of city dwellers, day-to-day life can be a little different. The payoff for peace and endless views can be five-minute waits for the lift at rush hour and even sunburn. You could get tanned in winter if you sat right by the window: theres a bit of a greenhouse effect, the owner of a 64th-floor apartment above Chicago tells me. Vertigo can be another danger. At the top of a tower in east London, former taxi driver Sammy Dias rarely uses his balcony: I dont like heights, and if people go out and start messing about, I can get quite angry, he says from a safe distance inside.

I spoke to residents around the world, and many reported feeling uplifted by their elevated perspective, but there are hidden downsides: a Canadian study of heart attack victims showed survival rates dropped markedly on higher floors, because they were harder for paramedics to reach.

Skyscraping homes have always held an allure; a house with a view, a life in the sky. They frequently evoke dystopian imagery; Ern Goldfingers troubled Trellick Tower in west London, completed in 1972, is thought to have inspired JG Ballards dark thriller High-Rise. It was originally entirely owned by the Greater London Council, and rented out as council flats. Now social tenants of the Grade II*-listed building, and its sister, Balfron Tower in east London, are being displaced by upwards gentrification. Less desirable council towers are reaching the end of their habitable lives, facing decay, demolition or expensive repair.

Meanwhile, the upper floors of many new luxury skyscrapers serve as foreign cash stores: giant briefcases with views. The highest homes in Britain are the 10 luxury apartments between floors 53 and 65 of the Shard. They are among the most opulent in London, yet almost five years after their completion, none is occupied or even for sale or rent. The reason remains a mystery.

Stacking people on shelves is a very efficient method of human isolation, says Jan Gehl, a veteran Danish architect and renowned urban design consultant. A critic of residential towers even where they are fully occupied, Gehl likens them to gated mansions in the sky. Humans, he says, did not evolve to look up or down: We have seen, in the past 20 years, a withdrawal from society into the private sphere, and towers are an easy way to achieve that.

Is this the experience of those who live above our rising cities? Finding out isnt easy; even when or if they are home, residents of the most rarefied apartments in the world are hard to identify, much less reach. But all human life is there, way up on the 64th floor.

Mike Palumbo, 50, trader; Water Tower Place, Chicago

Mike
Mike and Veronica Palumbo on the 64th floor of Water Tower Place, Chicago: Oprah used to live a few floors down. Photograph: Alyssa Schukar for the Guardian

Chicago born and raised, Mike Palumbo is a Bulls fan who grew up on the edge of the city, the son of a truck parts salesman. From a corner near his house, he would gaze at the John Hancock tower, the matt-black, tapering monolith near the lakeshore, and dream big. When I hit 13, I went to high school downtown, Palumbo says. I would take the L train to within a block of the John Hancock. Back then, there was this guy called Spiderman whod climb up it with suction cups. I loved it. Id walk around and I was like, man, Id rather be in the city where all the action is. This is me.

Palumbo became a fund manager and in 2007 made $100m. For 18 years, he has lived in an eight-bedroom apartment on the 64th floor of Water Tower Place, an exclusive residence right across the street from his favourite skyscraper. Oprah Winfrey used to live a few floors down, Palumbo says as we look out, and down, on a forest of skyscrapers. David Axelrod, President Obamas chief strategist, remains a neighbour and chairs the pets committee on the buildings management board. Im a dog lover, but there are people who dont want them in the building, says Palumbo, who also sits on the board. You try to get along, but youve got a lot of very successful people arguing over minuscule things.

The
The Palumbos view of Chicagos John Hancock Center. Photograph: Alyssa Schukar for the Guardian

Half of Palumbos apartment is a man cave, with cigars in a jar on a bar next to a pool table. The other half is crammed with the accessories of parenthood: Palumbo and his second wife, Veronica, had twins last year, and their nanny lives with them. They add five minutes to any journey to allow time to get everything into the elevator. He has four grown-up children from his first marriage, who often visit.

As a young trader, Palumbo got job offers from Wall Street, but never wanted to leave Chicago. I just love this view, he says. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is open the blinds and let the sun come in. It doesnt get any better. Yet he is also scared of heights. Im OK with the windows, but if this was a ledge, Id be freaking out right now. He opens the window and a gust of wind slaps our faces. A spiders web somehow still clings to the frame. I never understand how these guys get all the way up here, he says.

Below us, I count more than a dozen rooftop swimming pools. The 423m Trump Tower dominates the skyline to the south. Later, a cleaning cradle winds past and the men with rags avoid looking through the glass. I would not want that job, Palumbo says.

Ian Simpson, 61, architect; Beetham Tower, Manchester

Ian
We want to intensify the city, not spread it out, says Ian Simpson, at his home on the 47th floor of the Manchester skyscraper he designed. Photograph: Fabio de Paola for the Guardian

Ian Simpson is from a family of demolition experts and grew up in a poor northern suburb of Manchester. I spent my youth climbing up mill chimneys and blowing them up, he says. But, somewhere along the way, I went from knocking things down to putting them back up again.

Simpson became one of Britains leading architects and has been instrumental in Manchesters regeneration, not least since an IRA bomb destroyed large parts of the city centre in 1996. He now occupies a unique position at the top of his own skyscraper, a steel-and-glass eyrie from which he surveys a city he has helped shape. At 47 floors, Beetham Tower cuts a lonely, slender figure above south Manchester, the tallest building in Britain outside London. Nobody thought it was going to stand alone, Simpson says in his vast, two-storey penthouse, which includes what may be Manchesters only olive grove. Other tall buildings had consent, but then we hit the recession.

For 10 years, Simpson and his partner have enjoyed uninterrupted views. The light here is spectacular, he says. It animates the space as it moves around; I find it very uplifting. Its like a little oasis right in the city. But the architect is happy that Manchester is on the rise again. There are plans for almost a dozen new towers above 30 storeys, chief among them the Owen Street development. Designed by Simpsons practice, which he leads with architect Rachel Haugh, it will include a 200m tower of 49 floors, a new high for the city.

Ian
Simpsons view of Manchester. Photograph: Fabio de Paolo for the Guardian

This is what Manchester needs, Simpson says. Historically, nobody lived in the city centre. If you had money, you lived in the leafy suburbs to the south; if you didnt, you lived to the north like me. Thats changing, and we need to have a critical mass to create the jobs and demand for everything else, whether its bars and restaurants or infrastructure.

I have a lovely painting in my office down there of the city in the 18th century. It was a city of towers but they were mill chimneys. When that changed, there were gaps, which generally became car parks. We want to fill those gaps and intensify the city, not spread it out. Like those chimneys, Simpson says, tall buildings provide not only a function, but also an image of confidence.

We move from the living area into the olive grove, which occupies a sort of penthouse conservatory, facing south. Thirty miles to the west, Liverpool is visible on a clear day. The trees, more than 30 of them, were shipped from Italy and lowered through the roof before the buildings crane came down. They love it up here, Simpson says. But theres no pollination: we dont get any bees this high, so there are no olives.

Farimah Moeini, 35, media sales manager; Ocean Heights, Dubai

Farimah
Its a bubble: when I was 16, you heard Arabic music and saw local people, says Farimah Moeini of Dubai, where she lives on the 68th floor. Photograph: Siddharth Siva for the Guardian

As a teenager in Tehran, Farimah Moeini would often fly to Dubai with family and friends. She knew only the old town because that was all there was. Everything you can see here was sand, she says via video call from the Dubai apartment she shares with her British husband, Luke, and their baby, Liam. The Palm, Dubai Marina, all these towers: none of it existed. I remember going to the older malls. Wed have shawarmas and use fake IDs to try to get into bars and clubs. Then it started to grow and it hasnt stopped.

Moeini left Tehran, where her father owned a textiles factory, to go to college in the US. In 2009, she got a job with Yahoo and moved to Dubai at a time when rents were cheap following the global financial downturn. She met Luke, who works in real estate, the following year. They live in a one-bed apartment on the 68th floor of Ocean Heights, a residential block in the marina. Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building, looms 13 miles along the coast.

Farimah
Moeinis view of Dubai. Photograph: Siddharth Siva for the Guardian

You do feel as if youre in a bubble, Moeini says. Sometimes I pinch myself, because a lot of the lifestyle is not really real. Its all so clean and neat and safe. Theres a cultural bubble, too. When I was 16, you would hear Arabic music and see local people everywhere; it was more authentic. I also miss nature. In Iran, we have four seasons, and its beautiful when they change. Here, years go by and you dont know where you are.

But its a nice bubble. Its fun and easy to meet people from all around the world. Its a happy place. I also love being up here its insane how calm you feel. Just waking up every sunrise and staring out to sea is so soothing. If I sit on my sofa and look out, I can only see sea and sky. And they are real.

Sammy Dias, 77, retired taxi driver; Petticoat Tower, London

Sammy
I cant go out on the balcony. They call this one the haunted flat, says Sammy Dias of his home on the 21st floor of Londons Petticoat Tower. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

For more than 30 years, Sammy Dias has lived in Petticoat Tower, a 1970s council block owned by the City of London Corporation, and for most of them hes been on the 21st floor, two down from the roof. On a sunny January afternoon, he draws back the net curtain in his living room and looks east towards Stratford.

Look at that you see the Olympic Stadium there? he asks. The buildings zigzag roof supports come into view three miles away. Since the 2012 Games, it has become dwarfed by taller apartment buildings. Just look at the amount of flats that have gone up: its unbelievable. Its almost happened overnight.

Petticoat
The Gherkin and 110 Bishopsgate flank Petticoat Tower. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Dias drove a black cab in and around the Square Mile for 45 years, until he retired five years ago. From street level and above, he has watched London rise. The Gherkin, just 200m away, casts a shadow over his building. 110 Bishopsgate, with its rooftop sushi restaurant and exposed lifts, rears up just two streets to the west.

Dias turns his gaze down over Aldgate, a hodgepodge of housing and mushrooming hotels, and Petticoat Lane market, where clothing has been sold for centuries. I worked down there when I was an 11-year-old, pulling barrows out, he says. Every stall sells the same thing now. You see that brown building there? Thats where I was born: number one Herbert House.

Dias didnt plan to live high up, and never uses his tiny balcony. He hates heights. Im OK sitting here, but I cant go out there. They call this the haunted flat theres been a suicide from that balcony.

His first flat here was on the 11th floor, but he and his wife, Phyllis, a jewellers bookkeeper, moved up in 1994, when a two-bed flat became available. Soon after, she developed Alzheimers disease; she died in 2001.

It took a while to get used to living here alone, but I have a good routine now, Dias says, sitting in one of the rooms two armchairs. Photos of the couple stand on an old dresser. Sometimes I wake up early and lie there and reminisce, or I might read the paper. Then I get up, have a wash and the radio goes on. I listen to Radio X with Chris Moyles. I cant stand him, but I love the music. Later, Ill go out and meet the little old boy on the estate with the frame. We go to the Bell, where I had my first drink aged 16. Ill have two pints of lager, then two maximum three gin and lemonades, come back up here, have my grub, get relaxed and go to bed.

Dias plans to live out the rest of his days here. My mind is all there. I went to school up until age 11, and I could still tell you everyone who was in my class. Its the genes; Ive got a 90-year-old sister and we have a conversation on the phone. April the first I was born, I was married April 1st and, the way I feel sometimes, Im gonna snuff it on April 1st. Ill do the treble.

A City of London housing officer recently came to discuss a move into a one-bed flat. Dias had suggested it himself, but declined when it became clear that it would mean leaving the building. I said, Ive got friends here! This is my area. Ive got everything and Im happy. Do you know what I call it? I call it my castle.

Traci Ann Wolfe, 40, actor; 8 Spruce Street, New York


From book to boom: how the Mormons plan a city for 500,000 in Florida

The Mormon church owns vast tracts of US land, and now envisages a huge new city on its Deseret Ranch but at what cost?

Everything about the Deseret cattle and citrus ranch, in central Florida, is massive. The property itself occupies 290,000 acres of land more than nine times the size of San Francisco and almost 20 times the size of Manhattan. It is one of the largest ranches in the country, held by the one of the biggest landowners in the state: the Mormon church.

On an overcast weekday afternoon, Mormon missionaries give tours of the vast estate. Fields, orange trees and grazing animals stretch as far as the eye can see. While central Florida may be best known for Disney World, the ranch roughly an hours drive away is nearly 10 times bigger. It is home to a jaw-dropping 40,000 cows and has grown oranges for millions of glasses of juice.

Now there are ambitious, far-reaching plans to transform much of this land into an entirely new city, home to as many as 500,000 people by 2080. Deseret has said that while nothing will be built here for decades, its plans are necessary because urban growth in the area is inevitable and the alternative is piecemeal development. A slide from a 2014 presentation explains: We think in terms of generations.

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The Deseret Ranch in central Florida. The Mormon church has said it plans are necessary because urban growth in the area is inevitable. Photograph: John Raoux/AP

Deserets plans, which were given the green light by local county commissioners in 2015, are thought to be the largest-ever proposed in the state and have attracted high-profile attention. Critics have accused the plans of putting already stressed natural habitats and critical resources, such as water, in further jeopardy.

This is not a typical housing development. It is an entire region of the state of Florida and it is the last remaining wilderness, said Karina Veaudry, a landscape architect in Orlando and member of the Florida Native Plant Society. It is, she stressed, a plan on an unprecedented scale: This project impacts the entire state, ecologically.

For years, environmental groups protested that it was too risky to build so much on such ecologically important land particularly in one of the few areas of Florida that hasnt already been consumed by sprawling developments. We fought it and fought it and fought it, said Veaudry, who described it as nothing less than a David and Goliath struggle.

Except this time, Goliath was part of the property empire of the Mormon church.

Faith and property

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long influenced urban developments in America through specific ideas about town planning. In the 1830s, the churchs founder, Joseph Smith, laid out a vision for compact, self-sufficient agrarian cities. These were utopian in conception and have been hailed as a precursor to smart growth planning.

The plans for the Deseret ranch in central Floridahave shone a spotlight on another side of the churchs influence: its investments in land and real estate. Today, the church owns land and property across the US through a network of subsidiaries. Its holdings include farmland, residential and commercial developments, though it remains notoriously tight-lipped about its business ventures.

The church has been buying up land in central Florida since the 1950s, starting with 50,000 acres for Deseret Ranch since expanded almost sixfold. Its most recent major acquisition, by the church-owned company AgReserves, was another 380,000 acres in the states north-western panhandle the strip of land that runs along the Gulf of Mexico. Deseret Ranchs website quotes the late church president, Gordon B Hinckley, as saying that farms are both a safe investment where the assets of the church may be preserved and enhanced and an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need.

Across America, subsidiaries of the church reportedly hold 1m acres of agricultural land. This is thought to include land in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas. Church companies are also thought to hold land outside the US, including in Canada and Brazil. In 2014, when church-owned farms in Australia were put up for sale, reports estimated their worth at about $120m (72.8m).

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The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City where the church has its headquarters. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Recent real estate investments by church companies include the 2016 purchase of a 380-unit apartment complex in Texas, estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars, and, in Philadelphia, a shopping area, a 32-storey apartment block and a landscaped plaza being built across the street from a newly constructed Mormon temple.

In Salt Lake City, where the church has its headquarters, a church company is currently working on a new master-planned community on the citys west side for almost 4,000 homes. Last year, another investment was unveiled: the new high-end 111 Main skyscraper. Goldman Sachs is reportedly signed up as a tenant.

This city was built by Mormons. In the 19th century, early Mormon settlers gave Salt Lake City bridges, miles of roads, rail and other infrastructure. Hundreds of businesses were also set up: banks, a network of general stores, mining companies. The citys Temple Square is filled with statues glorifying the pioneers.

Nearby is a more contemporary monument to the investing and enterprising church: the City Creek Center, a new shopping mall with 100 stores and a retractable glass roof. It cost an estimated $1.5bn. At its grand opening, a church leader cut a pink ribbon and cheered: One, two, three lets go shopping!

The church said its investment in the mall would help revitalise central Salt Lake City as part of a wider multibillion-dollar initiative called Downtown Rising. Bishop H David Burton said it would create the necessary jobs and added that any parcel of property the church owns that is not used directly for ecclesiastical worship is fully taxed at its market value.

The City Creek Center project has been controversial, however even among Mormons. Some current and former church members have questioned why money invested in such projects isnt spent on charitable initiatives instead.

In 2013, Jason Mathis, executive director of Salt Lake Citys Downtown Alliance business development group, said the church was an interesting landlord. Theyre not worried about the next quarter, he explained. They have a much longer perspective they want to know what the city will look like in the next 50 or 100 years.

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The City Creek shopping centre in Salt Lake City, which reportedly cost $1.5bn. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Black box finances

Projects such as the Salt Lake City shopping centre have certainly focused attention on the churchs investments, but it remains secretive about its revenues and finances.

An entity called Deseret Management Corporation is understood to control many of the churchs enterprises, through subsidiaries focused on different commercial interests including insurance and publishing.

Several church ventures bear the name Deseret itself a term from the Book of Mormon meaning honeybee and intended to represent goals of productivity and self-sufficiency.

In central Florida, the churchs Deseret Ranch is understood to sell cows to Cargill, a Minnesota-based trading company, and oranges to Tropicana, as well as renting land to hunters and other companies.

Deseret, however, declined to confirm this. It said: As a private investment affiliate of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret Ranch does not release financial information or details about our production and customers.

The churchs press office in Salt Lake City also did not respond to emails from the Guardian.

Previously, church officials have emphasised that finance for its companies investments do not come from tithing donations (church members are supposed to contribute 10% of their income each year) but from profits from other such ventures.

But these and other claims, even when offered, are also difficult to verify. Ultimately their finances are a black box according to Ryan Cragun, associate professor of sociology at the University of Tampa.

Cragun previously worked with Reuters to estimate in 2012 that the church owns temples and other buildings worth $35bn and receives as much as $7bn in members tithing each year. But he says the church stopped releasing annual financial information to its own members many years ago.

Estimating their total land holdings? Good luck, says Cragun. Nobody knows how much money the church actually has and why theyre buying all of this land and developing land.

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The Mormon church-owned skyscraper at 111 Main in Salt Lake City. Photograph: City Creek Reserve

A new city for Florida

Over the last half-century, Florida has become something of a laboratory for ambitious and sometimes surreal master-planned communities. In southern Florida, for example, the founder of Dominos Pizza funded the construction of a Catholic town called Ave Maria. Closer to Orlando is the town of Celebration, developed by the Walt Disney Company, where shops on meticulously maintained streets sell French pastries and luxury dog treats.

Across Florida, more new subdivisions and developments are planned. Many of these projects have drawn criticism for their potential impact on Floridas already stressed water resources.

Sprawl is where the money is, and people want homes with big lawns and nearby golf courses, a columnist for the Florida Times-Union newspaper recently lamented. He suggested the state should step in to ban water-hungry grass varieties and introduce stronger planning procedures to limit large-scale developments.

The ranchs plans are the largest of these yet. Indeed, they are thought to be the largest-ever proposed in the state, and this land lies in an area thats been called Floridas last frontier.

In 2015, local Osceola county officials approved the North Ranch sector plan, which covers a 133,000-acre slice of Deseret property. As part of this plan, tens of thousands of these acres have been earmarked for conservation lands, not to be built on; and, in addition, Deseret has insisted that it will also continue ranching operations here for generations in the future.

But most of this land, under the approved plan, could be transformed into a new urban landscape. By 2080, it could be home to as many as 500,000 people. The plan explicitly refers to a new fully functioning city.

It envisages a massive development complete with a high-intensity, mixed-use urban centre and a variety of centres and neighbourhoods. There would be 16 communities and a regional hub with a footprint of around one square mile equal to [that] of downtown Orlando.

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The Lake Nona complex of master-planned communities where the grass is greener. Photograph: Claire Provost

New office blocks, civic buildings, high-rise hotels and apartment buildings are among the structures anticipated, along with new schools, a hospital, parks and a university and research campus. New motorways and rail lines would connect it all to Orlando and cities along Floridas eastern coast.

The document argues that the plan is necessary to prepare for expected population growth. More than 80% of the vacant developable land in the very area where demographic and economic forces are propelling an increasing share of the regions population and job growth is located on Deserets North Ranch, it says.

In an email to the Guardian, Dale Bills, a spokesperson for Deseret Ranch, said it offers a framework for future land use decisions but will not be implemented for decades.

Were not developers, but the sector plan allows us to be involved in shaping what the ranch will look like over the next 50-60 years, Bills said. When growth does come to the region the plan will help create vibrant communities that are environmentally responsible and people-friendly, he said.

The plan also provides for continued farming operations, Bills added, meaning that generations from now, Deseret will still be doing what we love growing food and caring for the land.

Meanwhile, the ranch has set aside another, smaller block of its land for a separate and more immediate project called Sunbridge, to be developed by the Tavistock Group known in the area for its Lake Nona complex of master-planned communities just south-east of Orlandos international airport.

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A render of the Lake Nona development. Photograph: KPMG

On a weekday afternoon, the still largely empty Lake Nona development is silent. Signs planted by the road proclaim it is where the grass is greener. At the visitors centre, a pair of well-dressed women chat over coffee. A sales agent hands out glossy brochures with aspirational verbs embossed on its cover: DISCOVER. EVOLVE. INNOVATE.

Still under construction, Lake Nona describes itself as a city of the future with super-fast internet connections, one of the top private [golf] clubs in the world and homes ranging from luxury apartments to sprawling estates. Less than an hours drive from the ranch, it offers a potential hint of whats to come.

The damage is done

Until this happened [the ranch] was a quiet neighbour, said Jenny Welch, 54, a registered nurse and environmental activist who lived in the area for decades before leaving earlier this year. When I first moved here in 1980, I thought it was great because it would never be developed. This is such environmentally important land. Its a wildlife corridor. There are wetlands.

Major concerns about the Deseret North Ranch plan have included how much water it will consume, the impact of proposed new roads and the amount of land set aside for conservation.

Veaudry, the Orlando landscape architect, said environmental groups tried to engage with the Deseret plans from the beginning by raising concerns but also suggesting enhanced measures to protect local ecosystems.

But, she said, what was ultimately approved was pretty much the nail in the coffin for decades-long efforts to establish a north-south ecological corridor to allow wildlife and ecosystems to flow across the state. It would put literally a city right in the middle of it, she said.

The new city envisaged for this land wont be constructed overnight. While the overall plan for the area has been approved, more approvals will be needed on specific details. This has not reassured critics.

Florida environmentalist Charles Pattison has argued that the long time frame only makes it harder to monitor the project. People involved in this today will not be around to see [it] through to completion, as many new administrative and elected officials will come and go over that time, he said.

The main guidelines, the amount of conservation, how wide the buffers have to be, all of that is already approved and set, said Veaudry. As far as I understand it, the damage is done. Locals know what happened. The Mormon church is the largest landowner here. And they have enormous resources.

The second half of Claire Provosts exploration of Mormon city planning will appear tomorrow. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/30/from-book-to-boom-how-the-mormons-plan-a-city-for-500000-in-florida


Will New York get a Brexit boost to cancel out feared ‘Trump slump’?

While European cities led by Paris and Frankfurt wage campaigns for Londons financial business, some experts predict New York could benefit most of all from the fallout of Brexit on the UK capital

New York and London function as two prongs of one global economy. Banks and other financial companies headquartered in New York usually have their second biggest offices in the British capital, and vice versa.

For years, thats made economic sense. For London-based companies, New York provides an unparalleled density of financial firms, a regulatory framework in which to do business, and access to non-European markets. London provides much of the same for New York-based companies who need access to European markets.

Unfortunately for London, at least Brexit could change all of that: an isolated UK could mean financial firms would have a hard time accessing and doing business with other European markets. And while several EU rivals, from Frankfurt to Paris to Madrid to Amsterdam, are waging campaigns for Londons financial businesses, New York with its already established financial sector and finance-friendly regulatory environment could get the majority of Brexits financial runoff, according to some experts.

And this has New Yorkers bracing for a wave of British capital that could affect not only the financial industry but the entire city, from cultural production to housing.

People financial people, consultants, bankers already started calling looking for apartments two or three months ago, says Gennady Perepada, a real estate consultant who specialises in helping foreign millionaires and billionaires buy apartments in New York. Any problem thats not in New York is good for New York.

London and New Yorks financial industry rivalry goes back decades, and the two cities jockey for the title of biggest financial centre each year. According to Z/Yen, a London-based business think tank, London currently outranks New York by just one point on their scale. The next financial centre, Singapore, is 42 points behind New York.

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The New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In other words, New York and London stand alone as centres for global finance, far ahead of the competition. Thats for a few simple reasons: both have a tremendous density of talent, they house large groups of ancillary financial service professionals lawyers, accountants, consultants and, most importantly, their clearing houses (the places where investors and sellers can trade in complex financial instruments) are the worlds most developed, meaning London and New York are the only places where all of the worlds major currencies can be traded.

The UK has over one million people employed in finance, says Vincenzo Scarpetta, a senior policy analyst at the think tank Open Europe. The whole city of Frankfurt, by comparison, has 725,000 inhabitants. So there are only a few global centres where the industry can really go.

Indeed, New York is such an obvious choice for capital fleeing from London post-Brexit that it seems, unlike other European cities, it hasnt had to move a finger to convince British investors to consider taking the leap.

Ive talked to CEOs who are being heavily wooed by Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, Frankfurt. Theyve sent out delegations, had formal presentations, says Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, which represents and lobbies for the financial industry and other corporations here. Is New York doing anything similar? No.

Wylde and others say its because New York already has more immediate advantages: a larger talent pool than any of those cities plus more English speakers, and a pre-existing regulatory system for complex financial transactions such as derivatives.

But its also because any benefit for New York will take a while to materialise, so theres no rush to woo financial firms. Wylde envisions a slow bleed from Britain, not a flood: the majority of jobs in financial services are mid-level jobs, she points out, and the expensiveness of New York makes it unlikely companies would uproot their support and administrative staff for its shores.

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Rents have already skyrocketed in New York. Photograph: Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Instead, she says, headquarters of financial institutions that need to attract top international talent would be the ones relocating but slowly. These are long-term implications that really depend on how Brexit shakes out.

In New York, however, nearly every industry is tied into finance, and the industries most closely associated with it such as real estate are already feeling impacts post-Brexit, albeit at a low level.

Money-seeking New York or London will now fall in New York instead, says Will Silverman, managing director of investment sales at Hodges Ward Elliott, a commercial real estate investment firm based in London which recently opened offices in New York. But its probably actually less impactful than people thought it would be, especially if Brexit takes forever, and is walked back at all.

Still, some New Yorkers are worried about what global market fluctuations will do to the city. New Yorks theatre scene, for example, is heavily reliant on British and other foreign capital.

Whenever theres a global event, investors and consumers freeze up and stop reaching for their wallets, says Ken Davenport, a long-time Broadway producer. But there hasnt been a freeze yet, and he says that even with Brexit, people need to be entertained, so hes not too worried.

Im more worried about what Brexit will do to the West End than to Broadway, he adds.

The biggest concern, it seems, comes from New Yorks most vulnerable, who have been increasingly destabilised by the citys globalised economy. Rents in New York have skyrocketed in the last decade, and that means any new wave of capital fleeing Britain and entering New York could put further pressure on previously poor neighbourhoods already feeling a housing crunch, leading to even more evictions and rent increases.

In Brooklyn for example, many condo projects rely on billions of dollars from foreign investors seeking to place their money in economies more stable than those of their home countries. If the UKs economy destabilises because of Brexit, there could be even more capital finding its way into buildings in vulnerable neighbourhoods.

A lot of the rent-stabilised buildings here are being bought up by foreign investors, says Imani Henry, an anti-gentrification activist in the Flatbush neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Theyre being wooed with citizenship and tax breaks, and meanwhile we have entire blocks of businesses closing because of high rents.

Ironically, for those nervous about the effects of Brexit, Donald Trump may yet prove their saving grace. His election as the 45th US president may destabilise its economy enough to overwhelm any effect that capital from the UK could have on New York.

If the UK has excluded itself from the world economy, New York will gain. That was my first thought, until Trump was elected, says Richard Florida, director of cities at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. Trump is worse for the global economy than Brexit, so they kind of balance each other out.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/jan/24/new-york-brexit-boost-trump-slump-fears-financial-business


Venice’s black enclave buffeted by police pressure and tech-driven gentrification

The Oakwood area of Los Angeless coastal resort is changing fast on the back of the Silicon Valley boom and a gang injunction some say amounts to harassment

African Americans helped to build Venice a century ago, gifting Los Angeles a coastal resort, but were banned from owning homes along the boardwalk and canals, which were reserved for white folk.

Instead a one-square-mile cluster of streets a mile inland, away from tourist view, was set aside for black residents. It was called Oakwood and became a tight-knit community with vibrant street life, neighbours saluting each other from porches.

Its nickname, Ghost Town, possibly alluded to life in the shadows. It was one of the only enclaves for blacks, and later Latinos, close to the ocean on the entire US west coast.

These days Ghost Town has a new meaning.

All the people that used to live here have moved out, said Charles Williamson, 84, a retired clerk. Took the money and run. Or couldnt afford to live here. Or got harassed out of it.

Venice, a chameleon that has been an oil town, bohemian idyll, crumbling ghetto and tourist mecca, is adopting a new guise: tech citadel.

Tech-driven gentrification is also transforming San Francisco, Oakland and other California cities but in Venice there is a twist. A police gang injunction is allegedly accelerating the process by hounding black and Latino residents.

A drastic measure adopted in 1999 to contain gang violence has endured even though Oakwood is now largely peaceful, with gang members dead, retired or dispersed. The injunction covers parts of adjacent Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a parade of chi-chi boutiques, cafes and restaurants which GQ dubbed the coolest block in America.

Members of Oakwoods dwindling population of colour allege police use the injunctions extensive powers to harass them while turning a blind eye to infractions by white arrivals.

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Donald Coulter, centre, playing dominos with friends in Oakwood park, Venice. Photograph: Rory Carroll

We dont feel welcome here. Wrong complexion, said Donald Coulter, 61, a lifelong resident, who was playing dominos with black friends in the park.

Another man in his 60s, who declined to be named because he felt targeted by the injunction, said he could be detained just for greeting a friend in the street while whites rode bikes without lights and walked dogs off leashes, trivial-seeming violations that underlined racial inequity.

Robin Rudisill, a former neighbourhood council member, shook her head when asked about gentrifiers. Gentrifuckers, she corrected.

Census and city figures show that since 1980 the proportion of black residents has almost halved from 9.6% to 5.4%, a trend probably amplified by the current real estate boom.

Soaring property values Venice is pricier per square foot than Beverly Hills, Bel Air and San Francisco have tempted many to cash in on properties inherited from parents and grandparents. Some have moved to other parts of LA, others out of California altogether.

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Jataun Valentine outside her Venice home, built by her grandfather in 1925. Photograph: Rory Carroll

Jataun Valentine, 79, who lives in a house her grandfather built, said long-term neighbours and the wooden bungalows they called home were vanishing, giving way to high fences and mansions of steel and glass. The new neighbours are all hiding. You never see them. Everything is like a fortress.

Ira Koslow, president of Venices neighbourhood council, said sellers were just as culpable as the buyers who replaced airy bungalows with monster homes. Its heartbreaking. But its an economic issue not a race issue. This is capitalism. People who have owned property since forever got a huge bonus.

The gang injunction, however, injects an additional factor. A civil court order, it imposes parole-like restrictions on suspected gang members, for instance socialising with other suspected gang members, including relatives. Or wearing colours associated with a gang. Violators can can be charged with contempt and jailed for six months.

LA has used such injunctions since the late 1980s when the city became a byword for drive-by shootings. Homicide rates in LA County have since plunged from 2,589 in 1992 to 649 last year, and LA is now one of the USs safest metropolises. But the injunctions endure.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit last month to stop the enforcement of 46 separate injunctions against approximately 10,000 people covering 75 square miles, or 15%, of LA. The suit complained authorities often obtained an injunction against a gang, not individuals, but that police were then free to slap restrictions on anyone.

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Jataun Valentine viewing family portraits in the Venice house her grandfather built. Photograph: Rory Carroll

Those who have been on the injunction for decades feel like theyre under constant scrutiny. Its used as a tool of harassment, said Catherine Wagner, an ACLU attorney who specialises in policing in southern California.

Melvin Hayward, a gang-prevention activist with the Helper Foundation, called the Venice injunction obsolete and unjust. We call it blanket suppression. Affected people could not leave home together, even if related, he said.

The harassment fuelled gentrification, Hayward said. Definitely a connection. Youre seeing black and brown being targeted.

Josh Green, of the not-for-profit Urban Peace Institute, cited one man, out from jail, who was returning home from his job as a security guard when police stopped and detained him because his cousin was giving him a lift. He was sent back to prison.

Whether or not it was an original tool of gentrification, Green said, it became a component. People feel fear about being in their communities so they work very hard to stay out of sight or just move out.

The LAPD did not respond to an interview request for this article.

Matthew Royce, an architect and neighbourhood council member who has built property in Oakwood, said there was bias against residents of colour but that crime remained an issue. While living in Oakwood I heard shooting several times. Pop pop pop.

A hooded man shot and killed a traffic worker in August.

For Mark Ryavec, head of the Venice Stakeholders Association, the notion that police act as gentrification agents is a bunch of radical bullshit.

Residents
Residents complain that they are harassed by police while white newcomers transgressions, such as failing to control their dogs, are ignored. Photograph: Rory Carroll for the Guardian

Residents, he said, were cashing in on soaring property values and resettling in comfortable homes in cheaper areas. A large population of black Americans who may have owned from Abbot Kinneys time voluntarily took their equity and left, he said, referring to the tobacco baron who conceived Venice.

Oakwoods transformation unfolds largely unseen by the 150,000 tourists who throng the carnivalesque boardwalk of buskers, drum circles, painters, bodybuilders and exhibitionists every weekend.

Guests at the Airbnb properties which now sprinkle Oakwood can see the building blitz but the glass and steel stucco boxes are indistinguishable from the others popping up across Venice.

Either from temptation or pressure the slow-motion exodus seems set to continue.

The tech cash wave fuelling property prices and a homelessness crisis hundreds sleep in Venices doorways and on the beach is about to become a tsunami. The social media company Snap, which hosts 600 employees across Venice, is expected to debut on the stock market next year with a $25bn valuation.

How much longer Oaklands ageing African American population clings on is anyones guess.

Some, like Ricky, 54, a low-income housing resident on disability benefit, who declined to give a last name, are philosophical. Most days he sits on a porch, watching the new buildings go up. Were getting used to the white folks, he said. Blacks are moving out all the time. You have to change with the times. Thats the way life is.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/01/venice-gentrification-oakwood-african-american-california


Trumpitecture: what we can expect from the billionaire cowboy builder

The tower with a combover, the 90-storey skyscraper with just 72 floors, the name in huge shiny letters Trump says his buildings are beautiful. But all they stand for is money, status and power

As the self-styled builder president, Donald Trump began his electoral campaign with a grand architectural promise. I will build a great wall, he said, standing in the lobby of his proudest creation, Trump Tower in New York, surrounded by 240 tonnes of pink Breccia Pernice marble. Nobody builds walls better than me, believe me. And Ill build them very inexpensively.

The billionaire real estate tycoon and president-elect has made a career out of building inexpensive walls and filling them with very expensive apartments. But this would be a wall of a different kind: an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall that would march along the Mexican border, to keep out the drugs, crime and rapists, punctuated with one big, beautiful door presumably so his Trump Tower taco bowls could still come in.

Like most of Trumps policies, the wall has always been big on bluster but light on detail. It mysteriously grew in height as his campaign snowballed, from 30 to 55ft, while budgets rose from $8bn to $12bn. Independent assessments suggest it would cost more like $25bn and require more than three times as much concrete as the Hoover Dam. Unperturbed, Trump insisted his wall would have beautiful everything and be just perfect. Maybe someday theyll call it the Trump Wall. So I have to make sure its beautiful, right? Since winning the election he has conceded that, in places, it might actually be a fence.

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Tall storeys Trump Tower apartments start on floor 30 despite there being just 19 floors below them. Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/ Getty

If its anything like the other edifices that bear his name, in 20ft high bronze letters, beauty might be stretching it. From the serrated flanks of his brooding Trump Tower to the gold lam attire of his Las Vegas hotel, his buildings glow with a surface sheen, like his own bronzed face, but it is a veneer of luxury that masks a prosaic product underneath.

As the former New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp put it, Trumps towers dont quite register as architecture but instead stand as signs of money, status, power like the diamonds, furs, yachts and other tokens of the deluxe life enjoyed in Marbella. What Muschamp found objectionable about Trumps taste was not the desire for attention, for the best, the most, the tallest, the most eye-catching but his failure to realise these desires creatively in the architectural medium. For the king of superlatives, nothing has ever turned out quite as tremendous as he promised.

His first Manhattan project, completed in 1980, set the tone, taking the ailing Commodore hotel, a handsome brick and limestone building from 1919, and entombing it inside a shell of mirrored glass. It spawned the Trump style of wrapping standard buildings in paper-thin party costumes of chrome, bronze or gold depending on the occasion, and adorning them with sparkly signifiers of glitz and glamour.

Just like his policies, Trumps real estate projects are often characterised by bold claims that dont quite stand up beginning with their height. He famously inflates the floor numbers of his buildings: the 90-storey Trump World has 72 floors, while apartments in Trump Tower begin at floor 30, despite there being just 19 commercial storeys below them. People are very happy, he has said, openly proud of his marketing ruse. They like to have apartments that have height, the psychology of it.

The Trump Tower in Chicago was planned to be the tallest building in the world when it was announced in 2001, but it was hurriedly scaled back following the 9/11 attacks despite Trumps rhetoric of not being cowed by terrorists. It now stands like a stunted Mini-Me version of Dubais Burj Khalifa (designed by the same architect), at less than half the height of its Arabian cousin.

Lacking the desired height, Trump tried to make up for it with the size of his sign, which spells out his name in back-lit stainless steel letters running the length of half an American football field across the 16th floor. Mayor Rahm Emanuel slammed the sign as tasteless and set about changing the citys regulations to prevent a repeat of such vulgarity. As ever, Trump hurried to Twitter to defend his creation: Before I bought the site, the Sun Times had the biggest, ugliest sign Chicago has ever seen, he thundered. Mine is magnificent and popular.

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Taken down a billboard in Dubai, where Trump is building a golf course in the desert. Photograph: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty

But the popularity of the Trump brand a byword for Superior Quality, Detail and Perfection according to his website has suffered hammer blows as a result of his vitriolic presidential campaign. In Dubai, where he is building a golf course in the desert, a large billboard featuring the man himself swinging a club was taken down following the announcement of his plan to ban Muslims from entering the US, while sales of his home decor range were also suspended.

In Istanbul, where the conjoined tilting shafts of the Trump Towers loom 150 metres above the city, President Erdoan has declared that the ones who put that brand on their building should immediately remove it. Even before his comments, the $300m scheme had not provided the premium that investors were promised.

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Prices slashed the Trump Ocean Club, Panama City. Photograph: Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images

Similar stories of inflated expectations, followed by legal wrangling, are repeated across the globe. The Trump Ocean Club in Panama was plagued by delays. By the time the yonic edifice was completed in 2011, there was a glut of high-end apartments, so prices were slashed and many buyers walked away. The condo owners association is trying to sack Trumps management company, claiming it exceeded budgets and used its fees to cover hotel costs. Trump, in turn, is now seeking $75m in damages.

The Trump Tower hotel in Toronto topped with a strange quiff like the man himself also opened late to find the market flooded with five-star hotels. It has been subject to a lawsuit by buyers who say they were misled by marketing materials, while the local developer is also trying to remove Trumps name from the project.

Trump
Topped with a strange quiff like the man himself the Trump Tower hotel in Toronto. Photograph: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/ Getty

The story is repeated in New York, where Trump unusually settled a lawsuit brought by buyers of his $450m Trump SoHo development. They asserted that they had been defrauded by exaggerated claims. He admitted no wrongdoing however. According to the New York Times earlier this year, a separate lawsuit stated that the project was developed with the undisclosed involvement of convicted felons and financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Elsewhere, plans for further Trump towers, from Rio to Azerbaijan, have hit the buffers, while recent records show his controversial golf courses in Scotland have made losses of almost 26m. In sum, it all suggests that Trump might not be quite the star deal-maker he claims to be. So what is it like to be on the wrong side of his famous deals?

Architect
Architect Andrew Tesoro. Photograph: UPI/Barcroft Images

Architect Andrew Tesoro had first-hand experience of being on the receiving end of the Trump Organisations deal-making machine when he was commissioned to design the Trump National golf club in New York state, a process that left him on the verge of bankruptcy. Driven by Trumps infectious enthusiasm, the project quickly tripled in size along with the associated workload but the additional fees were not forthcoming.

By the time the building was completed, Tesoro had amassed unpaid invoices to the tune of $140,000. After endless requests and meetings with his associates, he finally got a face-to-face meeting with Trump, which proved to be a textbook lesson in Trumps trademark cocktail of charm and ruthlessness.

He told me that we built the most spectacular clubhouse in the world, Tesoro recalls. I was the finest architect hed ever met, he was going to make this project the best-known building of its type in the world, the next project was going to give me the opportunity to recoup any money that Id lost and, just because Im such a nice guy, he was going to offer me $25,000 to go away.

The
The Trump National golf club in New York state. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

At first Tesoro declined, so he was handed over to Trumps attorney. The attorney told me quite directly that, if I sued, I would probably get all the money I was owed, but that it was his job to make it take so long, and cost me so much, that it wouldnt be worth it.

It raises questions over how Trump plans to administer his $500bn infrastructure plan, a scheme that has already got the construction industry salivating at the thought of the tax-credit-driven contracts. We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals, Trump declared in his victory speech. Were going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.

Tesoro featured in this Clinton campaign video

The American Institute of Architects was quick to pledge its unwavering support to the new administration, writing that its 89,000 members stand ready to work with Trump on his grand building plan. But it turns out that the AIA had neglected to consult its members, many of whom have pointed out that Trumps bigoted pronouncements dont quite chime with the institutes diversity and inclusion goals.

The Architects Newspaper, meanwhile, warned that architects who contributed to the proposed border wall or its attendant detention centres, federal and private prisons, and militarised infrastructure would be perpetuating inequality and the racist patriarchy of Trumps ideology.

As architect and critic Michael Sorkin writes in an open letter: Trumps well-documented history of racial discrimination, tenant harassment, stiffing creditors, evasive bankruptcies, predilection for projects of low social value such as casinos and his calculated evasion of the taxes that might support our common realm are of a piece with his larger nativist, sexist, and racist political project.

He concludes: We call upon the AIA to stand up for something beyond a place at the table where Trumps cannibal feast will be served. Let us not be complicit in building Trumps wall but band together to take it down!

The AIA has since issued a grovelling video apology, admitting their statement was tone deaf while no doubt rushing out to stock up on security fencing and gold glazing catalogues.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/nov/27/architecture-donald-trump-tower-president-elect


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