London's skyscrapers are a monument to the city's worship of finance

Cash boxes in the sky. Image: Getty.

A new skyscraper is set to join the City of London’s world-famous collection of oddly-designed buildings with novelty names. With 73 storeys, the Trellis will rival the Shard in height, and overshadow its next-door neighbours, the Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie and the Cheesegrater. If all goes to plan, the tower will rise from the rubble of the existing Aviva building at 1 Undershaft, sometime in the 2020s.

In the aftermath of Brexit – at a time when investors are spooked and the pound has plummeted – the local government of London’s finance district (the City of London Corporation) was on the look out for a good news story. Keen to cast off the shroud of uncertainty and cement London’s status as a global financial hub, the City of London’s planning and transport committee chair, Chris Hayward, boldly proclaimed that “this development shows the high levels of investor confidence in London’s status as a global city following our decision to leave the European Union”.

Yet skyscrapers are not just slick, glassy lures for business and wealth; they tell us something about the character of London itself. St Paul’s Cathedral used to be the dominant landmark of the city, impressing locals and visitors alike with its scale and architectural finesse. Now, skyscrapers are the dominant structures, giving the finance sector an imposing physical presence.

Power building

Just as cathedrals were historically built to represent the power and presence of the church in everyday life, the Trellis is the latest tall building to speak for the dominance of the global financial market as a driving force in Western society. The scale and the grandeur of these distinctive constructions is a tribute to those who deliver the City’s wealth and success – and a symbol of the power they hold.

This power comes from the City of London’s status as one of the largest concentration of banking and financial services industries in the world. The City turns over an estimated $1.9trn worth of foreign exchange each day, accounting for 37 per cent of global capital flows.

It is also a critical site for job creation, with nearly 150,000 people employed by the financial sector and a further 140,000 in legal and accounting professions. In fact, countless jobs throughout the UK depend of the prosperity of its financial sector.

The fable of St Paul and the Cheesegrater. Image: Tim Benedict Pou/Flickr/creative commons.

There is a dark side to these built behemoths, though. For those who pass through the City’s streets, the shadows of these towering structures loom over the tightly knitted network of lanes and alleys, creating a sinister and somewhat claustrophobic feeling. They can intrude into, or even engulf public spaces, blocking out the sun or blocking off access routes.

There have been some attempts made to humanise these buildings. Their strange names and peculiar shapes have become figures of fun and play. They offer viewing platforms, sky-high dining experiences and interactive learning environments, to invoke a sense of identity and ownership.


Human error

But above all else, skyscrapers symbolise the deep entrenchment of market ideology within the very fabric of our society. These buildings mark out a stark geographical boundary of wealth and exclusivity, while their growing numbers reflect the concentration of wealth, not only in a specific area of London, but among a particular class of people. High levels of inequality indicate that this fountain of wealth does not trickle down throughout the rest of society – instead, it swills around the City.

Yet if it seems the architecture in this area of London is an uncritical homage to capitalism, then dig a little deeper: there are cautionary tales hidden in the history of London’s built environment. The failed Pinnacle project is an allegory for the financial market’s instability – and the devastating consequences when it fails.

The Pinnacle was designed to be 62 storeys tall – but it never rose beyond seven. After the global financial crisis hit in 2008, funding dried up, construction was halted, and the Pinnacle became known as the Stump. Only this year have developers been given permission to proceed with a new high-rise design, which will grow alongside the Trellis, to be completed in 2019.

Failed funding structures and overconfident developers are as much a part of the modern financial sector as wealth and job creation. But while old foundations can be used for new buildings, the massive impacts of financial sector failures are more difficult to mend.The Conversation

Alex Simpson is a lecturer in criminology at the University of Brighton.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

“Black cabs are not public transport”: on the most baffling press release we’ve seen in some time

An earlier black cab protest: this one was against congestion and pollution. I'm not making this up. Image: Getty.

You know, I sometimes think that trade unions get a raw deal in this country. Reports of industrial action almost always frame it as a matter of workers’ selfishness and public disruption, rather than one of defending vital labour rights; and when London’s tube grinds to a halt, few people will find out what the dispute is actually about before declaring that the drivers should all be replaced by robots at the earliest possible opportunity or, possibly, shot.

We should be a bit more sympathetic towards trade unions, is what I’m saying here: a bit more understanding about the role they played in improving working life for all of us, and the fact that defending their members’ interests is literally their job.

Anyway, all that said, the RMT seems to have gone completely fucking doolally.

TAXI UNION RMT says that the closure of the pivotal Bank Junction to all vehicles (other than buses and bicycles) exposes Transport for London’s (TfL) symptom-focused decision-making and unwillingness to tackle the cause of the problem.

So begins a press release the union put out on Thursday. It’s referring to a plan to place new restrictions on who can pass one of the City of London’s dirtiest and most dangerous junctions, by banning private vehicles from using it.

The junction in question: busy day. Image: Google.

If at first glance the RMT’s words seem reasonable enough, then consider two pieces of information not included in that paragraph:

1) It’s not a TfL scheme, but a City of London Corporation one (essentially, the local council); and

2) The reason for the press release is that, at 5pm on Thursday, hundreds of black cab drivers descended on Bank Junction to create gridlock, in their time-honoured way of whining about something. Blocking major roads for several hours at a time has always struck me as an odd way of trying to win friends and influence people, if I’m frank, but let’s get back to the press release, the next line of which drops a strong hint that something else is going on here:

TfL’s gutlessness in failing to stand-up to multi-national venture capital-backed raiders such as Uber, has left our streets flooded with minicabs.

That suggests that this is another barrage in the black cabs’ ongoing war against competition from Uber. This conflict is odd in its way – it’s not as if there weren’t minicabs offering a low cost alternative to the classic London taxi before Uber came along, but we’ve not had a lengthy PR war against, say, Gants Hill Cars – but it’s at least familiar territory, so it’d be easy, at this point, to assume we know where we are.

Except then it gets really weird.

With buses stuck in gridlock behind haphazardly driven Uber cars – and with the Tube dangerously overcrowded during peak hours – people are turning out of desperation to commuting by bicycle.

Despite its impracticality, there has been an explosion in the number of people commuting by bike. Astonishingly, 30% of road traffic traversing Bank Junction are now cyclists.

Soooo... the only reason anyone might want to cycle is because public transport is now bad because of Uber? Not because it’s fun or healthy or just nicer than being stuck in a metal box for 45 minutes – because of badly driven Ubers something something?

Other things the cabbies will blame Uber for in upcoming press releases: climate change, Brexit, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in July 1870, the fact they couldn’t get tickets for Hamilton.

It is time that TfL refused to licence Uber, which it acknowledges is unlawfully “plying for hire”.

Okay, maybe, we can talk about that.

It is time that black cabs were recognised and supported as a mode of public transport.

...what?

It is time that cuts to the Tube were reversed.

I mean, sure, we can talk about that too, but... can you go back to that last bit, please?

RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash, said:

“RMT agrees with proposals which improve public safety, but it is clear that the driving factor behind the decision is to improve bus journey times under a buckling road network.

“Black cabs are an integral part of the public transport system and as the data shows, one of the safest.”

This is all so very mixed up, it’s hard to know where to begin. Black cabs are not public transport – as lovely as they are, they’re simply too expensive. Even in New York City, where the cabs are much, much cheaper, it’d be silly to class them as public transport. In London, where they’re so over-priced they’re basically the preserve of the rich and those who’ve had enough to drink to mistakenly consider themselves such, it’s just nonsense.

Also – if this decision has been taken for the sake of improving bus journey times, then what’s wrong with that? I haven’t run the numbers, but I’d be amazed if that wasn’t a bigger gain to the city than “improving life for the people who take cabs”. Because – as I may have mentioned – black cabs are not public transport.


Anyway, to sum the RMT’s position up: we should invest in the tube but not the buses, expensive black cabs are public transport but cheaper Ubers are the work of the devil, and the only reason anyone would ever go by bike is because they’ve been left with no choice by all those people in the wrong sort of taxi screwing everything up. Oh, and causing gridlock at peak time is a good way to win friends.

Everyone got that straight?

None of this is to say Uber is perfect – there are many things about it that are terrible, including both the way people have mistaken it for a revolutionary new form of capitalism (as opposed to, say, a minicab firm with an app), and its attitude to workers (ironically, what they could really do with is a union). The way TfL is acting towards the firm is no doubt imperfect too.

But the RMT’s attitude in this press release is just baffling. Of course it has to defends its members interests – taxi drivers just as much as tube drivers. And of course it has to be seen to be doing so, so as to attract new members.

But should it really be trying to do both in the same press release? Because the result is a statement which demands TfL do more for cab drivers, slams it for doing anything for bus users, and casually insults anyone on two wheels in the process.

A union’s job is to look after its members. I’m not sure nonsense like this will achieve anything of the sort.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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