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Luxified skies: How vertical urban housing became an elite preserve

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Stephen Graham


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This paper is a call for critical urban research to address the vertical as well as horizontal aspects of social inequality. It seeks, in particular, to explore the important but neglected causal connection between the demonisation and dismantling of social housing towers constructed in many cities between the 1930s and 1970s and the contemporary proliferation of radically different housing towers produced for socio-economic elites. The argument begins with a critical discussion of the economistic orthodoxy, derived from the work of Edward Glaeser, that contemporary housing crises are best addressed by removing state intervention in housing production so that market-driven verticalisation can take place. The following two sections connect the rise of such orthodoxy with the ‘manufactured reality'—so central to neo-liberal urban orthodoxy—that vertical social housing must necessarily fail because it deterministically creates social pathology. The remainder of the paper explores in detail how the dominance of these narratives have been central to elite takeovers, and ‘luxification’, of the urban skies through the proliferation of condo towers for the super-rich. Case studies are drawn from Vancouver, New York, London, Mumbai and Guatemala City and the broader vertical cultural and visual politics of the process are explored. The discussion finishes by exploring the challenges involved in contesting, and dismantling, the hegemonic dominance of vertical housing by elite interests in contemporary cities.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Graham S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action

Year: 2015

Volume: 19

Issue: 5

Pages: 618-645

Online publication date: 07/10/2015

Acceptance date: 01/07/2015

ISSN (print): 1360-4813

ISSN (electronic): 1470-3629

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/13604813.2015.1071113


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