Note — Apr 28, 2019

Built to Shill — The Fiction of Convenience Makes Cities Less Livable

The author assembles some of the thinking in Samuel Stein’s Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State and Raquel Rolnik’s Urban Warfare: Housing Under the Empire of Finance to show a few of the ways in which the “real estate state” operates. How the FIRE industry (finance, insurance, and real-estate industries) orients urban development to build “cities as investment vehicles instead of homes and shops for people,” and how Silicon Valley’s larger players are adding to the problem with the measuring, surveilling, and (eventual) automation of their vision of smart cities.

“[C]apitalism makes the best of planning impossible,” Stein writes: “any good that planners do is filtered through a system that dispossesses those who cannot pay.” Such is the fate of anyone living under what he calls the real estate state: “a political formation in which real estate capital has inordinate influence over the shape of our cities, the parameters of our politics and the lives we lead.” […]

[V]acant homes outnumber the homeless three to one and self-sustaining neighborhoods succumb to the economics of chain retail and corporate rents. City budgets wither away as they take on all the financial risk of financing construction and maintaining infrastructure while developers build cheaper, flimsier, more self-similar buildings. […]

Big tech is poised to take the inscrutable filtering and sorting methods used on your Facebook Newsfeed or your Google search results and apply them to the streetscape. […]

[I]f the poor and over-worked only have enough money and time to shop at Walmart or order from Amazon, this is the system working as it was intended. With each attempt at saving today’s meager earnings you feed the hyperobject, giving it more power to extract more from you tomorrow.