I just stumbled upon an older (2014) article by Oliver Wainwright in the Guardian called, The truth about property developers: how they are exploiting authorities and ruining our cities. In case the title didn’t give it away, it’s a scathing article about the current state of real estate development and city building.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Across the country – and especially in superheated London, where stratospheric land values beget accordingly bloated developments – authorities are allowing planning policies to be continually flouted, affordable housing quotas to be waived, height limits breached, the interests of residents endlessly trampled. Places are becoming ever meaner and more divided, as public assets are relentlessly sold off, entire council estates flattened to make room for silos of luxury safe-deposit boxes in the sky. We are replacing homes with investment units, to be sold overseas and never inhabited, substituting community for vacancy. The more we build, the more our cities are emptied, producing dead swathes of zombie town where the lights might never even be switched on.”
Now, I’m not that familiar with the London market, so I can’t really comment on the dead swathes of zombie town. But I did enjoy the insights into the UK entitlement process.
At the same time, my overarching thought as I read through the article was that I don’t believe that making money and doing what’s right need to be mutually exclusively. You can do both in development and in business. Making money as a developer does not mean you have to build shitty buildings.
Part of the development game is managing an endless number of competing tensions. And profitability and responsible city building is just one of them. Of course, you have to want to do the right thing in the first place.