Luxified skies: How vertical urban housing became an elite preserve

Wednesday, 22 March, 2017 - 16:00

Stephen Graham

Venue : Dorothy Suskind Auditorium, John Moffat Building, Wits East Campus  

Faces of the city seminar series

Abstract: 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 superrich. 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.

This presentation is part of a body of work on verticality, including:

Graham, S. (2014). Super-tall and Ultra-deep: The Cultural Politics of the Elevator. Theory, Culture & Society, 31(7–8), pp. 239–265.

Graham, S. (2015). Luxified skies. City, 19(5), pp. 618–645.

Graham, S. (2016). Vertical noir. City, 20(3), pp. 389–406.

Graham, S. (2016). Vertical: The city from satellites to bunkers. London: Verso.

Bio: Stephen Graham is Professor of Cities and Society at the Global Urban Research Unit and is based in Newcastle University's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Professor Graham has a background in Geography, Planning and the Sociology of Technology. His research centres, in particular, on: the vertical aspects of cities and urban life; links between cities, technology and infrastructure; urban aspects of surveillance; the mediation of urban life by digital technologies; and links between security, militarisation and urban life. Amongst a large number of publications, he is coauthor of Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition (2001) and author of Vertical: Looking at the City from Above and Below (2016).