Requiem for a city

There’s a fantastic article in Vanity Fair on One Hyde Park. It’s the most expensive residential building on earth and a metaphor for a new London.

Here are some great quotes:

“Knightsbridge is an un-English activity,” says York. “The former gratin [upper crust], a combination of old toffs, Knightsbridge Americans who wanted to be old toffs, plutocrats who wanted to know The Form, people who weren’t here for funny-money reasons: all those things have been completely obliterated by a mad kind of very, very gauche overseas money. It’s absentee money: the kind of money that has bodyguards. It is the world of Maybachs and absurd-looking Ferraris in absurd colors, and kids who buy them straight out of the shopwindow. These people have no substantive relationship with anything British at all. It’s everywhere: I can’t emphasize enough how everywhere-ish it is.”

Many in London are uncomfortable not just with the flagrant display of super-wealth but also with the rising number of absentee residents who are based in foreign countries. “Those people who do buy these houses, particularly the bigger ones, in many cases don’t buy them to live in permanently: they are part of a portfolio,” said Bendixson. “That doesn’t add much jollity to your street: houses with the shutters down and nobody there.” Edward Davies-Gilbert, of the Knightsbridge Association, sees the area gaining the flavor of “a ghost town, peopled by ghost blocks.”

What I find interesting is that with many of the paragraphs you could substitute “London” with “Vancouver” and you’d have a similar story.

Europe Notes

Wen and I just got back from a rapid sprint through London, Paris & Fontainebleau:

Looking back, it’s fun to contrast the two capitals.

London seems to be a city of repeating motifs; the order of the buildings seems to be almost an apology for the chaotic arrangement of the streets.

Row Houses

Houses near Holland Park  

Brick buildings in Kensington

Paris on the other hand is a monochromatic mesh of near identical ancient buildings punctured occasionally by an era’s vision of the future. (These buildings are also incredibly clean; I suspect that stimulus money from the 2008 crisis was used to polish buildings and remove dog shit from the streets.)

Doors

Paris Church

Zaha Hadid at Centre du Monde Arab

Interestingly, these visions of the future are increasingly rare. There was lots of construction in Paris but it’s all confined to the outer banlieues where presumably the zoning laws are more lax. In contrast, London was dotted with cranes competing to redraw the skyline:

View from Primrose Hill

I’d also forgotten how Paris is a chameleon whose colours change at night:

Flowerpots

Brasserie

Evening Street Scene - Version 2

Steps near Palais de Tokyo

Eiffel Tower

A few other things I noticed:

1.

The English romanticize the wild…

Wildflowers in Grimaldi Park

…while the French seek to tame it

Reflecting pool in Fontainebleau

2.

Each city has its own dominant smell. On a walk through the towpaths and parks of the city, London’s appears to be the sweet rot of plants that lurk in cracks between stones and in back alleys. Paris’ is the smell of urine in the subway.

3.

France is the one of only two places in the world (the other being New York’s Upper East Side) where men can innocuously, unabashedly and unrepentantly wear red pants:

Red pants

4.

London was in full bloom for us when we arrived:

Roses in Holland Park

In fact, it may have been blooming too much. It hadn’t rained in ages and there was so much dust and pollen floating around that you literally felt like you had just visited the barber.

5.

The French are the European champions at both smoking in public and randomly stopping in the busiest places on crowded thoroughfares. In fact, urban planners could do better than simply following the French around and watching where they stop as a clue as to the most-trafficked places in a city.

I suspect the halting is driven by a subconscious need to have one’s existence acknowledge by others, if only via profanities.

6.

Every airport is full of defeated-looking people and Heathrow may have just that many more than others. I suspect this is because it’s an airport designed by shareholders who do not fly and worship Thomas Hobbes. It’s all angles and no curves, paths that maximize time spent in duty free rather than getting to your gate, and floor space auctioned to the free-est spending luxury brand rather than thinking about how passengers might, say, want to eat rather than buy jewellery.

7.

France is a great place to simply sit and waste time drinking a coffee. I can see how they came up with the word boulevardier.

French coffee

Coffee

INSEAD coffee cup

8.

London has fantastic street art.

Street Art

Einstein on Bike Street Art

Street Art

Street Art

9.

I’d always thought that Britain was an extremely free place but then I read about their liberal approach to handing out superinjuctions: press bans that are so severe that you can’t even report there’s a ban (Kafka would be proud).

I was reading the story linked to above while also skimming a British paper. It was surreal to read the paper and see that the local press could only refer to one of the stories referred to by the article:

Ryan Giggs in Sun

It was also interesting to see that an article about Gordon Ramsay’s in-law appeared on the same page. Was this also a subtle attempt by the paper to tell users to search the internet as Gordon Ramsay has a superinjunction out?

10.

There’s an awful lot of red in London:

Roses in Holland Park

Roses in Holland Park

Pub

Building near parliament

St Pancras

Gingers in Camden