Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

16 July 2013

Every couple of years or so, most Londoners have to up sticks and ride the ever-swelling wave of gentrification a little further out of the city.

Some of us don’t know if we’re riding it or actually creating it. But we know we like the nice cafés, convenient new cash machines and formerly rundown East End pubs that now have knowingly out-of-place European sounding names that mean something else, like Kino. That’s probably the sign that your once charmingly rough’n’ready neighbourhood is now simply ready for a bunch of slightly more well-heeled neighbours to move in.

Yesterday it was revealed that renting a property is simply out of reach for lower-income families across a third of the UK. It’s a pretty shocking statistic that suggests there’s something quite wrong with the cost of living. Another recent survey concluded that household bills are rising four times quicker than earnings. At this rate, soon Londoners will be commuting in from Paris.

There is, of course, an upside to neighbourhoods cleaning up. Increased investment means more jobs, better housing, improved services and smarter infrastructure. Each year, Monocle conducts its own Quality of Life survey, and the factors that make a city great often have little to do with cost. This year’s winner, Copenhagen, might not be the sprawling metropolis of possibilities that New York or Tokyo is, but you’re also more likely to be able to simply walk to work – a rare luxury in London.

The problem, although incredibly complicated, is perhaps best summed up in a book from last year, the very clearly titled The Rent is Too Damn High. In the book, US economic journalist Matthew Yglesias makes the somewhat surreal but quite simple observation that, “Lots of people buy RVs, but nobody ‘invests’ in them. And what’s a house but a giant RV with no wheels?”

What he appears to be saying is that life tools such as a car or a house – or even a house with wheels (an RV) – shouldn’t be viewed as a commodity with which to make money from others. You generally sell a car for less than you bought it; house prices and rent, however, just seem to keep going up.

It’s a challenge that won’t be fixed any time soon but nearly a third of a nation’s population is now giving it a serious think. In the meantime, we’ll all just keep on moving.

Tom Hall is a sub editor for Monocle.

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