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Skyscraper Development and the Dynamics of Crisis: The New London Skyline and Spatial Recapitalization

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Since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008-2010 a new wave of urban development has spread out across central London. Characterized by dozens of new high-rise buildings and driven by an influx of foreign capital, this current phase of development is changing the face of central London more so perhaps than at any time since the Second World War. The emergence of a 'new London skyline' of iconic skyscrapers has received significant critical attention in urban and architectural studies. To date much of the literature has focused on the evolving and highly contested politics of urban design and on the changing space needs of London as a global city. However, in the wake of the financial crisis and the considerable pressures that this has exerted on developers and investors, there has been relatively little critical focus on the increasingly unstable dynamics of accumulation and investment that have seemingly underpinned a rapid flow of capital into the new skyline. This paper argues that analysis of the new London skyline must involve much greater engagement with the conceptual frameworks and traditions of urban political economy in order to come to a fuller understanding of why so much development is taking place at a time of continuing, and in many respects increasing, economic and geopolitical instability. Drawing on the conceptual insights of the 'spatial fix' and the dynamics of surplus overaccumulation that this refers to, the paper begins to construct a more financially oriented explanation of the rapidly changing skyline. With reference to a selection of prominent examples and an account of how global capital was called on to support the development of London's skyline during the crisis, the paper argues that this can be viewed as a form of 'spatial recapitalization' – both for individual projects and for the values of financialized capitalism that appear to be driving these markets forward.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2018

More about this publication?
  • Built Environment is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. With an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries and providing global perspective, each issue focuses on a single subject of contemporary interest to practitioners, academics and students working in a wide range of disciplines. Issues are guest-edited by established international experts who not only commission contributions, but also oversee the peer-reviewing process in collaboration with the Editors.

    Subject areas include: architecture; conservation; economic development; environmental planning; health; housing; regeneration; social issues; spatial planning; sustainability; urban design; and transport. All issues include reviews of recent publications.

    The journal is abstracted in Geo Abstracts, Sage Urban Studies Abstracts, and Journal of Planning Literature, and is indexed in the Avery Index to Architectural Publications.

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