Trump’s victory is the culmination of three decades of neoliberalism. When markets are given such a high status that a property developer can become leader of the free-world. When competition becomes the sole mechanism for change a gameshow host can become president.
The world and politics which created this, which grew from the reigns of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and the ideas of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, is that which has created much of western urbanity, of which London is the prime example. A city where capital has taken control of every element of the city; the public and private, the personal and political, the structural and aesthetic. Donald Trump and the Garden Bridge are powerful symbols of these neoliberal end-days.
London is full of the architecture of neoliberalism. Shining glass façades concealing minimum wage, or less, night-time workers servicing spaces occupied by manipulators of finance earning obscene sums. Contorted towers pushing higher into the sky in an imaginary fight to be the biggest, when inside floor after floor remains empty, their value increasing regardless of use.
Huge parts of the city like Nine Elms get portioned off and given over to developers to build one and two bedroom shoebox identi-apartments which nobody wants except offshore investors buying up 5% off-plan as a market investment. If the market rises they may increase to 10%, then shift it on to someone else who will take more risk, pocketing the difference. But they will never want to live there, maybe nobody will ever live there. But if the market falls, which it will some-day, these investments become junk, the building sites close, the construction stops.
Then there are the bread and circuses that neoliberal politics needs. We get given “Illuminated River” competitions when people are starving. We pay to build Olympic stadia (£), used for two weeks before we then pay even more to give it to a private football club. We get ‘given’ a Garden Bridge which will see a public park disappear in favour of a publicly funded, private tourist lobsterpot.
This is the London we have created. It is borne of the same world that has put Trump in power. Where celebrity and politics have to go hand in hand because the façade is all that matters, where public realm, services, housing and infrastructure is simply an investment opportunity to be thrown into the huge furnace labelled “free-market”.
Where people are deprived agency of the architecture, politics and social structures around them to such a point that we fall for the first politician who offers a photo-opportunity in the belief it’s sincerity, and trust the private market to offer services like libraries, schools or infrastructure because there is no state or authority left to provide them.
The Garden Bridge is a great symbol of these neoliberal end-days. It’s all façade, a greenwash Trojan horse concealing murky dealings, privatisation, ecological damage and greed. Then look who is behind it. A network of entitled, controlling and desperate Garden Bridge Trustees connected to politics and developments – they are so wrapped up in these neoliberal structures the Chair of the Garden Bridge Trust is Lord Mervyn Davies, given a CBE for “services to the financial sector” and embedded within private equity funds and investment funds in once public sector industries. Among their coterie are Tory speech writers, high-end real-estate property agents, celebrities and corporate crisis management experts.
The Garden Bridge largely exists because of the Northbank BID, a ‘regeneration’ project in one of the wealthiest parts of the country, where the super-rich stand to get super-richer through the creation of an ‘iconic’ Garden Bridge, a tourist funnel designed to exude punters into ground floor-chain eateries and sales opportunities, topped off by expensive office space and multi-multi-million pound penthouses. It creates a commodified experience with a Costa coffee while we can’t afford our rent. Designing contrived ‘green’ nature experiences to gather in controllable crowds while we breath in polluted, poisonous air and don’t ask any questions.
These people are not doing this for public good, but for greed and ego. They are using public money and hoping for public generosity to feed personal gain, to prop up their inflated corporate developments, to massage their egos and further tighten their place in the establishment and power structures they were born into.
Where we have Lumley and Heatherwick building a Garden Bridge, the US has Trumps casinos; timeless, airless playspaces draining the last capital from those who enter but held up as joyful experiences of hope. But when even his casinos go bust, when the gambling houses which are always the winners become the loser, you know the neoliberal game is over. His whole wealth, which isn’t real but wrapped up in investments and the hypothesis of permanent free-market growth propping up his property portfolio, exists because of the neoliberal system. But when there are no more services to privatise, when there are no more public assets to throw into the furnace and there are no more offshore investors to inflate the bubble 5% at a time, what happens to that fire?
It puts on a façade that everything is ok. The developers claim demand is skyrocketing, but their 5% portfolio becomes junk and the property market game halts. The politicians throw more bread, but people wait at food banks. The Garden Bridge has the façade of being green and useful, but is the total opposite, but in the neoliberal game only that surface and spin matters, not the substance or truth.
If you’re Trump and your businesses are losing money and your developments are losing value, you seek power in other arenas. Entertainment, politics. They’re interchangeable. But like the neoliberal architecture of the city, it’s only façade, a mask.
The games of distraction, mirage and façade can’t continue indefinitely. It is the desperate end days, like a child continuing the lie that they never stole the ice-cream while sugary vanilla dripping down their sad, tear sodden face shows the truth.
But the question is, what next?
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