Spotting safety-deposit boxes in the sky


Mr Badger has just been visiting his old hometown and has come back more confused than ever. There was a time in south London when tadpoling on Mitcham Common or chasing an old cricket ball around Streatham’s green was difficult enough. Now days though, something much harder to understand is at play.

In London, we hired an apartment opposite Battersea Park for a couple of nights. The suburb has now been nudged upmarket from the days when I went to school nearby. The vast complex in which we rented this nice, but modest two bedroom flat was convenient and the cost was less than a basic hotel room. The apartment certainly wasn’t unique as it was one of about 1,100 similar units constructed some twelve years ago. Nothing very special at all I thought until I scratched below the surface a little. It seems these small apartments have a current value of approximately £900,000 (that’s A$1.8 million for Aussie readers). And as our Airbnb landlord explained “with a new kitchen and bathroom fit out it would probably fetch £1 million”.

While I was reeling from the values and trying to comprehend why anyone would consider replacing appliances and fittings that were very presentable and still operating effectively, I was given another startling piece of news. All the units were sold when construction finished and yet half of them have never been occupied. So, where is the meaning in all this? We humans have transformed an enormous quantity of precious natural resources and fast disappearing fossil fuel energy and accepted all the harmful by products of atmospheric pollution, waste dumps and wildlife habitat destruction that these developments entail……………..and all for what? It seems they are simply the latest great edifice to consumerism and the worship of money. People have bought these flats for the sole purpose of owning them.

London’s former chief planning officer of 29 years calls these developments “safety-deposit boxes in the sky”. Yet it seems the height of perversity for 500 potential homes to lay vacant in this one development while thousands go homeless. But perhaps it is only a natural consequence of the boast of London’s flamboyant Lord Mayor Boris Johnson “London is to the billionaire as the jungles of Sumatra are to the orang-utans”. However, if the system seems infantile for its waste of perfectly serviceable properties, what does it also say about the unused money invested and lying idle? The overarching economic system that frames our lives calls on us to pursue the creation of ever more financial wealth. Yet here in one development £½ billion sits in “safety boxes in the sky” doing nothing. With thousands more such apartments currently under construction it appears the demand is boundless.

I couldn’t help but wonder, when will we ever have enough? Is there really a need to create ever more financial capital in the world? It seems we have made it normal to rapaciously degrade our planetary home and kill off our fellow species to create objects to represent money but whose potential useful purpose is ignored? At this point Mr Badger can only retreat underground and put his thinking cap on. I fear it will take more time than this winter’s hibernation to find any sense in this.

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