Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Smash It Up

Certain message-boards are speculating about the true identity of Dovecot Towers, which is missing the point. With generic new buildings everywhere, the actual name is irrelevant. Sorry if I sound tetchy, but I am consumed with Japan envy. I need to live in Tokyo, and I want to be Japanese.

I expect you’re wondering where that came from. Before I explain, allow me to me reiterate that in most cities, rabbit-hutch developments monopolise valuable brownfield sites. Judging from your comments and emails, the problems within these walls are endemic: wherever there are Dovecots, trouble is guaranteed, but still nobody in authority questions the wisdom of their ubiquity.

However, Dovecot Towers is unique in one respect: its design is nasty, nadir-skimming, and miserly. Between blueprint and completion, anything pleasing, comfortable or humane was summarily excised with a callous red pencil, creating the bleakest of empty shells.

Meanwhile, greedy, deluded, wannabe property tycoons were ramping up rents throughout the land. Their faith in an infinite supply of occupants able to pay over-inflated prices was short-sighted (i.e. stupid.) Landlords learned that affluent young professionals usually move as soon as possible, buying homes if they can get a mortgage.

Dovecot Towers and its clones are occupied by workers in Nulabour world, where politicians brag about wage restraint and creating a flexible, mobile and as a result, highly insecure workforce, where potential employees must demonstrate their dedication with months of unpaid work experience, and the majority of recent graduates earn below the threshold to start repaying student loans. Reality has bitten hard, and lower rents might allow more of the target demographic to live here.

Along with my neighbour, I am one of the longest established residents. We’ve both lived here for just over two years. Lev was one of the first people to move in. He stayed because he’s an overseas student; Dovecot Towers met his basic needs and in just a few months time, he’s returning home for good. Everybody’s passing through.

What’s my point, you’re wondering; I’ve said this before. It’s just that I’ve noticed a large crack running the height of one interior wall, and it runs along the same spot on every level of the entire structure. Considering the dodgy building standards hereabouts, this might be a harbinger of disaster, although I am sure the management will maintain it’s something to do with plaster shrinkage. I’m concerned that one clumsy passer-by leaning against an outside wall could send Dovecot Towers crashing down.

So here’s why I envy Japan. It’s not the seafood, the scenery, or the art. It’s their attitude to architecture. Even large expensive structures are routinely demolished for practical, aesthetic and financial reasons, once they’ve outlived fashion or a useful life. Faulty or superfluous buildings are destroyed when society, architects and occupants acknowledge that a replacement is justified.

Brits are inappropriately sentimental about any old building (even a bad one) but this is my dream. With owner-occupiers having deserted Dovecot Towers, and since buy-to-let is dead, could somebody buy it, demolish it, then start again, ensuring better, larger flats designed for humans to live happy lives? Please? This newbuild thing just isn’t working out, but an accurate Japanese wrecking-ball could make it all better.

(NB: Last night, the main door was pulled from its frame, and left lying in the corridor. That shouldn’t be possible.)


the reaper said...

the yen is also a 'must have currency'

RenterGirl said...

Especially if you live in Japan.

the reaper said...

'Especially if you live in Japan.'

from what I hear from the currency fashionistas,it really is this season's (snglr poss.) 'thaaang'

Anonymous said...

I find your log very interesting. Particularly because I live in another country where the rental market is almost non-existant. You are raising two issues: The pro/cons of having a rental market as opposed to buying. And, secondly the abyssmal standard of rental housing.

The first, rental vs. buying: I believe a rental market is important. There is no reason why people should be part of the investment market. 'Invest in order to be part of the laddet'. Why has all of a sudden buying a house become important as an investment? I live in my own house. But I don't live there, because I think investing is important, I have bought the house because I need a place to live.

To play down the role of the investment ladder, it is important to have a relatively large rental market as a competitor to this market.

A healthy rental market may introduce a competition to the crazy buy-to-invest market.


RenterGirl said...

Thanks for reading ToreL. The rental market here is becoming healthier, as even BTL landlords are beginning to realise that they must maintain their property and stop treating tenants (who will be paying their pension) as an annoying infestation. And pensions are what caused this nightmare: the state pension will not be enough to keep people fed and warm. BTL mortgages were easy (too easy) to obtain; owning a property for the future was easier than saving. A once pressing need for urban housing led to poor quality and saturation development. Low wages and poor job security mean a large portion of the population can't afford to buy. And here we are now, dealing with all of that.

Nick von Mises said...

I lived in Japan for 4 1/2 years. It's really nice. Some comments on the wrecking ball:

- Mostly that rep comes from the bubble period when land values were so insane that it was economically feasible to just demolish the building once you bought the land if you didn't like what was sitting on it.
- This excessive demolition increased in the bust when the government was looking for any excuse to funnel a subsidy to the yakuza / construction industry
- High incidence of earthquakes encourages replacing old stock with safer new stock
- Tokyo has been completely flattened twice in 100 years, once by an earthquake in 1923 and once by the yanks in 1945. It encourages a "temporary" attitude to buildings
- Japan doesn't do housing estates, every plot is subject to the building decision of the owner

RenterGirl said...

That's really interesting. So what we need is the wrecking ball without the yakuza (we have our brand, thanks all the same) and no earthquakes. Or nuclear weapons.

ManchesterGirl said...

Sadly, it seems as though lessons aren't being learned. Despite the massive number of flats, currently unoccupied around Castefield, manchester City Council might think twice about developing yet more Euroboxes in an area with a rich heritage and distinct look.

Sadly, you could be wrong.

RenterGirl said...

Euroboxes - I wish I'd thought of that. It's bad enough that they are built unchallenged on brownfield sites. But to demolish something that could be converted? That's madness.

Stewart said...

Japan is not all that golden, Tokyo especially. If you think London, Manchester, Birmingham or some other gloomy poorly planned city is bad, then try any Japanese city. To find a place within your budget to rent in Tokyo would probably mean a 2 hour train commute to your workplace (ythat is if you could find a place - many landlords refuse to rent to non-Japanese because of language problems. Living in Kansai (Kobe, Osaka, Nara, Kyoto) would be easier as prices are somewhat lower, the people somewhat friendlier and the "cultural experiences" somewhat better. But you'd still be expected to put up a "security deposit" equivalent to 10 months rent and if you're really lucky you may get 70% of that back when you vacate.

RenterGirl said...

70%! And I thought UK landlords were sharks. Thanks for reading!