Shabby housing and shiny skyscrapers

I had been waiting ages for Patrick Keiller’s 

to come out in paperback, and it hasn’t disappointed me. There’s even a chapter about ports and containerisation! It’s a very interesting one. Among other points, Keiller notes the transfer of jobs from ports to haulage – ‘logistics’:

“Not only do ports and shipping now employ very few people but they also occupy surprisingly little space. Felixstowe is the fourth-largest container port in Europe but it does not cover a very large area. The dereliction of the Liverpool waterfront is a result not of the port’s disappearance, but of its new insubstantiality. The warehouses that used to line both sides of the river have been superseded by a fragmented, mobile space: goods vehicles moving or parked on the UK’s roads. The road system as a publicly-funded warehouse.”

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He’s interesting too on the shabbiness of housing compared to the shininess of new corporate spaces. I read elsewhere this week that a quarter of the UK’s housing stock was built before 1910. “Under advanced capitalism it is increasingly difficult to produce and maintain the dwelling,” Keiller writes. This chapter notes the relative increase in house prices and absence of automation in construction. I think this is only partly true – there is far more use of technology in major construction projects even if housebuilding and repair is still mainly done the old fashioned way with (immigrant) labour. And the relative price increase is due far more to land values than the price of construction, which in turn is due to planning restrictions and the limited supply. But that the housing situation in the UK deserves the description ‘crisis’, there is no doubt.

I’m about half way through, will review the whole book when finished.



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