Jargon Watch: A Piketty line full of Pikettyscrapers

In an earlier post I complained that It's time to dump the tired argument that density and height are green and sustainable. The point was that there are essentially no density limits in Manhattan, but that doesn't mean people are getting affordable housing. Or as I noted in a more recent post, The problems in our big cities aren't caused by restrictions on density and height, but by inequality.

432 Park Avenue /Promo image

What New York and other cities are getting instead are what are now called pencil towers, or skinnyscrapers, or superslenders: expensive inefficient buildings where the very wealthy buy whole floors which they often don't even use very much, or pay much taxes on. Or, as the wonderful Skyscraper dictionary calls them, Pikettyscrapers.

The name comes from french economist Thomas Piketty, who wrote what is now considered to be the most unread book of all time, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, taking the prize away from Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. But the theme of Piketty's book is the talk of certain parts of the town, where he makes the point that "the rate of capital return in developed countries is persistently greater than the rate of economic growth, and that this will cause wealth inequality to increase in the future."

That is what we are seeing in New York and London's skylines: Pikettyscrapers, inequality made solid in marble and glass. Put them all together and instead of a skyline you have a Piketty line. The Skyscraper dictionary notes:

Piketty Line as a skyline typology takes its meaning from Piketty’s argument that unless capitalism is reformed, the very democratic order will be threatened, which resembles the protesting essence of the term picket line, which is a boundary established by protesting workers on strike. It was coined for this dictionary.

The fact of the matter is, regulations and NIMBYs and preservationists are not what is preventing the development of affordable housing. It is de-densification as the ultra-rich build taller and emptier towers without even having to pay taxes as New Yorkers because they don't actually live in them. Don't blame us nostalgists and NIMBYs.

Tags: Green Building | New York City | Urban Life

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