November 01, 2013
NEW YORK—Hot money from China, India, Russia, and Singapore is pouring into London; hotter money from the same countries is flooding into the Bagel. London has become unaffordable for the average Joe around Kensington and Chelsea, as has the West Village in downtown New York.
Well, “unaffordable” is relative. There is a delicate social-ecology system pointing toward the wrong direction in both metropolises, but—like a stock market gone haywire, as at times markets tend to do—when the correction comes there will be lots and lots of empty luxury lots the poor can move into.
London is now essentially a tax haven, and New York is where the smart money is invested into high-end real estate that benefits from tax breaks for the very, very rich. The whole southern end of Central Park will soon be blocked off by giant glass towers of empty, super-luxurious apartments bought by small men from the East with very large bank accounts. Some of them can even be described as honest, although I wouldn’t go as far as that. On Park Avenue and 56th Street, a man by the name of Harry Macklowe is putting up one of the tallest buildings in the city, as outrageous an act as sticking a McDonald’s next to St. Paul’s Cathedral. He got permission to do it from the Bloomberg administration, which is a bit like asking Ali Baba’s forty thieves permission to steal a camel.
More than fifty years ago Macklowe used to get on my nerves because he was big but would not go out for sports when we were in boarding school. In fact he was a wiseguy—smart in class, quick with his mouth, but cowardly on the field. He has gone broke a few times—which does not mean he ever lost money—and is now doing to Park Avenue what that other horror, Charles Clore, did to it a long time ago when he put up the colossus that was then called the Pan Am Building over Grand Central and closed the beautiful vista one had all the way down to the Statue of Liberty from uptown.
Well, ugly people build ugly things, and there are some very ugly buildings going up as I write. Mind you, the people who will be living in them are even uglier, but at least they don’t speak English, which always helps. I lived in Cadogan Square for a lifetime until it felt like a rainy Beirut. Myriad gofers would stand around the stoops smoking, talking in Arabic, and spitting. Cars with idling engines lined the square, their drivers playing with their beads and looking suspiciously at anyone dressed in tennis whites and going into the gardens. When I stopped a team of Turkish servants playing an eight-to-the-side soccer game inside the garden square I became the most hated man of the Cadogan empire. Even that con man Halabi, whatever his first name is, lived in Cadogan Square while conning the Anglo-Americans to invade Iraq. At one time there were at least fifty men in black hanging outside his flat packing heat. If that’s living, I’m Barbra Streisand. The only Englishman who still lives there is Sir Christopher Lee, 92 years old, as lucid as they come and a member of Pugs, the world’s most exclusive club which allows no Russians or Chinese of recent vintage.