The rich are moving to Dubai, but does wealth make a city great?
An occasional glimpse inside the world of selling really, really expensive homes.
I’ve been reading the latest figures on high-net-worth individuals. The stats show that 125,000 1-percenters will relocate internationally this year, compared with 51,000 a decade ago.
The incentives driving the rise in numbers are various: tax avoidance (key); quality of educational institutions; climate; crime (or lack of it); and, given the brave new Instagram world we live in, a camera-ready lifestyle sure to inspire envy.
The haute-luxury islands of the Caribbean, St. Barts and Mustique, have seen prices shoot up by 15% in the past year alone. That says something.
It’s been the topic du jour in the office, especially after Nick Candy’s “In the City” Bloomberg podcast on April 27 caught everyone’s attention.
He’s one-half of the Candy brothers, the wildly successful developers of London’s One Hyde Park complex, which has made sales of £2 billion ($2.5 billion). The part that stuck with me is Candy calling Dubai the emerging once-in-a-generation place to live. He cited the lack of crime, the weather, the “values” espoused there and the international money flooding in.
It had me contemplating what makes a city great — putting me in mind of a certain charity dinner I recently attended. Stephen Fry gave the “donate speech.”
We’d already heard of the charity’s good work from the CEO, we’d seen a polished video highlighting its positive impact, and we’d been promised a performance from a Brit-winning singer after dessert.
But before that, Stephen stood up and said (I’m paraphrasing): The mark of a civilized society is to support those less fortunate than ourselves, and all of us here in this room are fortunate. So please, whatever figure you’ve decided to pledge, write it down now on your card — a dramatic pause followed — and now add a zero because you can.
Genius. I’m going to venture that half the room hearing that speech for the first time added that zero.
The whole topic of a city’s greatness, or maybe more to the point its goodness, was on my mind at the viewing of a Marylebone flat of 1,500 square feet, for sale at £5 million.
The flat is a new build and, to be honest, underwhelming. There’s nothing special about it beyond its newness. The client (who’s also now a friend) I’d brought to see the place felt the same.
She’s a superstar in the tech business world: She bends algorithms to her will rather than vice versa. And it’s paid off for her. She has the Porsche Taycan, the house in the Cotswolds, an ocean-view pad in Mallorca and a lovely flat in London.
But as we sit and chat, she tells me that what interests her now, her next project — in fact, one combining business with civic virtue — is a desire to promote and create community.
Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, says America faces an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation,” and it’s not just mental health that it damages. It’s the equivalent in physical terms of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s worse than obesity.
My client-friend wants to use her business acumen, resources and time to combat this epidemic. She’s not particularly interested in growing her nine-figure fortune — because where does that level of acquisitiveness end?
What she’s interested in is building paradigms for society that prevent isolation. She wants to create living spaces and residential environments that include young and old, families and singles, the prosperous and the less so.
This is the very opposite to hugely wealthy people living in barely inhabited apartments, as many do in One Hyde Park (and elsewhere). Does a lights-out, superrich city even think about community, much less create it? Does a city driven in philosophy mainly by its wealthiest members make for a happy place to live for all and sundry? And do we want to accept money wherever it comes from, so long as it keeps the municipal coffers brimming?
Dubai comes to mind again. It’s not a democracy. It doesn’t have a great record on how it treats foreign workers. It’s illegal to be gay there. A sunny spot to enjoy your good fortune (or just your fortune) it may well be, but a paradise of community it is not.
Yes, wealth gives you mobility, it gives you the luxury of choosing where to live, where to move, and how long to stay, before moving on.
What exactly it does to promote “community” is perhaps a trickier question.
The Secret Agent has run his own estate agency in central London for over 15 years. He and his team of four work in sales and acquisition in the superprime price range.