Capitalism’s Last Frontier#19 The Gift of Food


The proto-economy of the pre-neolithic was predominantly an economy of sharing without the concepts of personal property in the manner we understand the concept of property today. The term ‘gift economy’ has become an emotive one.  Critics of capitalism, whether communists, anarchists, or feminist counterpose the propriatorial and acquisitive nature of modern capitalism to the virtues of the gift economy.  This can easily become romanticised in a manner akin to the writings of Rousseae, a time when man was ‘born free’, and rather than being one where life was ‘nasty brutish and short’ in the famous Hobbes phrase.  Or rather than being a time of scarcity was the original affluent society in the words of  Marshall Sahlins – allthough one where affluence is achieved by desiring little rather than by producing and consuming much.

Concepts of the gift economy often transpose unwittingly modern concepts of ownership.  For example to gift property assumes a concept of property and individual ownership.  Such concepts are by no means universal.  The same problem occurs with assumptions of obligation and reciprocation from ‘giving’, concepts of exchange creep in through the back door. Where food sharing is a matter of survival, as it is in hunting and foraging bands it is better to talk of a sharing economy than a gift economy.  In some socities concepts of a gifting economy arose later with concepts of mutual obligation and assertion of status, such as in the ritual of conspicuous food gifting known as potlach.

Humankind seems to have developed an early ability to share. Micheal Tomasello, codirector of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Why We Cooperate. MIT Press (2009) suggests that the evolution of copoeration is a defining characteristic of our species. Tomasello has studied the cooperative behavior of preverbal children, generally 12 months to 24 months in age, and compared their behavior to of apes in similar experiments. The results demonstrate that even children have a natural predilection to cooperate and help others. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, especially where food is concerned, tend to act in ways that increase their own individual gain.


Where do they get this idea of group rules, the sense of “we who do it this way”? Dr. Tomasello believes children develop what he calls “shared intentionality,” a notion of what others expect to happen and hence a sense of a group “we.” It is from this shared intentionality that children derive their sense of norms and of expecting others to obey them.

Shared intentionality, in Dr. Tomasello’s view, is close to the essence of what distinguishes people from chimpanzees. A group of human children will use all kinds of words and gestures to form goals and coordinate activities, but young chimps seem to have little interest in what may be their companions’ minds.

The shared intentionality lies at the basis of human society, Dr. Tomasello argues. From it flow ideas of norms, of punishing those who violate the norms and of shame and guilt for punishing oneself. Shared intentionality evolved very early in the human lineage, he believes, and its probable purpose was for cooperation in gathering food. Anthropologists report that when men cooperate in hunting, they can take down large game, which single hunters generally cannot do. Chimpanzees gather to hunt colobus monkeys, but Dr. Tomasello argues this is far less of a cooperative endeavor because the participants act on an ad hoc basis and do not really share their catch

The gift of food requires a surplus of food, beyond immediate subsistence to give.


This could have happened at some point early in human evolution, when in order to survive, people were forced to cooperate in hunting game or gathering fruit. The path to obligatory cooperation — one that other primates did not take — led to social rules and their enforcement, to human altruism and to language.

“Humans putting their heads together in shared cooperative activities are thus the originators of human culture,” Dr. Tomasello writes.

Independently Hillard S. Kaplan, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico has reached similar conclusions.

The structure of early human societies, including their “high levels of cooperation between kin and nonkin,” was thus an adaptation to the “specialized foraging niche” of food resources that were too difficult for other primates to capture, (The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.) We evolved to be nice to each other, in other words, because there was no alternative.

We have seen how certain technological advantages, such as the invention of cooking and agriculture, and advances in hunting, enabled a much higher yield for a given area of human habitation, enabling the support of a greater population in any given area of land.  Setting aside for one moment any population increase from an advance in food technology, such an advance can generate a food surplus, more food than is needed to sustain immediate subsistence,  The kinship group will then make a decsion, a true economic decision, about what to do with that surplus.

There are many options.  Seeds can be sown rather than consumed, or dry stored.  Food can be shared within a kinship group, or traded.

Imagine two bands. one in that year with a surplus of food and the other with a failed harvest.  The failed harvest group might raid its neighbour or trade for food.  It is essential for a group to develop one or more survival strategies for times of poor food production.  With a surplus some members of a group can afford not to work solely on food production. They can be mining or making, creating non-pershiable goods to trade, so that in harder times these goods can be traded for food.

In a kinship or family group there will be net exchange in the production of food.  Adults will be net givers, the old and infants, the sick and heavily pregnant women will be net receivers. Loss of a member of that group who is a net giver could lead to starvation from one of the net receivers. This surely is the origin of the concept of the ‘bride price’ .

Concepts of sharing and exchange cannot be counterposed as mutually exclusive in human society.  Indeed all societies seem to have concepts of sharing and exchange running side by side.  This critically relates to the evolution of the concepts of property and money.

The New Polycentric Plan for Moscow – Double in Size, Move all Government Jobs out

Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobyanin and the governor of the Moscow Region Boris Gromov have reached agreement on a massive expansion of the territory of the City, with information emerging of the dramatic changes in the planning of the City that this foreshadows.

The territory of the City of Moscow is to increase by 144,000 hectares, or by 2.4 times. The capital is to incorporate a large stretch of land which now lies outside its south-western border; the area between the Kiev and Warsaw motorways.

The original idea behind the plan was to relocate the headquarters of state officials outside the capital. President Medvedev believes that this could be a good way to decongest the capital’s overcrowded roads and to make the city more attractive for financial workers, thus turning it into an international financial center.
Apart from housing administrative buildings, the new land will also be used for residential construction. More than two million new homes are expected to be built on the new territory within the next 20 years.

145 million sq’ of new commercial real estate will be built. A detailed plan for the new city districts will take a year, the controversial and corruption ridden General Plan approved in 2009 (in the face of street protests) by the sacked and disgraced former Mayor will automatically become obsolete, and is already under review. The aim is also to increase overcrowding of living space of existing occupants. The pressure on Moscow’s severely threatened heritage should also ease. The new mayor though has some bizarre planning ideas, halting building work to ‘ease congestion’ proposing to increase parking and scrap trollybuses (now u turned) and saying Moscow itself doesn’t need more housing

The mayor also said that the city will develop around a scheme of “polycentric large squares” that would both help the ecological situation and solve related employment problems. The mayor did not specify how exactly this plan will be executed.

As for terms and schedules, Sobyanin said that the government of the Russian Federation and the presidential administration will move to their new offices within the next five years, though the overall merger plan will take at least 20 years to complete.

The SW expansion option choice is a surprise because it was not on the shortlist of officials and has poor road infrastructure. It would be well south of the route of the planned Moscow-Minsk-Warsaw HSR but the SW option (favoured by officials) has better infrastructure, links to the airport and is on the first to be built Moscow-Kiev HSR route.

The sense of this proposal has already been questioned by local property experts. There is little serviced or government owned land land and most of the land is owned by a few wealthy landowners. The principle landowner is the Masshtab group, with Platinum bank, Absolut group, MDK and East Line also having a large swathe of the land.

The Masshtab group had bought land speculatively and proposed a 350,000 population new town on their vast site, and had lobbied fiercely for it. It would be Europe’s largest urban development project. Its founder has a ‘colourful‘ record.

The site and proposal is very motorway orientated and could only be served by tram extensions, over an hours travel from the centre, not fast regional metro. Not a good choice. In fact it smells.

Nerdstock shuns Oxford for Edinburgh


TED Global, or ‘Nerdtock’ as the Guardian affectionately called it, has relocated from Oxford to the wonderful Terry Farrell designed Edinburgh international conference centre to hold its fantastically geeky interdisciplinary event.

TEDGlobal has successfully taken place three times in Oxford, UK (2005, 2009, 2010). We love the city and its great beauty and rich historical and cultural roots. We are proud of the events we’ve held there, and grateful to all those who’ve helped us make them happen. However, Oxford’s infrastructure was increasingly limiting our intentions to develop TEDGlobal in new, imaginative ways. After an extensive analysis, we have found in the capital city of Scotland an exciting and flexible venue.

Oxford’s infrastructure –  hmmm how about

-its shortage of hotel space

-lack of an international standard conference centre

appalling bus service (though we dont know if Edinburgh’s tram system will ever be finished)

Oxford needs to pull its socks up.  It needs to become a regional centre with an international reach, not just an overgrown county town.  The problem too is that none of England’s university towns are really capable of holding such international events with ease.

Why do People get Lost?

Dr. Giuseppe Iaria has founded NeuroLab at  the University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Their website Getting Lost is dedicated to the science of why people get lost and how we find our way.  One of their interests is a richer understanding of Developmental Topographical Disorientation, the disorder of those that get lost very easily, including in extreme cases people getting lost in their own home.  I once knew a planner with this condition who feared going on site and dreaded a proposed office move.  When I took him on site once he was unable to describe the view in front of him.

Though orientation and navigation is undoubtedly complex, most people are able to reach their destination with little effort. This ability is produced by two primary behavioural mechanisms.

The first behavioural mechanism consists of making use of a variety of information (landmarks, body turns, distances, etc) in order to become familiar with the environment. This may either consist of learning a defined (fixed) route in the surrounding, or acquiring a more general knowledge of the environment including its layout and the spatial locations of landmarks available within it. Time spent in the environment as well as the information people decide to focus while navigating play a critical role on the ability that individuals will develop in orienting in that environment. The type of orientation that people adopt while learning and experiencing the environment mainly focuses on environmental landmarks and it is referred to as spatial memory.

The second behavioural mechanism happens unconsciously and is used while following habitual routes that individuals became very familiar with such as going from room to room in the house or workplace, or even driving from home to work along the same route for a long time. Navigation is guided by automatic motor sequences and can occur in the absence of landmarks. No explicit knowledge of turn sequences or landmark associations are required. This type of orientation is supported by procedural memory, the same memory system that produces learned motor activity such as riding a bike or playing a piano.

They don’t seem to give enough attention to the social interaction important in wayfinding.  For example we are the only primate with white eyes, we can see where our colleagues are looking and even babies have this interactive ability.  It seems to have evolved to enable early humans to undertake complex foraging rather than simply following game in a group, and point to our colleagues where the best places for food are.

Savills Shortage of Consented Housing Sites – Backlog of Strategic Sites

Last months the DCLG Response to the HoC Select Committee report on the abolition of RSS stated that the upturn in housing commencements in Q1 was evidence of the success of new government policy.

In fact it represented nothing more than commencing or restarting stalled sites, especially in London, to avoid payment of CIL, rather than an uplift in land with consent ready to go.

Today Savills published a report confirming the shortage of ready to go consent sites

They find:

  • Demand for consented, relatively small, risk-free sites is strong and competition for these sites is fast pushing up land prices in some locations.
  • Meanwhile there is a backlog of strategic sites, and the ‘right’ type of land in the ‘right’ locations is in short supply. New planning permissions are -41% below the levels of 2006/07.
  • Nationally, land prices are flat, disguising significant polarisation in the market. On average, UK greenfield land values increased by 1% in Q2 2010. Urban land fell by -0.9%
If land prices are rising despite house prices falling this is a clear indicator of a shortage of housing land.  RSS abolition has failed.  The Select Committee should reopen their inquiry.


Background to the Brighton Core Strategy Withdrawal


Planning today announced the withdrawal of Brighton’s core strategy a day early, it is a full council decision and wont be decided until tomorrow night.

It is useful to set out the background.  The Core Strategy was submitted in April 2010 for examination.

The examination was suspended following an exploratory meeting on 20th May 2010.

The Inspector had raised  raised soundness concerns about the housing delivery strategy in the submitted document which was at odds with Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing by not identifying sufficient housing sites to meet the Regional Strategy, namely the South East Plan, target. The local case for not meeting the regional target was not considered sufficiently robust.  Also the plan horizon for housing was less than the minimum 15 years.

The report oddly does not mention the CALA 2 case.  It would seem Brighton and Hove are seeking to delay until after the South East Plan is withdrawn.  They seem to think that this will then give scope for a more locally crafted document as desired by the now Green run administration.  However by then the NPPF will be full in force, and will give them no scope whatsoever for setting local sustainability standards or reducing housing numbers below the maximum desired by the market.

The inspector in his preliminary was wrong however (my old colleague Liz Hobden should have called me up)

The Inspector drew attention to the Note  produced by the Inspector, Mr Emerson, following his Advisory Visit which stated that, so far, no Council had had a CS found SOUND where reliance was placed on windfalls.

That is not the case.  Epson and Ewell surrounded by Green Belt was, that was a very special case, and Reading was allowed some allowance, again a special case.  Note in both cases the LPA was found ‘incapable’ not unwilling of identifying sites for the full 10 years.

An End to the Good Times for Property Developers and Architects in China

Large architecture firms seem desperate not to miss out on the China Building Boom, every week announces a new collaboration or commission, however with consummate British timing it is exposing those firms to the very end of an unsustainable boom which could leave many of them with unpaid bills, which brought down, or nearly crippled, firms after the Dubai boom popped.

On this blog and elsewhere for many months we have charted how the Chinese property bubble is unsustainable and how the conventional wisdom, that there is no systemic problem of too much credit, is wrong – see for example the Paper Dragon article, here, here and here.

Now in a matter of a few weeks this has switched from being a heresy dismissed with a scoff to accepted wisdom.  Those most widely warning of trouble are precisely those economists who warned of a ‘Minsky moment’ in 2008.

Now an editorial in World Architecture News ‘A Shadow Creeps over China’ wonders if the good times will end swiftly.

Last week the New York Times drew attention to the hidden mountain of Chinese municipal Debt we have highlighted

The danger, experts say, is that China’s municipal governments could already be sitting on huge mountains of hidden debt — a lurking liability that threatens to stunt the nation’s economic growth for years or even decades to come. Just last week China’s national auditor, who reports to the cabinet, warned of the perils of local government borrowing. And on Tuesday the Beijing office of Moody’s Investors Service issued a report saying the national auditor might have understated Chinese banks’ actual risks from loans to local governments.

But the NYTs analysis is flawed.

…, many analysts see no reason for panic — no imminent threat of an economy-collapsing banking crisis in China. That is largely because of Beijing’s $3 trillion war chest of foreign exchange reserves (much of it invested in United States Treasury bonds), and the fact that China’s state-run banks are also sitting on huge piles of household savings from the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens.

Because all that cash is protected by government restrictions on money flowing in and out of the country, a global run on China’s banks would be unlikely.

The real problem, analysts say, is that municipal government debt in China has begun casting a large shadow over the nation’s growth picture. If instead of investing in growth, China had to start spending money to gird the banks against municipal defaults, some experts see a possibility of China eventually lapsing into a long period of Japan-like stagnation.

There is no way that China could repatriate those foreign exchange reserves with causing huge pressure on exchange rates, either creating a further distortion through a pegged rate, leading to a flood of inflationary ‘hot money’ from abroad or making its export sector uncompetitive through lowering exchange rates.  That money is the wrong side of the RMB peg.  The real issue is who China bails out and on what terms, the US or Europe?

The pile of savings of Chinese citizen could be squeezed, as it has multiple times, but this again will only depress domestic demand.  An inevitable collapse in Chinese fixed asset investments will see a collapse in GDP and mass unemployment.  China will respond with monetary measures, the issue is how effective they will be.   There are ways in which China could manage its off balance sheet municipal loans and avoid collapse.  Ill cover that in a future post.

Erect Architecture – the Triumph of Play

Erect Architecture are gathering a global reputation as being a practice centred on the sheer joy of playful exploration of space.

The social aspect of architecture is what we most treasure. … The stuff of life is what makes us tick. The context is our inspiration.

The practice was founded by architects Barbara Kaucky & Susanne Tutsch and all its principals have a strong public space, social architecture and art bent.

Kilburn Grange Park APG won the international Children’s Making Spaces 2010 award. The children of the jury noted: ‘The project is fun, it allows us to connect to nature, it combines play and learning. Sustainability was important to us, but what excited us a lot was that Kilburn Grange Park Adventure Playground is a project, which allows us, the users, to make it our own.’


Cypress Children's Centre South Norwood


Cypress Children's Centre South Norwood


Kilburn Play Centre



Clapton Playground


Nine Elms Parkside Revealed: Allies and Morrison -Horrible

The redevelopment of the Royal Male depot at Nine Elms is a key site in the Vauxhall Battersea Opportunity Area, which after the completion of the Olympic Park area will become London’s most important regeneration area.

The site sits between Battersea Power Station and the Nine Elms market and together with the US Embassy site/Embassy Quarter is a vital link site in the centre of the opportunity area.

The aim in the GLA opportunity area framework is to create a network of streets through this area with a connecting Battersea Power Station to Vauxhall Cross Linear Park – running through this site. The framework is fairly loose at this stage focussing on how to get the transport links in to enable development at high density and set a broad framework for more detailed masterplans.

Those masterplans though must set the tone and create a clear sense of place, connectivity and identity.

Allies and Morrisons have just unveiled their plans for Nine Elms Parkside and have submitted a planning application.

The Masterplan though is deeply disappointing.  The issue is not the scale and density.  That is possible because of a new tube station, and necessary to pay for it.  The problem is the relationship between built form and open space.  The linear park is treated as an awkward inconvenience rather than an opportunity.


There are no end to end vistas along key stretches of the linear park and no termination of the vistas, or creation of distinct buildings to do so.

The model for a linear open space is Brook Green, which requires a strong sense of linear enclosure with buildings addressing that frontage.  It also means buildings of a massing fronting the open space not to permanently overshadow it, which these would with the open space directly to the south of 13 storey buildings.  It is frustrating as a modulation of densities within the site and a clearer restructuring of the form of the open space could easily solve these problems and retain a similar number of units.  It would be much easier still though if there were a pooling of landownerships as the sites easier to develop at much greater density are those set slightly further away from the linear park.



The architecture itself uninspiring, and we know A&M can do so much better. It reminds me of nothing more than a 100 samey townships around most chinese cities.  Not distinctive enough and not enough emphasis on walking down a great street (which would be nothing more than a dark canyon with a poor width to height ratio).

1/2 empty office block in Manchester Sells for £24 Million – Anticipating UCO change?

The £24.4 million off-market sale of a half empty office block in Manchester City Centre is causing much head scratching amongst the local property community as this is well above a reasonable office value.

Could this be some of the first evidence of buys anticipating UCO changes?

If so then office rents in places such as Leeds and Manchester City centres are likely to shoot up and offices could decamp to secondary locations in surrounding towns.  Once the city centre agglomeration economies of main centres outside London begin to drop their potential to act as alternative clusters for growth will ebb away.