on the problem of real estate development by wealthy people

this is a messy string of thoughts that’s probably not going to come out in the right order but i figure it’s better for it to come out messy than not at all.

real estate developers, by nature of their work, get to do two things that most people never get a chance to do: (1) make decisions about land which they will likely never live on and (2) travel the world to get access to the planet’s most beautiful and preserved nature.

this creates one massive problem: real estate developers have incentives that are completely out of alignment with the work they do.

as an industry, real estate has a profit-driven incentive to build as much as possible. this often happens at the expense of quality of life for people living in the places where developers are developing. but the fact that real estate is so lucrative allows developers to (a) pay their way to bulldoze opinions of people who resist their development wishes AND (b) never have to experience the terrible places their work creates. they have enough money to go on expensive-ass vacations to the world’s most beautiful places because real estate is so lucrative. whether it’s the vacation home on cape cod or the annual family trip to the caribbean or something else, this situation seems to be the case with most developers (and also just most wealthy people) i’ve met.

this post was prompted by two things (this is the third time that a pair of two things has come up in this post… weird): first, seeing a real estate and technology conference at mit earlier this week that as almost completely white and male. as i walked by it for two days, i just really wondered what impact the race and gender dynamics of that space are going to create for the future of real estate.

and second, this quote from jamaica kincaid’s book, a small place:

That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go—so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.

i just imagine that if people wealthy enough to be tourists weren’t able to travel to get their escape fix, they would make different decisions about what places look and feel like. if wealthy people had to stay put and live with everyone, how would that impact their decisions about building high rises and condos everywhere or building on all possible green space…

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