This content is associated with The Open University's Geography courses and qualifications.
As we are so often told, we are now living in a globalised world. Certainly, cities are increasingly being reinvented and promoted as intense, powerful hubs of activity and interaction in a globally, interconnected world. From the movement of people and goods through to the circulation of money, knowledge and information, it can be helpful to think about how contemporary cities are permeated by all kinds of different relationships and connections with places elsewhere.
And yet, the remaking of cities in the name of economic growth is far from politically uncontested. One area where this has become acutely contentious is housing. Transformed over recent decades through the construction of new luxury apartments and speculative redevelopment, there are growing concerns over the cost and stability of housing arrangements within cities and regions across Britain and beyond.
An important part of this story relates to the transformation of homes into assets as new international financial actors turn to housing in search of new opportunities to turn a profit.
So how, then, might tracing international financial flows help us better understand how British cities are changing? And what might this tell us about how – and in whose interests – cities are being remade in these rather unsettling times?
Tracing the flows
These are precisely the kind of questions asked by researchers at the University of Sheffield who, over the last few years, have been studying the uneven impact of how the cities of Manchester and Salford in the North West of England are being opened up to processes of financialisaton, understood as the transformation of housing from a public good into a commodity.
Researchers Rich Goulding, Adam Leaver and Jon Silver have been compiling data on new housing developments in Manchester and Salford in order to understand who is involved in the construction of new housing apartments in Greater Manchester and where in the world those companies and financial actors are located.
As part of our new Geography module, D225 Changing geographies of the UK we have mapped this data to help visualise how cities are being transformed through the global reach of financialisation.
You can examine this data in the two interactive maps below. The first is of Manchester and Salford, the other a map of the world. The maps show available data on the construction of new housing redevelopments in Manchester and Salford between 2012 and 2020 based on research conducted by the team of researchers at the University of Sheffield.
How to explore the maps
On the Manchester and Salford map, each of the location icons represents a housing development. Click on any icon on the map to find out more about each property. You will be able to see more about the owner(s) of the developments, which non-UK actors financed their construction and where they are based in the text box that appears. You will also be able to see the number of residential units within each development, too.
Then, click on the different countries on the world map to trace their links with homes in Greater Manchester: clicking on the countries in the world map will bring up data on all the property developments in Manchester and Salford involving companies operating from that country.
Once you’ve had the chance to study the two maps consider the following questions:
1. Is there a pattern as to where investors are based overseas?
2. What about the location of those homes in Manchester and Salford?
Click on the image below or here to launch the interactive map.
You may have noticed that a lot of new apartments in Greater Manchester involve non-UK based organisations and actors, linking up the two cities to places such as Jersey, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates. Through tracing the flows, it becomes possible to make present some of the connections with places where questions have been raised about human rights issues, as well as several other countries often referred to as ‘tax havens’, whereby little or no tax is paid and where transparency in ownership is not always required.
And there is also pattern as to where these properties have been built, too. New housing developments are predominantly in central and waterside locations in the two cities, such as the Northern Quarter in Manchester and Salford Quays, the former docks on the Manchester Ship Canal, since redeveloped as the home of MediaCityUK. Towards East Manchester, you may have also noticed the influence of private equity group, Abu Dhabi United Group, involved in a cluster of new developments in close proximity to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, with the private equity group also having been a majority owner of Manchester City Football Club itself.
By mapping and tracing some of these financial flows across borders, we can begin to think carefully about new tensions that might be surfacing within the remaking of Greater Manchester into visions of becoming a globally competitive city-region.
The making of a housing crisis?
So, what might be the impacts of opening up cities to these new international flows of finance? Certainly, the construction of new apartments has transformed cities like Manchester and Salford at remarkable pace – old industrial buildings, pubs and terrace housing have been pulled down to be replaced with towering glass and steel apartment blocks. But mapping urban redevelopment and tracing new international flows is only part of the challenge.
For geographers, and others, not least those living in Greater Manchester, the task is to try to get to grips with how the reach of global finance touches down in Manchester and Salford – and to ask: what is politically at stake?
Elsewhere, Greater Manchester Housing Action, for example, have produced a report examining how such financial flows are transforming rented housing and temporary lettings, and how the city of Manchester and its wider region are promoted globally to investors, financial actors and politicians around the world.
A concern is that within current political ambition to remake Greater Manchester as a global city region, the financialisation of housing risks intensifying social divisions and tensions surrounding who can afford to live and work in cities where rental prices are soaring, and working-class communities are being pushed out.
Thinking geographically about changing places
Developing the skills to understand and analyse how places are changing is a central theme running throughout the new Open University module D225 Changing geographies of the UK. Throughout the module, you will be introduced to exciting new ways of thinking geographically about many different issues and processes reshaping an increasingly disunited Kingdom. And through our innovative new fieldwork – blending virtual and in situ methods – you will have the chance to put your geographical thinking to work by examining how places that are meaningful to you are changing in these turbulent times.