Limited exposure: Social concealment, mobility and engagement with public space by the super-rich in London

Rowland Atkinson

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Atkinson, R. (1). Limited exposure: Social concealment, mobility and engagement with public space by the super-rich in London. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 48(7), 1302–1317.

London , Mobilities , Segregation , Super-rich

How do the wealthiest inhabitants in one of the world’s wealthiest cities engage with public settings? Certainly, public concern about social and spatial divisions resulting from gross inequalities has not been matched by empirical research into the flows and social repertoires of the very wealthy. This article presents research examining the place and impact of the super-rich on London and considers how this group relates to its others, how they traverse urban spaces and their feelings about the value and relative dangers of the city. The impression derived from this investigation is of a group able to use residential locational choices and choreographed mobilities as strategies to avoid negative aspects of daily life in the city (visible poverty, potential danger, spaces of social and ethnic difference). Yet despite these strategies of selective engagement, it is also possible to identify a celebration of London as a safe and cosmopolitan urban field in which cultural institutions and commercial districts allow what is nevertheless a socially delimited range of interactions. The city allows the very wealthy to experience London as a democratic and welcoming space underwritten by high levels of domestic security, spatial divisions/buffers and public–private security apparatuses that facilitate their relative invisibility and safety. The wealthy take on a cloaked co-presence that prevents the need for disagreeable encounters with poverty, facilitated by the built structures and networks of the city.

Main finding
The author finds that the super-rich’s experience of the city's public spaces and institutions are shielded from poverty, deprivation and social unrest. In this lived experience, the wealthy would mistake racial/ethnic inclusion in the city with their experience of the multiple (minority) service staff they encountered - believing those encounters to be representative of social life. Two tendencies of the super-rich, as they engage with the city, are: 1) use of an open series of linked public realms that offer relative security and 2) use of secure nodal points within the urban system that shield mobilities, allow seamless movement, and conceal their presence.

Description of method used in the article
Over 100 in-depth interviews with wealthy elites and their intermediaries were conducted. Ethnographic techniques included immersion in case study areas plus a review of geodemographic, financial, socio-tenurial, and real estate data.

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Case Study Interviews
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