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How neoliberal capitalism shaped Tigné Point to sell the Valletta view

The view of Valletta was commodified – even ‘weaponised’ – to make the Tigné Point apartments a desirable prospect for a few wealthy residents able to buy it

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
24 November 2017, 6:54am
It’s something of a given that a great view will jack up the price of that property you’ve been keeping an eye on. But a recently-published academic paper takes that truism apart to reveal its deep-seated neoliberal guts... and uses the Tigne Point project as a clear case study of the way such places become mere “sites of value extraction for capital rather than a site for human living”. 

Writing in the journal Urban Studies, Janet Speake (Liverpool Hope University) charts the development of the Tigné Point project from inception to execution, in an attempt to show how such urban initiatives play out as ideal demonstration of the motors of neoliberal capitalism, where what matters is generating a steady fount of profit ahead of providing suitable dwellings for people. 

With Tigné Point – and all that it implies – now puttering away comfortably, lodged as it has become in the day-to-day lives to many Maltese (to say nothing of the upwardly mobile expats who gravitate to such upmarket areas like bees to honey), the study makes for some interesting if sobering reading. Particularly since it considers “the view” of Valletta as a key element in the project’s lucrative success... a fact that will only come into sharper focus during the coming year. 

“For Valletta, this may be significant for its status as European Capital of Culture 2018, and the desirability of gazing on the city looks set to increase,” Speake writes in the article, entitled ‘Urban development and visual culture: Commodifying the gaze in the regeneration of Tigne’ Point, Malta’.


History

The fort at Tigné Point was developed by the Knights of St John in 1792 and used by the British forces from 1805 to 1979. In 1979 the fort, barracks, foreshore, lesiure facilities (football club, lido) were returned to the ownership of the Maltese government.

Many of the barracks were subsequently redeveloped as social housing, but by the 1990s much of the area had fallen into disrepair. In 1992, the 13.5ha site was proposed as a prime development opportunity for a low-rise (six-storey) project.

Originally, the Structure Plan in 1990 had emphasised urban design matters for such a strategic location opposite Valletta, a World Heritage Site: “buildings along the waterfront areas of both sites should reinforce and add to the sense of enclosure which contain the Harbour and maintain its unparalleld visual splendour”.

 

A view to a kill(ing)

 

"A ‘nice view’ may be something of a self-evident perk for any development, but Speake delves into a wide array of scholarship to show that it’s actually a pretty deep-rooted phenomenon"
Drawing on a plethora of high-end theorists to bolster her case, Speake gets at how visual culture and urban development tend to be interlinked for the purposes of profit-generation in a capitalist system. She argues that the nature, purpose and execution of the most recent redevelopment of Tigne’ Point is characterised by a clear move away from creating livable spaces for people which conserve the areas of historical and vernacular character, in favour of a space which exists primarily to satisfy market forces. 

“The revitalisation of Tigne’ Point was reinvented as an exclusive commercial and profit-driven regeneration scheme, in line with global trends towards financialisation of property development,” Speake writes, before getting to one of the most crucial aspects of her study: the idea that the view of Valletta was commodified – less generously, we could even say ‘weaponised’ – to make the Tigne’ Point apartments even more of a desirable prospect. A ‘nice view’ may be something of a self-evident perk for any development, but Speake delves into a wide array of scholarship to show that it’s actually a pretty deep-rooted phenomenon. 


Premium price

In October 2013, and valued at €1.5m, apartments with views of Valletta harbour entrance were purchased first, then apartments with a view of Valletta, valued at €1m to €1.5m, and last by those with a northerly view of the Mediterranean Sea priced at €800k to €1m.

The majority of apartments were sold within two weeks (Tigné Point, 2014). Since 2003, Tigné Point has been the most expensive residential and commercial location in Malta. Residential units at Tigné Point are placed in price brackets based on  their view. In March 2011 the valuations for

apartments were: Garden view from €388,000, Piazza view from €388,000, Sea view from €403,000, and Valletta view from €976,000. In total, 250 of the 500 apartments at Tigné Point have a view of Valletta and command this substantial premium.

“A beautiful view has perceived financial ‘value’ and is generally considered to be a commodifiable asset (Lange and Schaeffer, 2001). Visual quality is used as a positive attribute in property transactions, with brokers extolling, for example, the ‘million dollar view’. It is also reflected in the names of property and districts such as ‘Bay View’ and the archetypal ‘Belle Vue’ (Isenstadt, 1999: 65),” Speake writes, before going on to describe how the view of Valletta from Tigné Point ended up being yet another feather in the cap for the Tign´´ Point project, whose progenitors – the MIDI consortium – could use to maximise the aura of prestige around the endeavour. 

“The use of the view to capture the attention of the (paying) viewer became a pronounced part of the commerical mix,” Speake writes, adding that “[a]t all points in this development it was made clear that the key beneficiaries of the project were those who could pay their way into the increasingly expensive properties”. 

 

 

Just how public is it?

Of course, the general public can still enjoy the gorgeous – and, crucially, tourist-friendly – view of Valletta from the Tigné Point bridge and the paved walkway that frames its posh residences and restaurants. But the presence of the residential and commercial complexes leave an undeniable impression on the experience – one feels as if they’re encroaching on somebody else’s land, even if they’re technically “allowed” to do so. This is what Speake refers to as “rescripting” of the public space – and it’s perhaps the most glaring fallout of the entire project. 

“In reality, part of the panoramic view has been commodified as a commercial proposition within this intrinsically financially-driven, property-led regeneration scheme, with much of the capitalised view accessible to a few wealthy residents able to buy into it.” 

Not fit for living things

Entangled as it is in the theory-speak of post-modern academia, Speake’s essay nonetheless hits home – quite literally for someone like me, who grew up right around the block while the colossus of Tigné Point was being shaped into existence, brick by encroaching late-capitalist brick. With the ‘promise’ of further high-rise development in the area now also looming on the horizon, one finds a concluding remark from Speake – in which she tries to encapsulate the spirit of the Tigne’ Point endeavour and others like it – rather sobering.

“Urban space is (re)scripted and (re)produced and, in so doing, the city gets closer to being a site of value extraction for capital rather than a site for human living”.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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