1993 volume 25(9) pages 1247 – 1265

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Cite as:
Merrifield A, 1993, "The Canary Wharf debacle: from 'TINA' -- there is no alternative -- to 'THEMBA' -- there must be an alternative" Environment and Planning A 25(9) 1247 – 1265

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The Canary Wharf debacle: from 'TINA' -- there is no alternative -- to 'THEMBA' -- there must be an alternative

A Merrifield

Received 12 October 1992; in revised form 9 January 1993

Abstract. In this paper, the recent failure of the Canary Wharf project at London Docklands in the wake of the financial collapse of Canadian property giant, Olympia and York, is critically examined. Some theoretical pointers are offered as to how the Canary Wharf affair arose, the logic through which it was implemented, and the political and financial mechanisms deployed to ride the storm are highlighted. The shifts occurring in the global political economy since the mid-1970s are charted, particularly the massive explosion of the financial sector. These developments have, in turn, rendered commercial real estate a pure financial asset. It is argued that it is this mechanism that spurred the frenetic speculation and overinvestment in the property sector throughout much of the 1980s. This was especially so at London Docklands as investment activities there were further catalysed by an urban and economic policy that endorsed market-driven, speculative short-term practices. The contradictions and instabilities this process engendered at Canary Wharf itself, and how the ensuing 'fallout' has been minimised and legitimated in the United Kingdom through effective nationalisation are examined. The paper is concluded with a discussion on the implications the débàcle has for critical theory and progressive politics.

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