John Gapper

In these tough economic times, it is sometimes hard to think of a silver lining. But Richard Florida proposes an interesting one: that what is bad for financial services firms may be good for artists and psychiatrists. I think he may be on to something.

In an essay in the latest Atlantic magazine, Florida suggests that New York City may not be as badly affected as some other US cities by the recession – despite being the home of Wall Street – because a lot of New Yorkers work in other industries, some of which are counter-cyclical. Read more

John Gapper

The news of cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe reminds me of reading The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson’s gripping account of the discovery of the causes of cholera in London in the 19th century. This was my review of it in the FT.

It seems improbable now that there could be cholera in Soho in the middle of London, but an outbreak there in 1854 led to the proof that the deadly illness was caused by drinking sewage-infected water. Read more

John Gapper

Since I am the father of two members of the target demographic, I have just been to the cinema in Manhattan to see Walt Disney’s High School Musical 3. I quite enjoyed it (as did the demo) but the main thing that struck me as was how apposite it was to Barack Obama’s election.

A summary of the plot: a multi-racial bunch of kids at a high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, put on a musical, indulge in innocent romance and plan to go off to college. The end.

Troy Bolton, the basketball-playing hero, is white. Gabriella Montez, his girlfriend and the leading lady, is Hispanic. His best friend, Chad Danforth, is black, as is Chad’s girlfriend Taylor McKessie, who is going to Yale to study political science and intends to become the US president.

They are, in other words, a perfect representation of the amiable multi-racial fantasy of many youth films in which the realities of discrimination do not intrude. They make the audience feel good about itself by presenting a sanitised version of reality. Read more

John Gapper

This is not about business but, since it is a historic occasion, I will make an exception.

I watched Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential campaign tonight with friends in Fort Greene, a mixed race, gentrified district of Brooklyn. Then I walked back home after midnight. Read more

John Gapper

There is a fascinating analysis of how the financial crisis is affecting the United Arab Emirates – including Abu Dhabi and Dubai – in the FT this morning, co-written by Lionel Barber, our editor, who was visiting when a bank bail-out was being crafted.

It makes me think that my recent note on the booming residential property market in Abu Dhabi may have coincided with the top of the market. (I also like the photograph that goes with the article, of Roger Federer playing Andre Agassi on a helipad on top of the Burj Al Arab hotel.) Read more

John Gapper


As an antidote to the property-related crisis sweeping over Lehman Brothers, I went over to the Javitz conference centre in Manhattan yesterday to learn about one property development that is not short of money.

It is Saadiyat Island, the mind-boggling $27bn project to develop an island next to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. At about $1bn per square kilometre, the emirate is not stinting on Saadiyat.

I suppose the falling oil price may crimp the style of Abu Dhabi and its next-door emirate Dubai a little. But it is not stopping the creation of Saadiyat, which will not only have nine resort hotels along a 9 kilometre beach but a cluster of world-class museums. Read more

John Gapper

I have never seen Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, in person so I took the opportunity to do so this lunchtime at the Milken Institute Global Conference. I have to say that I was impressed.

Mr Schwarzenegger was talking about his push to build infrastructure such as roads, rail links and schools in California. He has also linked up with Ed Rendell, governor of Pennsylvania, and Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York to spread that message across the US.

I expected him to be amusing and unusual but he surprised me with his fluency in talking about the topic and his charm. Maybe it helped that he was in a room full of business people (and financiers with an interest in the subject) who were on his side.

I also liked his lack of tact. At one point, eulogising about why his state was “the greatest place in the world” he compared it to other states. “People are not dying to go to Iowa,” he said. I can only imagine the apology he will have to make for that. Read more

John Gapper

I am back in London again to pick up a prize and continue my ongoing comparison of my native city with the one where I live – New York.

As always, when arriving at London Bridge station this morning, I was reminded of T. S. Eliot’s lines from The Wasteland:

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

Eliot once worked in Lloyds Bank as a clerk. I recall that Sir Jeremy Morse, the former chairman of the bank, had tears in his eyes when he recited those lines from memory in a valedictory speech.

Anyway, this morning they were as true as ever as I pushed through the crowds to board the Jubilee Line. A sign proclaimed that the line service was good but, as Bill Clinton might have said, that depends on the meaning of the word “good”. Read more