Every new high rise tells a tale of winners and losers. In today's cities, the winners are often investors who have the cash to finance a condo in a rundown area, and the losers are the people whose rents skyrocket well past the point of affordability.
Concrete Action is a site that aims to level the playing field by giving dissident architects a way to securely and anonymously leak building plans to the public. The site, which launched today, also contains information on how the city planning process works so that activists can understand what they're up against when a developer announces another high-rent property in a low income area.
"There are a lot of people working in architecture who are very frustrated with what's happening"
Concrete Action is currently based in the UK, where rising rents have gotten so bad that some charities have said the housing crisis is a breach of human rights. Last year, a group of single mothers in London facing eviction protested the so-called "regeneration" project forcing them out. In short, a full-blown housing movement is underway.
"We saw a need for getting more resources to these sorts of initiatives, rather than all resources, expertise, and funding being in the hands of developers," said Cleo, a co-founder of Concrete Action who wished to remain anonymous, citing professional concerns. "If you live in a city, you're likely familiar with the trend: international investors are pouring a lot of money into property, and that is forcing other people who live in the city to move further and further out."
The site offers architects and planning professionals three different methods for leaking documents. Unencrypted email is recommended for non-sensitive documents, and creating a pseudonymous email on a personal laptop is suggested for the more paranoid. The highest level of security Concrete Action offers is a hidden service [Tor link] on the encrypted Tor network, also known as the dark web, where whistleblowers can upload documents anonymously.
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If the UK rollout of Concrete Action goes well, and if they receive some funding from investors—they're operating on a shoestring, Cleo said—the site's founders hope that it will become successful enough that activists in other countries will want to create similar services. It might be sorely needed.
In New York, wealthy people buying up expensive apartments only to let them sit vacant is a documented phenomenon. In Vancouver, rising rents just forced a hospital thrift shop to relocate to another area of the city. In Toronto, skeletal condos loom like gigantic tombstones over poor areas.
"There are a lot of people working in architecture who are very frustrated with what's happening, but feel like they don't have a voice to speak out," said Sarah, another of Concrete Action's co-founders, who also wished to remain anonymous. "We're hoping that this is going to give them an avenue to do that without worrying about losing their jobs or getting into trouble."