LandProp Services, Ikea’s real estate arm, is building a massive neighborhood in (far) East London, applying the “Ikea philosophy” to urban planning. What does that mean, exactly? “We don’t want to produce for the rich or the super-rich; we want to produce for the families, for the people,” an Ikea spokesman told the Globe and Mail. The neighborhood will be entirely owned by the company, which will serve as both manager and landlord. Its style, of course, will be Scandinavian.
There is a precedent for this kind of thing — centrally managed communities aren’t unusual in parts of Western Europe — but the concept of a neighborhood designed, controlled and managed by a single company, especially one with such a specific and overbearing aesthetic vision, is a little disconcerting. (You know that trapped feeling you get after losing your bearings in the bathroom furnishings section? Now imagine that on a city scale.)
But maybe this isn’t so much a move toward some future corporate dystopia so much as it is a nod to the past. Ikea’s “Strand East” development has more in common with Levittown, NY, than with grim sci-fi.
Levittown (and its sister towns in PA, NJ and Puerto Rico) was built to take advantage of assembly-line-style mass construction and intended to foster an instant community for home-bound soldiers after World War II; it was an idealized suburban community, perfect for America in the 50s. Strand East is built in an idealized European mold, perfect for London — and much of the increasingly city-bound world — in the 2010s.
It’s an urban, Euro-flavored Levittown, meant to evoke the continent’s historic city centers. It’s a corporate response to the world’s positive trend toward urbanization, so it might not be all bad, assuming the development doesn’t take on the creepiness of Disney’s model town in Florida, and that the units don’t fall apart after four months. (I’m still bitter about a cartoonishly flimsy Mosjö I picked up last year. If these houses are just big Mosjös, I’m out.)