Why rocket off to 'Elysium' when New York's right here?

Dollar bill folded into shape of a house

The rich don't have to live in space to escape us peons.

It seems they're creating their own exclusive enclaves right here on Earth — just ask anyone shopping for a home in New York, London or Hong Kong.

But an orbiting paradise is where the uber-wealthy have escaped to in Elysium, the sci-fi action film that hits multiplexes on Friday.

Here's how the movie's creators describe their dystopian world of the future:

In the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. The people of Earth are desperate to escape the planet's crime and poverty, and they critically need the state-of-the-art medical care available on Elysium — but some in Elysium will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve their citizens' luxurious lifestyle.

Matt Damon stars as a dying member of the underclass who must battle his way onto Elysium to get the life-saving care he needs.

Jodie Foster does her bit as Elysium's hard-line secretary of defense who's equally determined to keep scum like Damon out.

Income inequality. Immigration. Health care. I can't recall a movie that tackles so many hot-button topics at once. Where's the gay marriage subplot?

When someone asked director Neill Blomkamp if this is how he thinks our planet is really going to turn out 140 years from now, he reportedly said, "No, no, no. This isn't science fiction. This is today. This is now."

Hoo-boy. I think it's a safe bet to say this will be the most politically charged movie of the summer.

Conservative websites are already decrying the "hard-left story line" with Blomkamp "at the forefront of the left's message machine."

But the first time I first saw a preview for Elysium, you know what all of those exploding spaceships and high-tech firefights reminded me of?

A column about Paris real estate I'd recently read in the Financial Times.

That may seem a little odd, but stick with me here.

Times columnist Simon Kuper was excited to see the urban revival under way in his hometown of Paris and many of the world's other great cities — think New York, London, Hong Kong, Singapore. Tokyo? Maybe.

But "there's an iron law of 21st-century life: When something is desirable, the 'one percent' grabs it," Kuper wrote. "The elite cities are becoming elite citadels. This is terrifying for everyone else."

Kuper spends much of the column telling how the "working classes and bohemians" were the first to be priced out of the Paris real estate market.

"That was gentrification," he says. "Now comes plutocratisation: The middle classes and small companies are falling victim to class-cleansing. ... Global cities are turning into vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself."


One57 in New York

It looks like Kuper's column was inspired by a trip to the New Cities Summit in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he had coffee with Saskia Sassen, a professor of sociology at Columbia University.

Sassen, who studies urban trends at the New York school, confirmed that what Kuper saw in the Paris housing market was happening in other cities.

In New York, for example, middle-class families that had been priced out of Manhattan are now being priced out of Brooklyn. (Sassen had a fascinating statistic to share: In 2009, the top 1% of New York City's wage earners took home 44% of all compensation paid to the city's workers.)

It was certainly hard to read all of this without thinking of the new poster child for elite New York housing.

When it opens next year, One57 will be the tallest residential building in the city, towering more than 1,000 feet above midtown Manhattan and Central Park.

The New York Times dubbed it "the global billionaires' club" after the developer bragged that the nine full-floor apartments near the top have all been sold to billionaires, including several Americans, at least two buyers from China, a Canadian, a Nigerian and a Briton.

The average price is a breathtaking $6,000 per square foot, and an unknown buyer has agreed to pay a record $90 million for the 10,923-square-foot duplex penthouse on the 89th and 90th floors.

“The scale of wealth in this building is just unheard of,” Jonathan Miller, a New York property appraiser, told the Times.

Who needs rockets and space stations, eh?

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