Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
The guy posing as an evil property consultant tells us why he did it.
“Look, we understand that global warming is this terrible thing,” Jake Collins told me last week. “But our company’s reaction is saying, ‘No, we can cope with this in a financially stable way. This is bad, but there’s also this ridiculous opportunity.’”
Collins was presenting himself as the founder of Higher Tides Realty, a boutique real estate consultancy that advises wealthy property owners on the best places to invest ahead of climate change’s effects. You know—check out the estates on Florida’s far-future shoreline.
It was such an inhumane business model, even for the real estate industry. But with website posts dating back to 2014, Collins’ rich, specific details (like a story about needy Manhattan clients), and so much cultural resignation with regards to climate change, Higher Tides seemed real enough to write on.
Alas, that “ridiculous opportunity” Collins was talking about turned out to be, well, me. Higher Tides Realty is completely made up. There is no Jake Collins: I’d actually spoken to a 28-year-old designer named Nikolas Gregory, who now tells me he was behind the whole thing. “This was completely satire,” he says. I might have never known, were it not for more judicious sleuthing by Jordan Pearson at Motherboard.
“This was activism, a project that put the reality about global warming at a point where people had to ask if this company could be real, and got them thinking that they should so something about it,” Gregory says.
Did he intend to embarrass the media with his intricate prank?
“That was not my intention,” says Gregory. “There was never a ‘reveal’ planned. We tried every way to make the project a complete reality. I’m not a scientist, I’m not a politician. It was something I can do when I can’t go to Paris.”
It was quite an elaborate “something”: Gregory says he planned and constructed the website, wrote the posts, hired actors and produced the promotional video by himself. His LinkedIn page? Fake. Those Manhattan clients he told me about? All fake. “Anyone who contacted us, we did not talk to,” Gregory says. (Except the media, of course.)
Short-lived as it was, Gregory feels like the ruse was a success. “Many people contacted Higher Tides to get their property looked at. People were interested in looking at properties in better-off places. Two real estate agents contacted me to get jobs. The whole idea is that this could happen in reality,” he says—and for nearly a week, it kind of did.
Of course, now that he’s been outed, the attention is now more on Gregory than the issue he says he wishes to publicize.
And me? I’ve got my tail between my legs. Sorry, guys. I’ll do better next time—when, at the rate things are going, it’ll be an actual real estate company cashing in on climate change.