The Future of Cities–Including Yours

Our cities will continue to change, evolve, develop, and grow, or else they will stagnate and die. And how they change is up to you and me.
One characteristic common to all great cities through history is effective civic leadership. That means leadership by ordinary citizens, in addition to whatever is going on in the political realm. Minneapolis’s livability comes as much from the presence of good corporate citizens like 3M and Target Corporation as it does from the policies of its former mayor Hubert Humphrey. New York and Chicago would not have their great art museums, universities, libraries, hospitals, or symphonies without the leadership and generosity of private citizens. In cities where everyone sits back hoping to let someone else take the lead, no one takes the lead. In the end, those cities cannot compete for tourism, for enterprise, or for jobs.
Today it is more important than ever that your enterprise get involved in the town where you are based and the towns where you operate. Forty years ago, most every city in the US had a locally-owned bank, a locally-owned or –managed department store, a locally-oriented broadcaster, and locally-owned drug stores and supermarkets. Today, these are largely gone, and with them the local businessman, the “Mr. Main Street” whose life depended on that city and only that city.
These issues are especially critical for the newly emerging cities. New York and Chicago have already built their museums; even if they never added another painting to their collections, they would be okay. But Austin and Phoenix and Sao Paulo and Kuala Lumpur are still on the upward curve of their evolutions. The leading citizens in these cities of tomorrow have the potential to be remembered as the Harvards, the Vanderbilts, and the Smithsons of their day – if they meet the challenge.
While the real greatness of a city comes from its people and its leaders, there are other factors that will affect the future success of each city. Physical geography is still a very real factor. People are likely to continue to move away from cold winters, as air conditioning makes the world’s warmer regions more livable. People like living in the mountains or near the sea when possible. As our economy becomes more service-oriented and the Internet and other technologies give us more ability to live where we want, cities may become less important for residences, although they’ll remain powerful attractors for people who want to exchange ideas, whether for business or for pleasure.
I hope that you are active in your own city’s affairs, helping to shape its future. If so, your contribution will be greater if you understand the basic dynamics of cities and their growth as described on the preceding pages.
 
 

Gateways to Understanding Cities

One of the very few books that describes each of the world’s major cities in a broader urban studies context, talking about the factors that matter to builders of enterprise, is Cities of the World: World Regional Urban Development by Stanley D. Brunn and Jack F. Williams. Another excellent book about how the great cities stand today is Globalization and the World of Large Cities, edited by Fu-chen Lo and Yue-man Yeung. For a more story-like approach to the great cities of history, there are three great books: Cities and Civilizations by Christopher Hibbert, Cities and People: A Social and Architectural History by Mark Girouard, and Cities in Civilization by Peter Hall. These three wonderful books tell the tale of great cities through the ages.
 
 

Try This – Making a City Your Own

There are few things as exciting as getting to know a new city–making the city your own. There are predictable tourist-oriented activities in every great city. Everyone visits the top of the tallest building and eats at the restaurant with the best view or the most celebrities. You should, too. Everyone visits the big museum, and you should, too. But hardly anyone explores the neighborhoods of the city, where people just live. Few tourists sit and eat lunch where the working people eat.
If you do these things, you are likely to discover a city that you did not know existed. A city that is every bit as exciting and interesting as the city of the package tour. Most importantly, you will develop memories of the city that are your own. You will find favorite places to eat and favorite places to sit where there are no tour bus crowds. You will in fact “possess” the city, making it your own.
In their exploration of new cities, or even old ones, most people follow well-tread routes. We (and our travel books) ask, “what is the best hotel? What are the best restaurants?” But these questions are not the key ones that the entrepreneurial mind will ask. Here is where I start out with any new city:
·Who was it named after?
·When was it founded?
·Where did its people come from, when and why?
·Where do they work?
·What’s the population? How does it rank in the state or the country or region?
·Where do newcomers—immigrants, students, newcomers—tend to settle?
Look at each city’s appeal from all viewpoints. Would you want to live there (or just visit there)? Should people from other countries visit there? Should students visit there, is it an important part of someone’s education?
Finally, after I have gotten to know a city, I try to review where it stands in numerous dimensions. Here is a starter list. I am sure you can add your own city “personality attributes” that interest you.
·Primacy–how far up the pyramid or how near the center of the constellation?
·Ethnicities
·Languages
·Temperature curve (how hot and how cold does it get?), sunshine, precipitation, and humidity
·Industrialization
·Trendiness
·Energy (human)
·Nocturnality (is it a nighttime city, or do they roll up the streets at ten?)
·Masculinity or femininity
·Design-awareness (some cities don’t care much about how they look; others, like Milan, Houston, and Tokyo care passionately about each surface)
Before going to a new city (whether on business or pleasure – I make all my visits both), do one or more of the following:
·Listen to music characteristic of that city
·Study the life of someone important in that city: an artist or writer who worked there, a business leader who helped build it
·Study the history of the city
·Watch a film made in the city
·Watch a documentary about the city
·Read a poem from or about the city, or a short story or novel set there
·Study the city on the Internet
These same steps will work for a nation or state, as well.


     

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