Global cities don't just take, they give
The entry below is a reprint from the Urbanophile blog and not because it starts out by mentioning me.
Given that we've just had an election in Washington, DC with the victory by Muriel Bowser, who is now one of only three women mayors of large US cities ("Muriel Bowser win makes D.C. biggest U.S. city with women in 3 top jobs," Washington Times), recently in Toronto, where John Tory is now mayor and should help to bring some stability to municipal politics and governance there, and the municipal election is this upcoming Saturday in Vancouver, BC ("Vancouver's election just got interesting," Toronto Globe & Mail), where the momentum is now favoring the challenger, it's worth thinking about this broad question of what is a global city, how do leaders in global cities act, and how do they make their own city better while simultaneously contributing to the art and practice of city making.
(Note that in Canada, Calgary's mayor, Naheed Nenshi, is considered amongst the best and most impressive in North America. See "Calgary mayor makes us look like rednecks" and 'Canada's mayor' sees the city positively" from the Toronto Star.)
On this broad note, last year the Boston Globe ran an interesting series of articles about exemplary actions in particular areas by other cities, as a kind of advice for incoming Mayor, Martin Walsh.
-- Greg Cook: Learn from how Chicago does culture
-- Melissa Massello: Gen Xers can live larger in Lone Star State
-- Dante Ramos: Six ideas Boston should emulate
-- Edward L. Glaeser:> What Greater Boston can teach the rest of the world<
More recently, the Toronto Globe & Mail has an article about the High Line and its lessons, "The High Line effect: Why cities around the world (including Toronto) are building parks in the sky," while a piece in the Sacramento Bee about public art, "Sacramento airport's big red rabbit means business – really," mentions a piece by Blair Kamin in the Chicago Tribune, "Millennium Park: 10 years old and a boon for art, commerce and the cityscape," about Millennium Park and its social and economic impact. The economic impact numbers come from a study by Texas A&M< and DePaul University.
Originally published: April 28th, 2013
I had an interesting conversation about Washington, DC with Richard Layman a few months back. One of his observations, rooted in Charles Landry’s, was that great global cities don’t just take, they give. To the extent that Washington wants to be a truly great city, it needs to contribute things to the world, not just rake in prosperity from it.
Affecting the world, often for good but unfortunately sometimes for bad, is a unique capability that global cities have because they are the culture shaping hubs of nations and world. When an ordinary city does something, it can have an effect to be sure. But things that happen in the global city are much more likely to launch movements.
For example, Chicago did not invent the idea of doing a public art exhibit out of painted cow statues. I believe they copied it from a town in Switzerland. But when Chicago did it, it inspired other cities in a way that Swiss town did not. In effect, ordinary cities influence the world usually by influencing a global city, which then influences the world. Often it is the global city that gets the credit although the actual idea originated elsewhere. Thus the role of the global city is critical. But we shouldn’t assume that all ideas originate there or that other cities can’t profoundly influence the world.
We might also think of bicycle sharing, which was around in various forms for quite a while. But it was the launch of the massive Paris Vélib’ system in 2007 (which according to Wikipedia was inspired by a system in Lyon) that made bicycle sharing a must have urban item the world over.
Similarly it was the High Line in New York that has every city wanting to convert elevated rail lines into showcase trails. New York is really the city that made protected bike lanes the new standard in the United States as well.
Beyond simple urban amenity type items, global cities can also launch profound cultural and social transformations. A few examples.
The first is from Seattle, a sort of semi-global city. It was in such a depressed state in the 1970s that someone put up a billboard that’s still pretty famous: “Will the last one leaving Seattle please turn out the lights?” Yet in Seattle there was a coffeehouse culture that spawned a movement out of which came Starbucks which literally revolutionized coffee drinking in America and event pioneered the entirely new concept of the “third place.”
A lot of people like to attribute the emergence of Seattle as a player to Microsoft moving there from Albuquerque in the late 1970s. However, I think the coffee example shows that there were interesting things already happening in Seattle long before that. It was a proto-global city waiting for a catalyst.
Another example would be the emergence of rap music out of New York City. Or house music from Chicago.
Or consider the 1963 demolition of Penn Station in New York in 1963. The wanton destruction of this signature structure horrified the city and led to the adoption of its historic preservation ordinance. This was not the birthplace of historic preservation in the United States, but this demolition played a key role in bringing historic preservation to the fore, not just locally but nationally.
Lastly, the Stonewall Riots in 1969 clearly played a signature role in the gay rights movement in America. Many pride parades today are scheduled to fall on the anniversary of the event.
Who knows what might have happened with coffee in America without Seattle. But I think it’s clear that both the historic preservation and gay rights movements would have emerged at some point anyway regardless of what happened in New York. However, the events in New York clearly provided a sort of ignition and acceleration.
How many historic buildings in America were saved because Penn Station was lost? (Think about how many might have been destroyed had the historic preservation movement emerged later).
Think about a state like Iowa where gay marriage is legal. How many people in Iowa 40+ years ago had any idea that an obscure incident in New York City would ultimately transform the social conventions of the rural heartland?
I think this shows the power of the global city. I’m sure that there are things happening underground in New York and elsewhere that right now that we don’t know anything about yet that will ultimately transform our world 10, 20, or 30 years down the road. It’s crazy to think about.
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