Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

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.

------- end of Urbanophile entry -------

p.336.  (italics in the original)

To be a 'creative city for the world' or to be 'creative for your city' highlights how a city can (or should) project a value base or an ethical foundation in encouraging its citizens, businesses, and public institutions to act.  By acting in this manner the way a city operates and the results it achieves act as role models to inspire others. .....

Creativity for the world or for your city gives something back; it is a creativity that generates civic values and civility.

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At 11:35 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

well, if you define rampart copying (or more politely, best practices) as creativity I'd have to agree.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Art is always half plagiarism and half autobiography, you're just not sure which half is which.

And in terms of the human experience of living in the urban form, it is a form of art of well -- and if a city can make you see something that wasn't there before it can be beautiful. Rather like Madrid not liking their rooflines and valuing that.

And other than influence peddling, I am not sure that DC has really offered anything into the corpus. At least recently. The L'Enfant and McMillian plans did have wide influence.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Well, I do believe there is a difference between inspiration and copying. The desires to have "our own high line" or to have a bike share system are examples.

Ironically, DC did have something to offer 14 and 11 years ago when it came to transportation. The streetscape improvement programs in Georgetown and 8th St. SE were pathbreaking at the time.

My complaint is that they haven't improved since circa 2000.

The same with streetcars. Yes, Portland was first, but we were up there, for a bit. But Seattle, which started planning at the same time opened their first streetcar line 7 years earlier.

Even the discussion in today's GGW about "mini traffic circles" as neighborhood traffic calming devices is pretty disconcerting, the persistent opposition.

But yes, DC bugs me because of its great opportunity--being a city state and having more money to work with than most other cities--and mostly being average but calling achieving the average "world class."

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

sadly, Bowser does not strike me as particularly daring or innovative- in fact- she seems to be a part and parcel of the DC bureaucratic machine and seeks to perpetuate this albatross . Her interests lie in the status quo. I hope that she surprises us and does something new and fun but I will not bet money on it. It appears that she stands somewhere east of Courtland Milloy and somewhere west of Marion Barry. She has a lovely smile and she won the election so I wish her luck .

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Well, Muriel Bowser worries me a bit because of the veneration of her father in a lot of the coverage of her background and "values."

I crossed paths with her father on the ANC when I worked on preservation and commercial district issues in Brookland. He is of the old old school. "change-innovation-transformation" are not words common to the vocabulary of DC old school neighborhood types like Joe Bowser.

Basically I don't see a lot of capacity for innovation and vision.

As it is I am pretty sure that "her idea" of a Deputy Mayor for East of the River Affairs is based on a long conversation I had with one of her top legislative aides.

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oh, in my response to charlie, when I mentioned "our own high line" and bike share as examples, I meant reflexively repeating the concept rather than being inspired by it, and coming up with programs and initiatives that continue to push innovation forward and improve a community on its own terms.

At 8:11 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, if I wanted to be even snarkier, I'd suggest that MB and the takeover of the electoral machinery by government workers is a real "innovation" and social value.

Three problems with that thesis:

1) it is snarky. I do want to give her 6 months. People warned up to Mayor grey when they realized he wasn't the second (third?) coming of Marion Barry and was a relatively effective politician.

2) The quality of government services is lagging behind regional rivals, let alone world class standards.

3) Far too much of the DC budget is spent on social services rather than workers. Yes, I understand the trickle down -- social spending means employing more government workers -- but even so an astounding amount of the budget is going to support poverty alleviation.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

the poverty alleviation thing is what I have been grappling with over the past couple years, since jury duty...

but I would disagree that the monies are spent on poverty alleviation, more on poverty maintenance.

2. But to riff off your general point about the takeover of the electoral machinery by govt. workers is related to the national political sphere.

I saw a piece, maybe in the NYT that made the point that most of the successful Republican candidates for Senate were business people, people engaged in commerce, etc., while most of the Democratic candidates were "of government."

That is an ongoing disconnect, like at the local level, that isn't good in terms of understanding how things work, understanding the sometimes negative and/or unintended consequences of big/government, the difference in being a producer or a "taker."

My appreciation of government is based on basic Adam Smith principles that certain things are done best by the people, and that these infrastructures are in the current argot, "the platform" for making society work.

This comes back to the local level in terms of the failure of the local government to take advantage of the opportunities it has as a city-state.

Williams was somewhat out of the ordinary. I still don't know what to think about Fenty. He thought he was Williams+ but I don't really think so. Gray has been decent enough at management, not so much with vision, but the metrics and acceptance of mediocrity is something else.

WRT your point, many years ago during the Williams admin. I had a conversation with a professor teaching at the GWU School of Political Management (she works for Congress now) and she made the point that for govt. workers like Williams who become elected leaders, they see citizens as customers, not as citizens with the the inherent powers that create govt.

So yes, Bowser is absolutely out of this school, having worked for MoCo, and in fact in the 6 years I've lived in "her ward" it's been the source of my dissatisfaction with her "world" "view" and approach to govt.

It's worse because as a customer, I don't think she's been all that great at providing service, if service is defined as solving problems, not merely sort of acknowledging them, and not acknowledging the multiple previous times the same problems were brought to the attention of her office, and were never rectified in previous iterations.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The thing about Gray is that he is smart. It's just he was caught up in the winning thing, and his crew or milieu was of the old school.

I wrote about this in terms of the "Anybody But Fenty" crowd not understanding that it is the crew that matters, not the person so much, because the "Growth Machine" is the machine.

But people like Thompson were so afraid of being cut out of contracts that they undertook illegal extraordinary measures to get Gray elected, screwing everything up.

2. I think Bowser is reasonably intelligent. But she doesn't stand for anything except "progress" and in the most unnuanced ways, as I have written about.

There are examples in business of the people who didn't stand out as innovators and upon becoming CEO, start kicking ass, doing all the things that they wanted to do but never could.

But it is very rare, and nothing in Muriel Bowser's background of being "Joe Bowser Jr." indicates that she is one of those people who has been keeping track of how to improve things even if she didn't have the authority or capacity to do so then.

At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a couple of things: When Fenty ran for office in 2006, it was as an outsider. My feeling at the time was that, even then, the electorate had reached its limit on the Barry antics and wanted a fresh face and a different approach. He had beaten the "machine candidate" of Charlene Drew Jarvis for his Ward 4 seat and was known for his constituent services. His jealous fellow CM's froze him out of a committee chairmanship but he still had the power to call hearings when he saw things he didn't like. {I remember watching a series of his hearings on Channel 13 wherein he made the DCPS look like a bunch of completely incompetent fools, which they were at the time.)
On primary day in September 2006, Tony Williams, Jack Evans and a couple of other bigwigs whose names escape me, were all trolling around the polls stumping for Linda Cropp, to no avail. As you may recall, he won every precinct.
One of the biggest planks in his platform was his earlier opposition to the convention center and its impact on Shaw and his opposition to the baseball stadium. Needless to say, I was completely shocked to learn that the day after his primary victory, he had met with a large group of developers to quell any fears they might have had about his election.
Surprise number two came after his election, when he decided to ignore the advice/warning given to him by NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein in 2006. Klein strongly suggested that if Fenty decided to take over DCPS, he do that and only that during his first term and not get distracted. We all know how that worked out.
Frankly, I don't think Fenty was comfortable as mayor--and clearly he was not comfortable in his personal life--once he figured out what a pain in the butt the job really is and that his every move would be scrutinized and criticized--justifiably so in many cases. No earth-shattering point other than Bowser may have more tolerance for the vagaries of the position.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

It's a tough tightrope to walk, being "pro citizen" and being a key element in the Growth Machine coalition.

It's good that you remind us of Adrian Fenty's earlier efforts. E.g., I remember now, testifying, although about W6 issues, at the hearing in 2002 or 2003 on the "singles ban" which he was focusing on for W4, in the face of overconcentration of liquor stores, an issue we also faced on H St.

The tightrope is tough. While I don't think that cities should pay for sports stadiums and arenas, it's really hard for one city to go against the grain when the leagues play cities off each other. (That's why I call for Congressional hearings on the topic.)

A convention center is tougher. The big cities "need them" but they are hard to make work financially, plus they are so big. DC has a better chance of making a convention center work versus say, Wilmington, NC.

2. I am not saying that I have the solution for how to balance the conflicting priorities and goals. I think there is more give available from the citizenry, on the other hand "we" need to get more in return for public support.


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