Posts Tagged ‘cities’
When I was in CN last month, we were showed the outline of a pilot reform program by the central govt to reform Pearl River Delta into ‘Asia Pacific’s most dynamic city cluster’ by 2020. That was quite an audacious statement, and you probably know that a ‘pilot reform’ by the China central govt means they set the large directions but leave it to the city governments to work out the details, and more importantly, best practices of what works will be replicated across China to guide the formation of their mega city clusters. What makes PRD 2020 interesting is they are gearing to go head on with Korea in terms of advanced manufacturing, creating a services hub that will be augmented with HK (if they get it right) and the number of global Chinese MNCs they want to create. I’ve combed through the outline and with some help from HK’s Civic Exchange group on slideshare here it is!
Singapore brands are making their way across Asia, or so this AFP report says. It’s great to see some positive publicity for our local companies in the international press, but what’s interesting is that there’s nothing inherently local about any of the products that have made it successfully across the region. Is there anything culturally unique that can make it as the next big Singapore brand?
Paul Romer spoke at TEDGlobal on his new idea of ‘charter cities’. Charter cities are catalysts for economic development as they are the appropriate arena for new ideas (villages are too small and nations are too big). Economic development not only involves technologies (a main emphasis of Romer’s theories); it also involves rules. Charter cities are the ‘greenfield’ sites where new rules are implemented. As they succeed, cities nearby will become influenced and development will spread. Just as Hong Kong was a charter city which influenced Shenzhen and other cities, Romer proposes charter cities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (calling Canada to take a partnership there) and throughout Africa. Singapore’s experience complements Romer’s theory perfectly. I caught his attention with the idea of a TEDxCharter Cities to take these ideas further and encourage bottom-up discussion about the concept and its application. Something to think about…?
Found this through our horizon scanning colleagues, a book by ANU on China’s new place in a world lurching from crisis to crisis. Makes me think of the unfinished conversations we are having on a China-centered Asia (ChiAsia) and the different flows and how the hell Singapore should be placed on these new flows. Anyway, here’s a brief grab on what the book is about:
The world and China’s place in it have been transformed over the past year. The pressures for change have come from the most severe global financial crisis ever. The crisis has accelerated China’s emergence as a great power. But China and its global partners have yet to think or work through the consequences of its new position for the governance of world affairs. China’s New Place in a World in Crisis discusses and provides in-depth analysis of the following questions. How have China’s growth prospects been affected by the global crisis? How will the crisis and China’s response to it impact China’s major domestic issues, such as industrialisation, urbanisation and the reform of the state-owned sector of the economy? How will the crisis and the international community’s response to it affect the rapidly emerging new international order? What will be China’s, and other major developing countries’, new role? Can China and the world find a way of breaking the nexus between economic growth and environmental sustainability — especially on the issue of climate change?
You can download the entire book here.
Edward Glaeser shares his thoughts on Indian megacities here and here. Prof Glaeser is one of the most brilliant people I’ve had the opportunity to meet. Looking forward to his upcoming book on cities.
I find Prof Glaeser’s observation that entrepreneurship is the single most defining characteristic of Mumbai most interesting. Haven’t been able to delve further into the subject, but wonder if there are insightful parallels to be drawn between Mumbai’s future and the historical development of Wenzhou/Zhejiang which Huang Yasheng discusses in his book, Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics. Any thoughts?
Just back from Abu Dhabi for the first ever Global City Forum organized outside of Europe. A sizzling cast of urban experts promised much but failed in some way to matching the hype.
We kicked off with Richard Florida’s keynote speech. He talked about the transformative impact of the current global recession as a time of the great reset. Periods of reset sometimes takes 10 – 30 years. Florida went on to say how this will catalyze the shift of global cities economies emphasis in the creative sectors (science, arts, culture, entrepreneurship, services, etc.) He gave stats of how the composition of industry has changed significantly. In 1900, most worked in agriculture with less than 5% in the creative sectors. In 1950s, 50% of the jobs were in manufacturing and less than 10% in the creative sectors. But today, 50% of jobs are in creative (I think he includes service) sectors. Florida also compared unemployment numbers of construction (26%) with creative sectors (only 4%) against the overall US numbers of 8.5%. The gist of it is that with this great reset (his latest book), this change will be accelerated.
In one of the parallel session titled Dynamizing the City Through Downturn Redevelopment (almost all the sessions had similarly long titles), Clive Dutton (Director of Planning & Regeneration, Birmingham City Council) talked about Birmingham’s Big City Plan. The large goals were increase in population by 100,000 by 2026, 43,000 additional jobs between 2008 and 2020 and for the city centre to grow from 0.8 km sq to 8 km sq. Clive was one of four who spoke.
At the Q & A, someone asks if they thought sustainability, which all four speakers spoke about, was the differentiating advantage for their cities. Three yeses and one no. The crowd murmured. The unspoken obvious being that if everyone’s doing it and pitching it as unique to their city, is it truly a differentiator anymore. One of the panel said it comes down to implementation. He was skeptical about all cities being able to deliver on its promises.
Which brings me to Hazem Galal (Partner, Global Cities and Local Government Network Leader of PWC). Hazem had a facinating 2 x 2 matrix which plotted Policy on the x-axis and Performance on the y-axis. I’ve never seen cities mapped against plans with that of ability of implementation. [I've refrained from putting up the chart to respect PWC's IP.]
Another theme of citizen/resident inclusiveness jumped out at me. In part because, I have been researching on this myself and also it was echoed in separate sessions by Peter Woods (Sec General, United Cities and Local Govts Asia Pacific) and Richard Florida. Peter Woods one of the more colorful (read: gutsy) speakers gave a scathing speech of how some cities talk about attracting talent. He says “it’s not just letting them in. It’s how they have been received. People are not commodities“.
He says it’s about integration not merely assimilation and that looking at the world, we have a long long way to go. Woods says it goes beyond how many minority groups a place has, but how inclusive and embracing a city is in welcoming migrants. Fake openness only leads to superficial short term gains where talent come and goes. Real change has to happen for sustainable gains from real inclusiveness.
Undoubtedly the best session of this conference has to be on “city branding”, led by Thomas Sevcik (Arthesia). One of the things about the conference that stuck with me was Thomas showing us a collage of pictures on city PR taken from websites. The all look the same. A good slap in the face for all city tourism agencies and city PR companies. All said, there’s nothing that ”distinctive” as much as each city touts. All big cities have a “vibrant culture” and “rich history”. He said every city that has 1 million people has restaurants from 100 different nationalities, so every city can lay claim to being ”diverse”. Taglines like “rich history, “vibrant culture and arts scene” and “wide selection of cuisines from 100 different countries” aren’t distinctive, but they end up being used all the time.
Lastly, I was truly impressed in Melbourne the city, presented by Dr. Kathy Alexander, CEO City of Melbourne. Talk about a city that seems to have all the pieces lined correctly.
And finally, Peter Taylor and Saskia Sassen’s talk gave me something to chew on.
McKinsey has released a 2009 update to ‘Preparing for China’s Urban Billion’. You can download the entire report here, or a summary here. Mastercard has also released a report title ‘Post-Crisis China: Saving and Consumption Dynamics’ which you can download here.
Urbanization is unlikely to be reversed in China post-crisis. A prolonged crisis is actually accelerating urbanisation, as the stimulus unveiled is towards mainly hardware (highways, ports etc) and somewhat towards a social infrastructure (basic medical net, primary education etc). Mastercard’s report essentially confirms what we know, that China’s households are unable to boost domestic demand unless their wages grow much faster. Pre-crisis, this was through the export machine we call Chimerica, selling to the US consumer. This may still continue when the crisis passes and no fundamental change has occured despite all the noise and Chimerica restarts. But then maybe not.
China can support its economy through pump priming for a considerable while. What is more interesting is how is it using this crisis to retool itself for disruptive innovation? We are also monitoring what different urban regions are doing to use this crisis profitably to build resilience, build domestic demand, build an environment for technopreneurship, build an environment welcoming to a diversity of world class talent. In a crisis, the gut reaction is to go the other way and shut down/look inwards. It takes political will and leadership to do just the opposite.
Day Two/ Three/ Four of 2009 O’Reilly Etech Conference in San Jose
It is interesting to note that wherever you look, you will definitely spot someone using either a Macbook or Iphone…
Anyway, day two kicks off with a presentation by Alex Steffen on the topic of Sustaining the American Family. In what was related to as a “Massive Inter-generational Ponzi Scheme”, we are in danger of reaching the tipping point in peak population, peak carbon emission (No prize for guessing who is the greatest Ponzi of all time!). He reckoned that the world would be in ruins if the developing countries (poor) followed the path to richness as experienced by the Western developed countries. While America is in no position to stop the poor from seeking a better life, there is a need to educate them on the risk, else it would be difficult or impossible for anyone to sustain their current way of life. Hence there were talks on 1) energy efficiency and CO2 admission – by introducing electric cars, and how we can measure our energy footprint/ consumption, so as to better improve and optimize usage; 2) Design and Density – moving toward closed loops design, so as to have 100% recyablity (e.g. Crocs shoes) as well as urban homesteading/ clustering to share common resources as well as eliminate unnecessary traveling. There were further discussion in the session by Gavin Starks (founder and CEO for AMEE) on Energy Identity – Interesting to note that 2½ Kg Mac laptop has a 460 Kg CO2 emission footprint (Yap! Guilty faces of all the geeks/ techies in the room!). Energy identity is best describe as a digital embodiment of a user’s physical consumption. With 20 largest cities consuming up to 75% of the world’s energy, and more than 600 million people moving into cities over the next five years, we need rapid innovation in energy efficiency technology, service transformation (high carbon prices/ tax would result in business shift from products to services, i.e. having more efficient public transportation system, reducing car ownership, etc), as well as redefining how our communities’ perception to understand and enjoy quality of life through simplicity rather than money.
Elizabeth Goodman’s topic on Urban Green Space Planning had a different twist, in which people from the same community can register to form a working group to grow and maintain their neighborhood plants (Landshare) as well as reap the benefits/ fruits of their labor. This is no easy task, especially when most of us will have no prior knowledge in the art of farming, and you may need one to have good project management skills to schedule and plan resources to ensure the that plots are well maintained. Then there is the talk on Urban Homesteading by Mark Frauenfelder (Make Magazine) on the seven guiding principals leading to a successful urban farming: 1. Grow only useful things; 2. Region matters (understanding your surrounding environment); 3. Build your soil; 4. Water deeply and less frequently; 5. Work makes work (i.e. work with nature, not against it); 6. Failure is part of the game; and 7. Pay attention and keep notes. Mark also taught about rearing chickens, which I reckon it makes no sense to talk about it here…
In a slighter different light on urban planning, Brad Templeton shared how Robot Cars may be able to solve everything. Well, almost… He wanted a robotic car that parks, delivers and refuels itself, and would definitely be a great hit in countries such as Japan, Singapore, etc… Went on to share video of the DARPA grand Challenge, where competitors compete against each other through a series of test runs, both through urban as well as country-side driving. In addition to the fundamental issue of battery lifespan clouding the development of electric cars today, Robotic cars will bring about a different set of problems such as reliability/ safety, political, national security (terrorism).
Mary Lou Jepsen (recently named as one of the hundred most influential people in the world by Time Magazine – May 2008 for her work in creating Pixel Qi) speaks of Low-Cost, Low-Power Computing in order to reach out the billions of youth in developing countries, deprived of proper education, in her “one laptop per child” project. Though her project fell short of achieving the production target of 8 million laptops last year (actual production figures not disclosed), Mary is still hopefully that the recent downturn would help to drive material/ production cost down in her bid to produce small inexpensive laptops. On the technology front, she claimed that the war for more powerful CPUs are over, laptops are now being widely used as a medium for reading. Hence the development lies in having a low power, sun-light readable, high resolution screen.
We also get the opportunity to see Carl Taussig (HP Lab) introduce flexible paper-like screen, and the technology behind how roll-to-roll manufacturing. In time to come, we will be holding such flexible screens to read our news…
And the theme of Networking with Smart Sensors, which create quite a stir w.r.t. data ownership/ IP and the invasion of personal space. On Wednesday, Tony Jebara (Sense Network) talk about how Mobile Phones Reveal the Behavior of Places and People. With social network portal such as Facebook, Flickr, Gmail or mobile phone with wireless capability (Iphone, blackberry, etc), laptops/ desktop with IP addresses, tons of data are being transmitted and collected at any given time. On one project, they monitored people working in San Francisco financial district, using mobile signals to track their activities (such as working hours) and the correlation to stock market (Though there were questions raised as to how to determine if those monitored are actually bankers, clerks, janitors, etc); on the other project, they tried to map out and cluster group of individuals with similar interest who frequent certain type of restaurants, bars, etc (flow analysis). The latter was deemed to be useful as companies can use these data for their advertising, marketing, strategy planning/ churning (if a few members from the clustered groups start switching to a different network, they would promote themselves to the remaining individuals of similar group to retain their service); demographics; collaborative filtering.
In another session – Real Time City by Andrea Vaccari (Senseable City Lab), he showcased the visualization of mobile traffic between New York and other countries, which gives us a pretty good picture as to how New York is connected to other parts of the world, and social network portals like facebook, flickr, which will reveal the location of the users (I posted in my facebook that I will be in ETech this week!), and then Nick Brachet educated us on how we are being “tracked” daily (sounds like some James Bond movie…) – three nodes to identify location and a fourth to synchronize timing (based on the theory of six degree of freedom).
Though we now know how our digital footprint is revealing information of us at all time, it seems that the application of such data sounds rather trivial and non-conclusive. It would take a lot more (Political, regulations, signal networking, etc) before we establish more use for such technology.
Lastly a special mentioned on the session with Lisa Katayama (blog: TokyoMango.com) and Fumi Yamazaki on Japanese Tech Culture. Interesting to note that just this week, Hatsune Miku music software created a digital song (i.e. sang by computer) that tops their music chart (#2) – Makes you wonder what’s installed for the future of artists…
Oh, I forgot to mentioned that we are treated to the music of Zoë Keating on Wednesday night. Cool!
This paper applies “global city” paradigm to Shanghai in an attempt to see if Shanghai measures up to the New Yorks and Londons of this world.
The interactive map (link) depicts the USA’s evolving economic landscape. Look for the clustering of green bubbles.
I’ve been anticipating how R Florida of the creative class trilogies would give his take on what he terms “The Great Reset” would mean for cities and talent. Would a creative class make a city more resilient (less layoffs etc)? No, as demand is still king. Would a creative class enable a city to reinvent itself again and again, for more growth? And how?
In his article that made the cover of the Atlantic (link), he notes that the recession will accelerate the rise and fall of specific places within the U.S.—and reverse the fortunes of other cities and regions.
a) Cities like NYC may seem wounded with the financial sector down, but they have ” a large critical mass of financial professionals, covering many different specialties, along with lawyers, accountants, and others to support them, all in close physical proximity. It is extremely difficult to build these dense networks anew, and very hard for up-and-coming cities to take a position at the height of global finance without them.” NYC’s openness to talent, and importantly, critical mass of talent, will keep it at the top of the financial pecking order for now.
b)Apart from critical mass, is diversity. Mega-regions have a clear hub, and these hubs are likely to be better buffered from the crash than most cities, because of their size, diversity, and regional role. NYC is more than finance, there’s entertainment, film … a wide range of the creative classes buffers NYC more than other US cities who have an outsize finanical sector. (I keep thinking Iceland).
So in good times, mega-regions with rich talent networks do well. In bad time, they do better than others. Now, while NYC is hit, it is the cities still in the ‘old’ economy least associated with finance that are doing worst (think Detroit and cars). The great reset is a painful lurge from the ‘old’ economy to the ‘new’ economy based on ideas and creation.
c) Jobs are not evenly hit in bad times. Jobs in the tangible sector declined (measured from 12/07 – 11/08) by 1.8 mil in the USA, while the ‘creative classes’ sector increased by 500,000. These jobs are clumped, meaning certain city regions will be devastated by large unemployment (industrial Midwest) while the Northeast with its concentration of creative class city clusters is more insulated. The US economic landscape becomes even spikier. (Play with the interactive map at the top of the article to get a feel).
d) Florida proceeds to talk about different regions, some will do well and some don’t. But what struck me was the Sunbelt cities whose growth was based mainly on housing appreciation (and better climate). There is a Chinese saying that water will bear a boat, water can also sink a boat (水能载舟，亦能覆舟). I kept thinking of the property plays that characterized Dubai.
e) Economic geography. Florida’s point is that cities created for dense human networking create value, suburbs that dilute and diminish human networking lose value. The suburb model is a holdover from an economic system 80 years ago. It is done, finished. Cities that master this new economic geography for creating value have the environment for value in the new economy. Provocatively, especially for Singapore’s context that equates citizenship with homeownership and the ‘upgrading’ ladder chase, Florida says governments should encourage renting, not ownership. Home ownership has good social effects, but it makes society less nimble.
Florida ends with a chilling statement. “Different eras favor different places.” Some places will decline, government’s role is just to soften it. Well, we don’t have that luxury do we? What does it take to create a megacity region with the diversity, the critical mass, the economic geography that encourages invention, innovation and creation?