Posts Tagged ‘city’
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!
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.
Main themes from conference centred around mobile technology, data visualization/ real-time data, urban city future (mainly on changes in transport systems & infrastructure) online communities & inventions. Pictures from LIFT conference, and videos of sessions are online.
One interesting speaker, Nicholas Nova, a LIFT researcher, spoke on why ‘future’ products fail. Videophones, intelligent kitchens and flying cars were imagined long before they (a) were realized, or (b) remained a figment of sci-fi. For the failed ideas, some common characteristics bound them -
- recurring reinvention of the wheel, each prototype thinking it was new and different from the previous
- little knowledge of similar (failed) attempts
- trapped in the current context (which limits the imagination of what is possible)
- myth of the ‘average’ human – there is no average; bad understanding of the end-users of the new technology
- automating rituals using technology (eg. location-based services to replace human phone calls) is just not the same
- making technology more natural – but difficult to define what is ‘natural’ behaviour
David Rose, a serial entrepreneur, showed many slides of lovely objects and prototypes that his company had designed. Enchanted objects, as he called them, fulfiled 6 desires – desire to know, communicate, heal, protect, create, and travel – and gave examples of each category.
Another engaging session was on real-time data. Carlo Ratti from MIT Sensable City Lab shared projects that it had done using real-time location tracking and information. Eg. New York Talk Exchange to get a sense of the sms being traded, NY Trash Track – a project to trace and better manage the amount of trash generated, Green Wheel – an eco-friendly bicycle that tracks your route and connects to Facebook informing you who had also crossed your paths in the day. Next, Dan Hill from ARUP gave a lively session on soft city infrastructure. He touched on (1) the ability to bend the physical city (eg. of Paris, where basic road infrastructure did not change, but mobility was changed by bicycles), and (2) ability to see the invisible (eg. work is not non-visible, can we use real-time data to visualize what people are doing, or a 3D-modelling of the wifi network). One point that struck me was how to use augmented reality to empower citizens and make them feel like they were in control of the transportation system.
The highlight of the day was a sharing by Sarah Marquis, an adventurer who walked 14,000km over 17 days across Australia by herself, with only bare necessities and a solar panel. Her story was inspiring and heart-warming. It was the only session that held the entire audience captivated in our seats, with no one typing away at the laptops.
We ended Day 1 with a traditional Swiss fondue dinner. Break pieces of bread, pierce them on the fondue forks, twirl around in the cheese, and pop the entire bite into your mouth. Lovely.
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?
When cognitive science, psychology & urban design converge.
The very same factors that retard our brain memory and attention functions – crowded streets & high urban density – also stimulate medici-interactions and innovation. The key is how to mitigate the damaging effects. Urban city life impairs our attention, memory and self-control. Increased cognitive load makes us to choose a chocolate cake over healthy fruit salads. (Really?)
By Jonah Lehrer | January 2, 2009
….Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.
..This research is also leading some scientists to dabble in urban design, as they look for ways to make the metropolis less damaging to the brain. The good news is that even slight alterations, such as planting more trees in the inner city or creating urban parks with a greater variety of plants, can significantly reduce the negative side effects of city life. The mind needs nature, and even a little bit can be a big help
…Natural settings are full of objects that automatically capture our attention, yet without triggering a negative emotional response — unlike, say, a backfiring car. The mental machinery that directs attention can relax deeply, replenishing itself.
But the density of city life doesn’t just make it harder to focus: It also interferes with our self-control. … While the human brain possesses incredible computational powers, it’s surprisingly easy to short-circuit: all it takes is a hectic city street….The key, then, is to find ways to mitigate the psychological damage of the metropolis while still preserving its unique benefits.
This description from Foreign Policy’s 2008 Global Cities Index is good, and I am reproducing it below:
“National governments may shape the broad outlines of globalization, but where does it really play out? Where are globalization’s successes and failures most acute? Where else but the places where most of humanity now chooses to live and work—cities. The world’s biggest, most interconnected cities help set global agendas, weather transnational dangers, and serve as the hubs of global integration. They are the engines of growth for their countries and the gateways to the resources of their regions. In many ways, the story of globalization is the story of urbanization.
But what makes a “global city”? The term itself conjures a command center for the cognoscenti. It means power, sophistication, wealth, and influence. To call a global city your own suggests that the ideas and values of your metropolis shape the world. And, to a large extent, that’s true. The cities that host the biggest capital markets, elite universities, most diverse and well-educated populations, wealthiest multinationals, and most powerful international organizations are connected to the rest of the world like nowhere else. But, more than anything, the cities that rise to the top of the list are those that continue to forge global links despite intensely complex economic environments. They are the ones making urbanization work to their advantage by providing the vast opportunities of global integration to their people; measuring cities’ international presence captures the most accurate picture of the way the world works.”
The index is a nice graphical way to ‘get’ how a city compares on several sub-indices with competitors. It adds additional depth to Florida’s creative class thesis and bolsters Sanjeev Sanyal’s point that global cities are somewhat good at everything, though not necessarily the best at any one thing. Singapore, according to the index, really needs to work on boosting the cultural experience index and the political engagement index. We need to ramp up the information exchange index too. There is already a fair amount of work in progress on the former two right now, but perhaps we should be pegging ourselves versus other Asian cities explicitly on all indexes and measuring our speed of change vs theirs.
Oh yes, here is the index.
Other Asian cities have the benefit of a physical hinterland (HK/BJ/SH-China; Bangkok-Thailand, Tokyo-Japan) while Singapore has none. Sanyal’s suggestion is leverage on the diaspora (Singaporeans and ex Singapore residents) to become our hinterland, which would redefine the ideas of citizenship, very interesting thoughts on boosting the human capital index.
How about cultural experience? Yes, we can have mega integrated resorts, world class parks by the bay etc and I am not diminishing their importance. But Toronto is number 4 on the cultural experience index, after London, Paris and New York. What’s going on in Toronto? Florida moved to Toronto, citing it as a good example of the creative class city, with many diverse neighborhoods and cultural niches for all. This maps to the cultural experience index on the breadth and depth of cultural experiences on offer, a diversity of performances. Why does HK and Taipei not do as well as Seoul or Tokyo? These are all reasonably culturally homogeneous cities. Is it because they’ve not had an Olympics or similarly world-level events to open up their niches to world attention?
The political engagement index measures how much influence a city has on world policy making. It goes beyond national policy makers being based in one city (Beijing, Washington DC), or global policy makers like the World Bank, IMF, UN etc (NYC, Brussels, Paris) or lots of NGOs clustered in developing world cities (Bangkok) etc. My thoughts are with the shift in power due to the rise of the rest, there will likely be a parallel set of institutions for Asia, especially if the old Western institutions do not accept them as equals. There is also a demand for a new way of thinking and operating in the post American world, new thinktanks if you will. In both cases, they can be anchored in Singapore through diplomacy, hard work and neutrality. But I want to go beyond this, there is this gradual closing of the American mind as America turns inwards. This is not a foregone conclusion, but the shift is there. Like Europe’s closing in the early 1900s and the outward drift of brilliant minds to America, there will likely be a drift to Asia. How can we give these minds a fair and open ground for them to do their work, and in doing so, enrich the young minds of Asia?
Just some thoughts for now.
This is an evergreen topic for Singapore, especially enamoured to be the hub of hubs. The latest twist in the story was set off by Richard Florida’s trilogy of creative class books, ending with the most recent “Who’s Your City?”.
Florida’s basic assertion is that human creativity is the source of future economic advantage. The city that becomes the base of a deep and broad creative class has a better chance of economic growth.
There is a cluster effect. Smart people like to hang around smart people, and smart people like to hang around in select cities. He has several illuminating maps, showing that a spiky world results from this clustering of talent. Below is a map of star scientists around the world, notice they cluster in only a few cities.
If the organising unit of competitive advantage is place, what are the factors that go into place? We took this on as a starting point and interviewed more than thirty people from the fringe and center. Here’s a wordle look at what the interviews threw up.
We dug more into Florida’s concept of touchpoints, the stage in life when people are most likely to move. We branched from there to Paul Graham’s fascinating ideas on a city’s message. From there, we went to Sanjeev Sanyal’s idea of global cities being good generalists, while not being overly specialised in any one area. From Joe Cortright at a CEO for Cities conference, we learnt of a “colour palette” which is another way of visualising a city’s success.
What touchpoint is Singapore naturally attractive to? What touchpoints do we need to beef up on and why? What is Singapore’s message to each of these touchpoints? Are we overly specialised, or do we have a good mix that allows us strategic space to morph and change our offerings in response to global changes? Is our colour palette matching to that of our target global city? Or can we be confident enough to say Singapore’s colour palette can stand on its own?
There was also a question peculiar to Singapore, which is the question of critical mass. Singapore is very small, both a country and a city. How can Singapore’s economic space be not constrained by its area and population? Does it mean a high concentration of creative classes? Where is Singapore’s place in the mega regions of Asia?
And so on.. Many lenses to play with to illuminate the topic. If you want to follow the entire flow, here it is on slideshare.
Jason pulled together the many strands of thinking together into a cohesive whole for discussion, it was one of the longer stretched out topics we’ve had that involved almost everyone in the group. Rather exhausting! This is an ongoing inquiry to be sure. Watch out for updates!