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Hot Cities, Cool Cities,
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This review is from: The City: A Global History (Modern Library Chronicles) (Hardcover)
In this very short volume, Joel Kotkin outlines the 5,000 plus year history of the city and notifies us that what was fundamental to the cities of ancient Sumeria is still the case today: cities - to be successful - must be sacred, safe, and busy.
It seems a truism that a city needs some "socially important myths" to hold together large diverse groups of people. City planners today, according to Kotkin, do not take into account the sacredness of a place. How can they? Can you imagine a city planner calling for a more Christian city? or a more Islamic or Jewish city? or a more multiculural city? In these secular times, the latter is about the only thing they can attempt. But Kotkin considers multiculuralism a form of separatism. I say let the sacredness arise from the cultural ideas and pracitices of the citzens, not from the city planning office.
That a city needs security and a vibrant business community seems a truism so true that I won't belabor the point here.
The most interesting point made in the book concerns the impact of technology - especially telecommunications - on cities. For the first time in history global megacities no longer have the advantage of size and scale. With computers and telecommunications, businesses can now process and transmit information anywhere - the periphery of the urban centers, small towns, to places anywhere in the world. Moreover, businesses can locate anywhere in the world - anywhere they have skilled workers. The urban center is no longer necessary to operate a global business, in fact, it is no longer desirable.
The growth of the urban periphery and small towns as corporate centers has been called the rise of the "telecity." Anyone who has followed real estate prices of areas 30 to 50 miles outside of urban centers over the last 20 years is well aware of this trend. These areas are called "exurbs" and they are attractive to young people who want to start families and businesses. They are characterized by spacious single story industrial and office parks rather than densely packed skyscrapers. They are more affordable and more conducive to growth. A more lively account of the exurbs can be found in David Brooks' "On Paradise Drive." The exurbs are hot.
As corporations are moving their headquarters to the exurbs, megacities are looking for other sources of growth and revenue, and they are looking mainly at tourism and entertainment. San Francisco, New York, Rome, Paris, and London now consider tourism, entertainment, and other cultural activities as their most promising industries. Business and political leaders are promoting these cities as "cool." The goal is to attract artists, bohemians, and other hipsters in order to create new loft spaces, good restaurants, nightclubs, galleries, and museums.
Kotkin is not optimistic about the long-term economic health of cool cities. He calls them "ephemeral" cities, by pointing out that New York's Silicon Alley and San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch quickly died out after the dotcom boom of the 1990's. He also belittles the lifestyles of urban hipsters and cosmopolitans. These "empty-nesters" are nomads with no future prospects. For example, it is estimated that 10 percent of the population of Paris consists of modern-day urban nomads.
Today's demographic trends favor the exurbs and the small towns not only in America, but also in Europe and Japan. This is where young, skilled workers can afford to live and raise families. However, as these hot, new, and growing population centers achieve a certain level of wealth, density, and complexity, they too will become cool.