Friday, May 21, 2010

Urban Nationalism

I'll start this post out with a return to the geography described in the Brookings State of Metropolitan America report. The deconstruction of regions is vital to US urban policy. Cities within the same state require different assistance. Some metro regions functionally span two or more states. The state-centric political model is woefully inadequate to deal with many of the problems in this country.

Concerning that new lens, I want to emphasize the diaspora reference:

Metro areas are where the demographic meets the economic. Our traditional regional identities will probably persist, but like Red Sox Nation, we have much to learn and gain from affinities that stretch across the national map.

Given the geographic mobility and the demographic divergence of metro areas, I think we've entered an era of urban nationalism. Geographer Peter Taylor is trying to rigorously measure the cleavage between world cities and their host nation-states. Cultural landscapes don't lend themselves as easily to quantitative assessment. Instead, we rely upon case studies and anecdotes.

The number of domains required increases as the number of users increase and as the internet spreads - currently in excess of 15 per cent per year globally. The namespace for the German community under the top-level domain .de now includes over 13 million domains and has thus become somewhat "crowded", as each domain can only be issued once. This is no surprise, as everyone would like (as with personalized car number plates) to have a domain which is short, descriptive and easy to remember. However .com, by far the most popular top-level domain with over 84 million domains, also offers a global identity for hundreds of different languages and communities.

At the same time, with increasing emphasis on regional, local and personal aspects of the internet, a mega trend has developed which provides a natural counterbalance to the dreams of globalization from the internet's early years. Regional self-confidence and independent regional administration are growing in significance, both in developing countries and industrialized states. These trends are reflected in economic, cultural and socio-political aspects and encompass many business models and value creation chains. Local searches and location-based services are good examples of this “hyperlocal” development.

With this emphasis on cities and regions, a natural need arises for local addressing, which means local domains and namespaces. The extensions of the internet’s namespace, also called the Domain Name System (DNS), is in this context one of the major challenges presented to ICANN (the internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the administrative organization responsible for the management and approval of top-level internet domains.

The geographic ambition is just as breathtaking as the offering from Brookings. Instead of, we would link to www.steelers.pgh. Civic branding will begin to delineate the world wide web. Both .us or .pa will matter less than .pgh.

Culturally, this is already the de facto case. I remember well the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia rivalry that divided the University Park Penn State campus when I was a student there in the late 1980s. More currently, I map domestic urban diasporas such as expatriate Buffalo:

New York City is filled with expatriate tribes. There are the Brits who pack Fiddlesticks for rugby games and Tea and Sympathy for scones, the diplomats in and around the United Nations, and French and Francophiles who play boules every July 14 on Macdougal Street.

But there is another group, perhaps a little bit less known, but no less passionate in their ties to home and their feelings for it. They came from a gritty city to the north and west, on the shore of a great body of water, in a place where it happens to snow a lot.

Of course, we’re speaking of Buffalonians.

They flock to places like Bar Italia on the Upper East Side (the chef/owner, Denis Franceschani, hails directly from Italy, but his wife, Colleen, is a Buffalonian) and Smith & Wollensky (the head bartender, Patty Ford, is a legend by way of Buffalo). Black Finn is for hockey games, and McFadden’s is for football games. On Thursday, the Buffalo Expat Network, known as the BEN, is even holding a mixer for Buffalo Expats at Bongo in the West Village.

Same state, radically different allegiances. I can see a website for a restaurant in New York City with the suffix .buf. Perhaps .ben would be more appropriate. But the idea doesn't work for all cities. Some places are still stuck in a proto-nationalist phase. Other metros are too far down in the urban hierarchy, more or less in the shadow of larger cities. I call it urban subnationalism. See Ann Arbor.

Rust Belt Refugees never really assimilate. As in most (every?) national cultures, the homeland is a womb:

Of course, having three children by a certain age does not scare everyone. And neither does moving back home.

Though her job as a television executive is keeping her in New York for now, Sarah Crabbe, 32, said, “One day I plan on getting married and starting a family, and I intend to do it in Buffalo, where I can give my children the same gifts my parents gave me.”

She continued thoughtfully: “All I have to do is find a guy I can convince to move to Buffalo with me. I’m going to look for someone from Jersey or Staten Island. I think they might have some idea of how I feel.”

I don't make the gender distinction lightly. Citizenship law is littered with such bias. The nation is typically characterized as female and blood is more easily traced through matrilineal lines. Paternity is inherently more controversial. But more on that in my next post.

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