Many newly successful cities on the global stage – such as Shenzhen and Dubai – have sought to make themselves attractive to businesses based on price and infrastructure subsidies. Those competitive advantages can work in the short term, but they tend to be transitory. For cities to have sustained success, they must compete for the grand prize: intellectual capital and talent.
I have long believed that talent attracts capital far more effectively and consistently than capital attracts talent. The most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity and offer an abundance of cultural opportunities. A city that wants to attract creators must offer a fertile breeding ground for new ideas and innovations.
In this respect, part of what sets cities such as New York and London apart cannot be captured by rankings. Recent college graduates are flocking to Brooklyn not merely because of employment opportunities, but because it is where some of the most exciting things in the world are happening – in music, art, design, food, shops, technology and green industry. Economists may not say it this way but the truth of the matter is: being cool counts. When people can find inspiration in a community that also offers great parks, safe streets and extensive mass transit, they vote with their feet.
Emphasis added. The talent economy dominates contemporary geography. Bloomberg puts people before place. Shenzhen and Dubai put place before people. Build it and talent will come.
Urban amenities are secondary to the great city equation. Great people, creative people, make a great city. The placemaking and infrastructure allow a city to function better. They allow a city to develop talent better. But in and of themselves, they do not attract talent. They do not retain talent. Here is where I disagree with Bloomberg. New York City isn't cool. The people living and working there are cool. Yes, being cool counts. People are cool, not places.