Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Battle Of The Urban Hierarchies

The Black Urbanist chimes in with a different take on the Aaron Renn-sparked discussion about the current state of the global urban hierarchy. We would do well to remember that the concept of "urban hierarchy" is a model, an abstraction that helps us make sense of the world. Geographer Gary Gaile devised a fun way to better understand how these academic lenses operate:

While an accomplished scholar, Gary took particular pleasure in poking fun at the pretentiousness that can sometimes infuse the academic world. At CU, he organized the annual "Battle of the Paradigms" pitting faculty (and eventually grad students) against one another in a game show format to test whether their scholarly approaches were powerful enough to answer really important questions such as why the extinction of dinosaurs and how to solve chronic baggage problems at DIA. Similarly, the World Cup Battle of the Paradigms engaged friends and colleagues around the world in an intense competition with very low rewards to devise a paradigm (not related to soccer skills) that would predict World Cup winners.

An urban hierarchy, however defined (that's crucial), helps to explain the relationship between cities. You could throw out the urban hierarchy paradigm. Do you have a better way to model urban connectivity?

Does the ranking in your urban hierarchy even matter? I read Aaron as arguing that it is good to be #1 in the United States (i.e. New York City). The competition (for what?) is fierce below the top. Washington, DC is challenging Chicago, L.A., and Boston for second place. New York can coast along. Everywhere else has to hustle.

Via Aaron Renn, here is a global urban hierarchy of the wealthy:

So Citi and Knight Frank pored over these new-wealth projections and asked themselves, what are the globe’s main real-estate hubs today for the world’s richest folk and what are these hubs likely to be in a decade or more from now? According to Citi and Knight Frank, these are the cities that currently “matter most” to the world’s richest folk –
  1. London
  2. New York
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Paris
  5. Singapore
  6. Miami
  7. Geneva
  8. Shanghai
  9. Beijing
  10. Berlin

In a decade from now, Citi and Knight Frank predict the most important cities to the super-rich will be:
  1. London
  2. New York
  3. Beijing
  4. Shanghai
  5. Singapore
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Paris
  8. São Paulo
  9. Geneva
  10. Berlin
What gives? If so much wealth is being made in the emerging market economies, why do London and New York remain on top? According to the report’s authors, “The most significant driving force of any city is its people. It is crucial to have a livable environment for increasingly mobile populations, and to attract a significant workforce. More than one-third of the people in New York and London are foreign-born. Despite their astonishing growth, Asian economic powerhouses fail to reach that level of cosmopolitan culture. New York or London will continue to top the indices, but only if they ensure their strong cultural offers are unmatched and maintain open immigration policies.”

New York and London are sticky. Both cities remain at the top. Below those two, we see a lot of shuffling. For example, I see São Paulo as displacing Miami. At stake is talent. For good reason, Miami is deeply concerned about brain drain. This global city is at risk of becoming like everyplace else. It is slipping into the Flat World:

Larger metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and Miami have long been gateways for the foreign-born. This secondary shift to more sedate locales like Sarasota is a nationwide phenomenon, says David Jacobson, a political sociologist at the University of South Florida who focuses on migration and citizenship issues.

"We are seeing a tipping point where minorities are now at least half of the population in the biggest cities," Jacobson says. "But immigration is changing smaller cities and towns as well. Hispanics and Asians in particular are moving beyond the traditional ethnic enclaves of the large metropolitan areas."

Relative to São Paulo, Miami will be on the same footing as Sarasota. Whereas DC seems to be pulling away from the pack. Why does this matter?  Pay attention to what Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "I have long believed that talent attracts capital far more effectively and consistently than capital attracts talent."


Matthew Hall said...

When are minorities not minorities? When they don't perceive themselves as such. Few New Englanders are descedent from the original puritans and pilgrims, but the puritans and pilgrims values of social unity and "moral government" continue to unify New England society. The challenges isn't getting the immigrants to come, it is turning them into Americans. Places that do that will succeed. I wonder if smaller more homogenous places will be as good at that as older port cities.

Jim Russell said...

The challenges isn't getting the immigrants to come, it is turning them into Americans. Places that do that will succeed.

Migration develops talent. Talent attracts capital. Great cities can handle a massive influx of outsiders. Urban planners and the like are the ones who enable a city to handle this influx.

Matthew Hall said...

But talent, capital, and identity are separate things. Miami has talent and capital, but many of its residents clearly don't think of themselves as Americans, or even bother to learn English. They didn't come to America, they brought their own country with them. In fact they make money from trading with their home country while in Miami. They bring capital and talent, but cities like Miami aren't functioning as a gateway city to bring immigrants into the U.S., they are creating a separate regional economy and society within the physical boundaries of the U.S. What's good for Miami may be bad for the rest of the U.S. That such changes in urban hierarchies may be so destabilizing as to weaken the internal cohesion of the U.S. shows that immigration today is fundamentally different from in the past and that changes in urban hierarchies are too.