Journal of International Affairs
BYLINE: Longworth, Richard C
“Put the city up; tear the city down; put it up again; let us find a city.”
This much we know for sure: cities are the future. Much was made of the recent demographic tipping point, when, for the first time in history, the population of cities and their suburbs accounted for more than half of humanity. Cities are big and getting bigger. In the twenty-first century, cities are and will continue to be where the action is, where business is done, where ideas and innovations spring up, where arts and sciences proliferate. For better or worse, our future is urban.
How exactly our urban future will take shape remains an open question. Clearly not all cities will grow equally. Which cities will grow, which will shrink and why? Will urban patterns in the United States resemble those in Europe or, for that matter, in Asia and Africa? Will most cities remain, as they have been in the past, centers of a limited geographic area, dependent on their physical environment? Or will globalization create a new class of cities, a sort of global Hanseatic League, increasingly divorced from surrounding hinterlands that may wither without them?
What may be evolving is an urban-rurai divide between wealthy cities participating in a new global hierarchy and the impoverished others, mired in the lowlands of a supposedly flat world. If cities aspire to global preeminence, they will need to provide the services and amenities for global citizens who, increasingly, can live anywhere. But how will cities pay for these services and amenities? This may be the biggest question of all.
These questions apply to all cities, from London to Lagos to Los Angeles to Lahore. However, globalization affects each in different ways and will assign each of them different roles, just as the industrial era in the United States assigned different roles to Boston, Pittsburgh and Omaha, all of which developed in the same era but evolved differently. Chongqing – booming, thrusting, raw, ambitious – calls itself the Chicago of China. But the Chicago it resembles is the lusty industrial Chicago of the late nineteenth century, not the relatively sedate business center of the early twenty-first century, which has ceded industrial prominence to the Chongqings of the world to establish a new postindustrial niche in the global economy.
One urban size does not fit all, and any attempt to squeeze New York and Nairobi into one grand theory is flawed from the start. Let us focus then on the futures of American cities, a more modest task made easier by the fact that their futures are beginning to be revealed.
EARLY U.S. CITIES AND THEIR ECONOMIC ROOTS
Almost all American cities, like cities throughout history, developed to serve some economic purpose. Invariably, that purpose was place-bound. A port, a mine, or a river provided the raison d’être for many cities. Steel mills took root near raw materials. Auto plants grew up near steel mills. Stockyards depended on fields of grain to feed livestock and on railroads to ship them. Oil cities relied on nearby oil fields while trading posts lay astride trade routes. The economic needs that created cities in turn created jobs, and where industries were robust, the workers stayed to build places to live. In some cases these settlements produced small towns comprised of just a few houses, stores, a school and a church, all serving local farmers or miners. In other cases, these economic epicenters spawned great cities – civilizations that grew to a million people or more – with museums, symphonies and universities, all dependent on that original economic raison d’être: the port, the steel industry or the auto plants.
Thus grew Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Miami, Houston, San Francisco and Boston. Not all great cities grew near water – Atlanta and Denver are landlocked – but most lie near oceans, rivers or the Great Lakes, because trade goods traveled by water, not by rail or air. For all of these major urban centers, a placebased economic role brought them into being and defined their identities.
But in economics, nothing lasts forever. Trade routes shift. The raw materials necessary for mighty industries become scarce or expensive and the labor necessary to run those industries becomes cheaper elsewhere. Cities that rely on location for their livelihoods may discover over time that the fonts of their economies have vanished. When economic opportunities arise elsewhere, how can these cities sustain themselves? This is the question facing many American cities today. Born and reared in the industrial era, they find themselves cast adrift in today’s global era, forced to reinvent themselves or wither.
Still, if the global future is urban, the United States is already there. While half the world’s population now lives in cities, no less than 82 percent of Americans live in metro areas, generating about 86 percent of the nation’s jobs and nearly 90 percent of its gross domestic product.
While geography may not be irrelevant in the information era, it is certainly less important. Increasingly, modern global cities exist in the context of global networks overseeing vast supply chains, far-flung human resources and borderless capital flows. The old assets – iron, coal, water, oil – no longer justify their existence. The future of these cities depends on their ability to attract creative talent and wokers capable of succeeding in a twenty-first century knowledge economy.
GLOBALIZATION RESHAPES URBANIZATION
The international economy has been with us for centuries, since before Marco Polo made his trade mission to Cathay and before the Lombard banks began financing Europe in the Middle Ages. This economy ultimately helped shape America. Later, the industrial era marked the ascendance of many U.S. cities. In the postindustrial period, going back about forty years, American cities were transformed, some declining and others gaining strength. We have seen the culmination of this process in the exodus of heavy industry from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, with population booms in once-remote cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas and with the new eminence of intellectual centers like Raleigh-Durham, Austin and Seattle.
However, the modern wave of globalization is even more recent. It began with the rise of post-Mao China in the 1980s but flowered after the collapse of Soviet communism in 1989. Around this time, India and Brazil emerged from decades of self-imposed isolation and dirigisme. Suddenly, 1.5 billion workers in developed countries found themselves competing with 2 billion new workers entering the global economy. Since these workers came from relatively poor countries, they did not bring much new money with them, which meant more than twice as many workers were competing for roughly the same amount of money. This had the effect of devaluin§ labor’ which exPlains the availability of cheap goods in American stores, tne Offsnoring of much of American industry and the decline in American wages. At the same time, new inventions like the Internet made it easy to tie the previously distinct first, second and third worlds into one big economy.
All of a sudden, Chicago and Detroit no longer competed with Atlanta or Birmingham. American cities found themselves competing instead with Shenzhen or Jakarta. Whole industries relocated and, in time, services began to follow. Still in its infancy, this new wave of globalization proved as raw as the industrial era was twenty years after James Watt first improved the steam engine.
Quickly, the service economy gave way to the knowledge economy, with its emphasis on innovation, information, technology and speed. With luck, the refinement of the globalized economy in the coming decades will produce the widely shared economic decency that eventually flowed from the industrial era. But human capital is not what it once was, and the rewards of the knowledge economy are unlikely to be distributed in the same manner they were when industry reigned. Some cities will win and others will lose. This may sound too competitive – too much of a zero-sum game – but the rapid decline of many American cities shows that this is a reality, and there are few indications suggesting the future holds otherwise. Throughout history, cities have flourished or faded according to their ability to cope with new challenges and reinvent themselves. The great cities – London, Paris, Mumbai, Beijing, Cairo – have reinvented themselves many times. Other once-great cities, like Ur and Nineveh, are now no more than ruins, or have declined into backwaters like Venice and Bruges. We can see the same process happening in many U.S. cities today.
NEW URBAN POWER STRUCTURES
American cities, now and in the future, can be sorted into three categories: global cities, regional capitals and the rest. Global cities are the handful of metropolises that are intimately linked to and help guide the global economy. Regional capitals are healthy cities, magnets for their immediate heartlands, but are weakly linked to the global economy. The rest are mostly the losers, neither healthy nor global, caught in a downward spiral that may be terminal.
Global cities are the true metropolises of a globalizing world. A 2010 listing of the mightiest global cities compiled by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and AT. Kearney describes global cities this way:
“These are the ports of the global age, the places that both run the global economy and influence its direction. The cities where decisions are made, where the world’s movers and shakers come to exchange the latest news and information. . . . They are where you go to do business, yes, but also to see the greatest art, hear the greatest orchestras, learn the latest styles, eat the best food and study in the finest universities. They have global corporations – this goes without saying. But they also have think tanks, jazz bars and broadband. In a word, they have clout. … To be a global city, then, is to belong to the urban elite. Global cities are not always the most beautiful or the most pleasant. Almost by definition, they are busy, crowded, noisy, even frantic. But they are crowded with those who are creating the future, noisy with the clash of deals and ideas, frantic in the race to stay ahead. They have money and power. They know where the world is going because they’re already there.”
Ranking global cities has become something of an intellectual party game. For the 2010 study, A.T. Kearney and the Chicago Council scored cities using various metrics within five categories: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience and political engagement. Arbitrary criteria, perhaps, but the results tallied with other similar rankings. New York, always America’s most international city, is the leading global city, followed by London, Tokyo and Paris, bunched at the top in a class by themselves.
Of the sixty-five global cities listed, eight other American cities made the cut. Chicago ranked sixth and Los Angeles seventh, in the company of Singapore, Sydney, Seoul and Hong Kong. San Francisco ranked twelfth, the smallest city to rank so highly, followed by Washington, a one-industry town that made the list only because that industry is the world’s most powerful government. Boston was nineteenth, Miami thirty-fourth, Houston thirty-eighth and Atlanta fortieth. If the list were longer, Minneapolis, Dallas, Denver and Seattle might also have been included.
The United States led the global rankings with nine cities on the list, while China had six. These nine, already off and running in the global race, are poised to remain global cities in the coming years, though their rankings may slip as they are surpassed by rising Asian cities. All of these global U.S. cities face three crucial questions: What do they have to do to stay competitive, and how will they pay for it? How do they identify – are they regional capitals, American cities, or global cities? Does the mere fact of having gone global give them more in common with cities around the world than with their national neighbors?
Regional capitals are second-rank cities, often prosPerous’ cultured and pleasant, but more plugged into their immediate surroundings than the wider world. This list inciudes Indianapolis, Columbus, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, Richmond, Kansas City and Portland, among others. These cities are often state capitals, dominating their states and drawing in much of its talent and money, but not much else.
Then there are the rest – winners of the industrial era wno are losers in the global era. Many have tried desperately to hold onto the industry that made them rich, but have failed. This failure is evident in their drastically reduced populations, high dropout and poverty rates, depressed housing prices and a “brain drain” that is depleting their intellectual capital. These cities are disproportionately in the Rust Belt – the large manufacturing cities of old – including Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Dayton, as well as Birmingham and New Orleans in the South.
Whether these cities have a future remains an open question. One school of thought argues that when a city has lost more than half its population, it has tipped into inevitable decline. All of the cities mentioned in the previous paragraph stood tall in the industrial age, and to this day they boast the trappings of great civilizations – renowned orchestras in Cleveland and Detroit, professional sports teams in Buffalo and Cincinnati, respected universities in St. Louis and Rochester. These assets stir the civic breast but do not contribute to the economic viability of a city.
It is hard to see what some of the old Rust Belt cities, especially Detroit, can do to reverse their downward fortunes. Most continue to bleed residents: Detroit lost no less than 25 percent of its population in the first decade of this century and Cleveland’s population fell by 17 percent. Cities in the knowledge economy need educated and skilled workers; Detroit, Cleveland and the like attract mostly the poor, uneducated and unskilled, guaranteeing that these cities will remain poor, uneducated and unskilled.
However, no matter how decrepit at their cores, these cities are still surrounded by decent suburban areas, though poverty is beginning to overwhelm some innerring suburbs. But can a large urban region thrive without a solid core? The answer may be no. The Detroit and Cleveland metro areas, along with Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Dayton and Flint, were among the only cities in the country to shrink in the last census.
Size counts, incidentally, but it is not decisive. If population were all that mattered for global-city status, noisome megacities like Lagos, Mexico City and Kolkata would rank at the top instead of at the bottom. The same holds true in America. Until the housing bubble burst, Phoenix and Las Vegas were two of America’s fastest growing cities. But neither had the attributes – human capital, business connections, culture, political clout, great universities – that make a global city.
THE URBAN FUTURE: AEROTROPOLISES AND SHRINKING CITIES
The future of American cities is visible all around us. Barring a huge and unforeseen shift in the U.S. economy, current patterns will likely continue throughout this century. Many failing cities are searching for a cure to their dire circumstances. Two of the most current ideas are aerotropolises and shrinking cities.
An “aerotropolis,” as conceived by John Kasarda, professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, calls for building new cities that radiate out from airports, which he believes are central to the global economy. Since some of the most stricken U.S. cities already have airports, the concept is being tweaked to make use of existing transport hubs to enhance urban economies. Kasarda’s list of operational aerotropolises includes hubs such as Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson Airport. Though these hubs are bustling, they are still traditional, inhabiting the fringes rather than the cores of their cities.
The shrinking-city concept is usually identified with smaller cities, such as Flint, Michigan and Youngstown, Ohio, although urban planners in Detroit and Cleveland are also paying attention. The concept is based on the reality that these cities will never again be as big as they once were. How, then, can one redesign a city laid out for hundreds of thousands or millions of people to serve a population half that size? Shrinking is more difficult than it may sound. It means redefining a city’s area, closing down whole neighborhoods and shutting schools and fire stations. It means demolishing buildings – a surprisingly expensive undertaking – as well as cleaning up polluted land, planting parks, removing streets and halting sanitation services, all in the face of outraged civic pride. And this must be done by cities that are nearly bankrupt.
It is still too soon to tell whether either of these initiatives – shrinking or the development of aerotropolises – is a viable strategy or a desperate last throw of the dice.
GLOBAL VERSUS REGIONAL CITIES
Global cities, which have the size and complexity to be great metropolises of the global economy, are at the center of the American urban future. Some people deny that global cities exist, just as they deny that there is any more to globalization than an intensification of the trade practices of old. But the latest wave of globalization has ushered in a new economy based on cutting-edge technology and a reordering of the very nature of work. It has reversed trade routes, restructured patterns of production worldwide and employed billions of people who, two decades ago, played no role at all in the world economy.
Global cities are the command points of this new economy. Globalization has scattered not only manufacturing but many functions, like sales and research, across the global landscape, and global cities serve as the headquarters for the coordination of these activities. As University of Pennsylvania urbanologist Witold Rybczynski has said, paraphrasing Columbia University sociologist Saskia Sassen: “Global cities . . . are a select group of cities that play key roles in the world economy, particularly as regards the cross-border flow of capital and goods.” They are the focal points not only of industries and businesses, but of the many global experts – lawyers, accountants, consultants and the like – who serve them.
The way in which the reins of the global economy have been gathered in the hands of global cities is unexpected. Not so long ago, we thought that digital communications would enable us to escape the crush and noise of cities by taking our computers and our business to the mountains or lakes, where we could keep in touch with the world while enjoying the scenery and breathing fresh air. It has not worked out that way. As Sassen points out, global citizens need not only general information, available through their computers, but the latest information, the news of the next new thing – the sort of information that is only available face-toface. Modern businesses need to move quickly and to have access to many strands of expertise all at once, in the same room, if possible. Despite the explosion in new communication technologies, business air travel between global cities has boomed, because global citizens have to go to these cities just to stay in the loop. As Sassen writes, global cities “have become home to complexes of producer services.”
But this does not tell us which cities will continue to lead. Given the rankings by AT. Kearney and others, New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and perhaps Shanghai will remain preeminent. Beyond that, we can only look at present trends. As Rybczynski says, again citing Sassen, global cities “have become global centers for finance, servicing, and management, and . . . the network that binds them together is a trans-national one. In a sense the global cities could be said to form a sort of loose medieval league, but on a global scale.”
It is the great survivors like New York that are pacing the new global economy. In the process, they are becoming something new, as Rybczynski says; not autonomous city-states, like the Hanseatic ports, but not strictly national either. They belong to nations and live under their laws and regulations. But at the same time, they are part of a global network that “appears to be supra-national, unaccountable to national control, and strikingly autonomous.”
“Global cities,” says Rybczynski, “are something less than city-states, but something more than prime cities.” Until now, great American cities, apart from New York, have been regional centers. Boston defined New England. Atlanta characterized the South, Chicago the Midwest, and Los Angeles was the epitome of California. Now, increasingly, these cities are global city-states, in the hermaphroditic sense described by Rybczynski. They are the centers of regional markets and still sell to those markets. But as the industry and farming that once supported towns and smaller regional cities shrivel, money, power and talent flow to the cities. Regional capitals often rely on their states for sustenance. Many lie at crossroads served by interstate highways, making them easily reachable from the rest of the state, and most identify with their states and major institutions in a way that global cities like New York or Chicago do not.
This would seem to give these cities a secure future as the hubs of their respective states, attendant to global trends but not dependent on them. But this is not the sinecure it seems to be. Both American states and their governments are facing an uncertain future, and any city that depends on their state may be in for a rough ride. Across the country, rural areas are emptying out. Nonurban economies are generally losing ground to urban economies. Young people are moving to these regional capitals, putting pressure on public services. At the same time, state governments are falling deeper into debt, eroding their ability to pay for these services. Moreover, many state governments are still dominated by rural interests who are reluctant to spend tax money on urban needs, especially given rural difficulties.
As state governments become increasingly unviable, it would make sense for regional capitals to join forces and leverage their strengths, as is taking place now with the Southern Growth Policies Board. Perhaps these cities will be subsumed into a larger region, a networked “megalopolis.” Other candidates for regional networks might include the so-called BosWash corridor, the industrial belt stretching from Milwaukee through Chicago to Pittsburgh, the Piedmont region from Charlotte to Atlanta or the Interstate 35 corridor from San Antonio to Kansas City. But so far, these “megapolitan” regions – a term coined by Robert E. Lang and Dawn Dhavale to describe “integrated networks of metro and micropolitan areas” – owe more to geographers’ whimsies than to any economic or political reality.
William Cronon’s magisterial book, Nature’s Metropolis, describes the centurylong process in which the Midwest created Chicago by sending it the produce and raw materials that fueled the city’s industries and markets, while Chicago in turn created the Midwest by stoking the demand for these goods. Without Chicago, there would be no Midwest, and vice versa. The symbiosis that once characterized such relationships has ended.
At the same time, cities remain tied to their states both legally and financially. Tax money flows from cities to state governments and comes back as financing for urban services. State governments retain much control over city financing, taxation, infrastructure, zoning and schools. But state deficits are forcing cities to seek new ways to finance themselves, making them less beholden to their states, even indifferent to them.
Will cities break away from their states and regions? Not entirely. The federal structure dictates that some ties remain. But states will become less able to meet the needs of their biggest economic engines, and cities with global ties will look elsewhere for sustenance. In addition to the wealth that comes from global partnerships, cities are already seeking new local revenue sources in user fees or through the privatization of public services. But can they find enough, in increased fees or taxes, to pay for the services and amenities that they will need to remain global cities?
Global cities will always attract some businesses and people who can afford to live anywhere. But can these cities, still home to the working- and middle-class populations from the industrial era, raise costs without pricing out all but the rich? We already see this happening in cities like New York and Chicago, where wealthy citizens of all nationalities are moving back into the city centers, colonizing neighborhoods once left to the poor and forcing the poor farther out.
What then can we predict about the futures of individual American cities? Which cities will become global and which will not? New York is and will continue to be the quintessential global city. Twice assaulted in the past decade, first by al Qaeda and then by the mortgage meltdown, it has emerged strong and has not been chastened. It remains the true capital of America, its intellectual center, its newsroom, its atelier, its tastemaker. It even wants to be its scientific center. This goal may or may not be realized, but it reveals the sheer ambition of the city.
Most global cities like New York have diversified economies; if one sector dips, other sectors pick up the slack. This raises the question of whether oneindustry cities may have put too many eggs in one economic basket. In Europe, the unraveling of the European Union and the devaluation of the euro could foil the global ambitions of Frankfurt and Brussels. Houston is America’s oil capital; as the United States weans its economy from carbon-based fuels, will Houston fade? Los Angeles is more than a one-industry town, but the entertamment industry looms so large there that one wonders if it has much to sustain it if that industry should decamp, as Richard Florida has suggested it could.
Chicago frets incessantly about whether it really is a global city (it is, according to the Kearney rankings) and whether it can remain one. The city and its new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, are struggling with a huge civic deficit from the productive but expensive reign of Emanuel ‘s predecessor, Richard M. Daley. It is working to fix a broken school system, to reconfigure its aging public transport system to meet the new needs of a shifting population and to retrofit O’Hare Airport, the city’s shabby gateway, to keep Chicago on the itinerary of global travelers.
Chicago, like many American cities, once thrived because it was a key part of the world’s most dominant national economy. As America’s clout in the world declines, just being an important American city won’t be enough in the future. Instead, these cities must shine on their own, as Singapore has done for years and as London has learned to do since Britain’s preeminence has declined.
Atlanta, the capital of the Sun Belt, would seem to be a candidate for membership in the global urban league. When the economy shifted to the Sun Belt, Atlanta blossomed. It is still a major center, home to the world’s busiest airport. But globalization will challenge its economy. Atlanta’s population growth seems to have stalled and, after a half-century of breakneck expansion, it faces severe infrastructure problems, especially in transport. In addition, Atlanta is challenged by a galaxy of growing southern stars – for instance, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee and Charlotte, North Carolina – in a way that midwestern Chicago is not.
Many smaller cities occupy powerful niches in the global economy. Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Seattle all have the brainpower and informationbased industries to thrive in a global economy. But San Francisco’s cost of living may soon be too high to compete, and the others need serious infrastructure improvements – Minneapolis’s bridges, Boston’s airport and Seattle’s highways, for example.
So far, the pull of geography has worked to turn some regional capitals into global cities. Cities like Sydney, Toronto, Johannesburg and Sao Paulo rank as global cities simply because they dominate substantial regions or countries. The same geographic dominance has propelled the growth of regional metropolises like Chicago, Atlanta and, to a lesser degree, Minneapolis. Ironically, these regional centers have achieved some of their growth at the expense of their less-urban environs. We do not know if this process will continue or, as hinterlands empty out, if regional dominance will decline in importance.
In the end, we come back to the need for global cities to attract talent: educated and creative people of all nationalities who can live anywhere but will settle where they can best use their intellect and skills. This migration is already happening to newer, creative cities like Seattle and Minneapolis and to older, educated cities like New York and Chicago. These cities no longer compete just with each other, but also with global cities like Paris, Shanghai and Mumbai. If their feet rest on American soil, their heads are in Cyberspace. If their history is local, their future is global. Not all cities can manage or afford to maintain this balance.
Globalization is brand new. For American cities and their residents, the second act of history has just begun.
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Copyright 2012 Journal of International Affairs