Tuesday, January 12, 2010

5 Phenomena of the Centuary so far

The first decade of the 21st century has come to a close.  For the first blog post of the new decade, I decided to ponder the most significant trends of the past decade related to cities or affecting urban spaces.
Below are the five most significant happenings, in no particular order because they are all somewhat interrelated.

1. Widespread recognition of how industry clusters work and the importance of focusing on those in furthering an urban economy. For a while, every city tried to attract every type of industry.  In the late 20th century leaders of cities everywhere wanted bio tech companies, an auto plant, the next Microsoft, fashion designers and the movie industry to flourish in their town.  More recently, city government and business groups have spent time examining the industries where the region has a comparative advantage over other places: sectors where they have more jobs on average and likely some ingredients or a history that gives the industry an authenticity in the community.  Such strengths can then be used to attract more people and organizations in that cluster.

2.  Richard Florida’s publishing of “Rise of the Creative Class.” The book helped explain the human dimension behind why clustering works and how cities need to foster a mix of “talent, tolerance and technology” in order to attract and retain knowledge-based industries and workers.  The book spawned new ways that planners, developers, business leaders, and scholars think about cities (whether they agree or not, everyone has to respond to these ideas).

3. Rise of Asian cities as global commercial, manufacturing and financial hubs:
  • 20 years ago, when China was massacring citizens at Tienanmen Square no one could have predicted the country of today and the urban revolution there as detailed in The Concrete Dragon. According to Mastercard in 2008, 15 of the most important 65 world cities are now in China.  Besides Beijing and Shanghai they include places like Harbin, Xian, Wuhan and Nanjing that few ordinary people outside of China have heard of they are so new to the contemporary world stage.
  • 10 years ago had you heard of Dubai?
  • Bangalore and Mumbai have became centres of global outsourcing and then innovation in their own right.  Clustering works for India too.
4.  The Green Revolution – not the agricultural one, but the shift to more sustainable urban construction and sustainable design.  10 years ago, as the US Green Building Council began promoting “green” construction and its LEED rankings, everyone laughed.  They said the private sector and institutions would never build LEED office buildings because it couldn’t make financial sense.  Today in Canada’s major cities virtually every major project, private and public sector, is being built to LEED or other environmental sustainability standards, not only because doing less harm to the environment is good but because private firms have learned that green makes employees feel better, take fewer sick days and be more productive.

5. Re-birth of urban-style living and the start of a shift away from suburban lifestyles.  Individuals, couples and families in North America are increasingly choosing to live in townhouses and apartments in or near the urban core (even if they can afford a spacious suburban home).  Not everyone, not everywhere, but enough people to make this a trend and likely one that will help define the 21st century in North America (whereas suburban style automotive culture defined and shaped how people lived in the 20th century).  This shift is related to a green consciousness, the rise of women to become the dominant gender in the workforce, the rising price of gasoline, escalating house prices.