Aired on KERA (NPR), Dallas, TX June 2014
Years ago, Jim Crupi, an urban specialist who had just moved to Dallas from Atlanta, foresaw a world of city-states, with New York, Los Angeles, Dubai and New Delhi, among others, assuming the importance of Singapore. I was intrigued by the elegance of his argument, but not persuaded. The federal government still looked like the only center of serious action.
Now a writer in the Financial Times has announced the arrival of exactly that. Investor Afrif Naqvi says the global economy must be seen in terms of cities, not states. National boundaries may shift, as indeed they are shifting in Ukraine, but cities are here to stay, and no country can prosper without them. Indeed, their growth rates often exceed those of the nations in which they reside.
That will be the subject of the New Cities Summit in Dallas this month. Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas Museum of Art director Max Anderson will host urban gurus from every continent, here to admire our own North Texas study in success. Here commerce, culture and fortunate geography between two coasts, sitting on shale, make this an opportune spot from which to look ahead to how the 4 billion people expected in cities within the next ten years might live and work and express themselves.
These visitors will find some metropolitan governments in the U.S. taking national problems into their own hands. Weary of Washington’s current stance, Mayor Ed Murray worked out a plan to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to $15.00 an hour, more than twice the federal rate. According the New York Times, other cities, such as Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and L.A., and we could add Dallas, are considering programs in education, transportation and housing as well as wages to bolster the prospects of the middle class they need.
Not all is well, of course. Megalopolises across the planet are plagued by bad air, dirty water, and tall buildings built so shoddily that the slightest tremor in the earth could send them crashing to the ground. In India’s Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, called GIFT—a favorite of the New Cities Foundation that’s staging the summit, poor people have been bulldozed out of their homes in the slums to make way for dazzling new development that thus far has yielded only two office buildings with four tenants, including, said one report, the state electric company and the developer behind the project. It sounds like our own country in the 1960s when urban renewal meant people removal. Certainly “New Class cities” such as GIFT purports to be, will rise in the years ahead, but it will take wise direction, such as the summit here in Dallas seeks to supply, to make them work.
Nobody’s expecting another London or Paris. The models instead are radical high-rise cities such as Shanghai. Even so, these European capitals are far from over. I thought former Prime Minister Tony Blair was a little silly when he said he wanted to rebrand Britain, and make it blingier than merely the home of the Horseguards and Gothic cathedrals. Well, to my surprise, he did it. I love the madly modern building known as the gherkin because it’s shaped like a pickle, and the ferris wheel along the Thames. It’s a much more today city than Paris, though of course the Seine is ever ravishing and a perfect setting for Owen Wilson at midnight.
When Anne Hidalgo was elected mayor in March, she said that Paris will always be “a city that never cheats its ideals or its honor.” Now there’s something for the summiteers to put their minds to. Ideals and honor will be critical to the megacities to come. Otherwise they may devour the people who try to live in them.