Posts Tagged ‘global’

In late May I went on a European vacation, visiting four cities in two weeks: Prague, Vienna, Paris and Barcelona.  All four cities provide reams of insight into building the city, four interpretations based on different histories, cultures and climates.  It is impossible to exhaustively describe a city’s architecture, history, urban form, main sights and culture in a blog post.  So what follows are brief impressions of the cities, and comparisons one to another and to my hometown of Seattle.

First, a general note on history: European cities are widely perceived as ancient; artifacts of medieval urbanism and architecture.  True, to an extent, but the vast majority of neighborhoods I visited on this trip were built out in the nineteenth century as a result of Europe’s industrial revolution, which turned rural peasants into urban factory workers.  The cities’ building stock is not particularly older than Boston, New York or even San Francisco.  Paris was rebuilt during the Hausmann renovations of the late 1800’s.  Medieval Paris was almost entirely swept away, covered over with boulevards lined with buildings representing a high point of wealth, grandeur and gracious urban design.  The other cities visited have historic districts in their centers, dating back to the fourteenth century, yet most of what is considered “the city” was built in the 1800’s.  In some cases the winding, narrow medieval streets survive, yet the poorly-built, one-to-three story medieval building were all replaced with the nineteenth century with grand, solidly-built six-story edifices.  European cities were purposefully built, around 150 years ago, and built grandly.  It is within our means to build new cities along the same guidelines today.

Paris versus Barcelona:  These two large Western European cities vie with each other to be the busiest and most stylish.  Both are very densely populated throughout the municipality (while having a wide range of suburban suburbs)and provide immense transit networks.  There is never a break in central paris:  no matter where you attempt to stop and take a photo, you will be in someone’s way.  The streets appear as canyons cut through a pre-existing mass of six-story buildings.

Now Barcelona, my favorite city of the trip, is in a whole different category.  The level of density and intensity went beyond the typical European city into an Asian realm.  People, people everywhere.  Shops, shops everywhere.  Bicycle and motorcycle are the only practical personal transportation devices.  Many streets were wide enough to accommodate a vehicle (such as an ambulance), but cars just aren’t practical in such as environment.  The question isn’t “is there a grocery store within walking distance?”; but “which of the half-dozen produce shops, bakeries, meat markets and supermarkets within two blocks should I go to?”  Streets are still crowded with pedestrians at midnight.  Our room faced onto a 10-foot “lightwell” fronted with windows into kitchens and bedrooms from other apartments.  The street-side windows faced towards the balconies across the street, a mere 20 feet away.  Basically, no privacy, no quiet.  But urban energy everywhere.  I loved it. 

Typical Barcelona street

Prague versus Vienna:  These two central European capitals have similarly sized metro areas, in the same range as Portland and Vancouver.   Despite having top-notch transit systems, street-level activity paled in comparison to the larger Paris or Barcelona.  Yet, life was convenient, and many needs could be met within a few blocks.  Prague and Vienna are generally built on a grid of superblocks, with streets lined with continuous 6-story buildings holding large interior courtyards. 

An intersection in Prague New Town

The streets have moderate width, similar to narrower Seattle streets, typically with at least one row of parked cars.  On busier streets, the ground floors house retail businesses.  On quieter streets retail is more rare.  The interior courtyards provide everyone access to ample greenery, as a view out the interior-facing windows or as a gardening or recreational area. Building coverage area is low as a result, as is the population density, which results in a lighter smattering of shops and quieter streets than Paris.  Vienna, in particular, appeared to be equally optimized for automobile as well as bicycle and public transit.  Car parks were common, as was separated bicycle  infrastructure.  The example of Vienna is the most applicable to Seattle: moderate density, eminently livability, lots of green space and transportation options.

Vienna is still under construction


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Why do I write about cities?  What so attracts me to urban environments?  There are factual reasons that cities are preferable over suburbs and the countryside, often cited on this blog.  But my preference goes deeper, to a visceral emotional level.  I will attempt to put the sources of this preference into words.

Architecture.  I love the architecture of buildings (what else is architecture?).   Rural landscapes are defined by the near absence of buildings.  In suburban settings buildings are designed to be hidden, set back, subdued, never to upstage the focal point of nature, trees and greenery.  The suburban project is an attempt to merge the bucolic rural landscape with the practicalities of home, work, shopping.  It produces not great architecture by design.  In a city, however, buildings cannot be hidden.  They are the city, lending endless variety, new and old, well-kept and run-down, art deco and victorian and post-modern and modern, all on the same block.  One-story, office, six-story, condo, commercial, two-story, hotel, twelve-story, retirement center.  Always something different to feast your eyes on.

Community.  I am a shy person, easily self-entertained.  If I met one hundred thousand people, with maybe five I would click and we would become great friends.  The odds are low.  In a city constantly surrounded by people, with residents from everywhere with every interest known under the sun, the odds are slightly better.  How many people could you meet while driving home on the freeway?  How many people could you meet on a well-attended city bus or subway?  Cities aren’t designed for isolation.  Good cities form strong neighborhood bonds and support institutions.  People seek the city for its crowds, public ceremonies and celebrations, sporting events, critical masses of nightclubs, art galleries or political bicyclists.  Elsewhere people avoid crowds.  I seek them out.

Innovation and influence.  A diversity of experiences leads to new mixtures of ideas that drive every field forward.  Cities are made greater for their serendipitous interactions.  How many musical genres have been invented or transformed in New York City?  How many in the great plain states (with the same population, spread out nearly 1000 miles)?  New ideas are created in cities, and then rapidly transferred and adopted in other cities.  Slowly these innovations spread across the countryside around the world.  Cities set the cultural tone for nations, including within them most leaders and taste-makers, giving them outsized influence economically and culturally (but not always politically).

Sustainability.  Cities have been sustainable communities for millenia in all but the worst of war and societal collapse.  The larger the city, the fewer resources each resident consumes.  Cities can offer as high a quality of life as suburban areas, but its a different quality of life.  One with less travel and fewer personal resources, but with more convenient services and community support.  We live in a world of depleting natural resources and accelerating climate change (induced by our global combustion habits – i.e. burning fuel).  Spreading advances in agriculture mean that fewer and fewer people are needed to farm, and for the first time in human history a majority of us are living in urban areas.  But what type of urban areas?  Dense cities allow efficient living in the face of scarcity, create strong communities and give rise to the innovations we need to maintain prosperity.

The sweep of history.  Humanity started in a garden, cultivating fruit trees.  As time passed large-scale agriculture and industry and cities and trade and empires and megacities developed.  The controlling narrative in American culture, the Christian story, is about redemption and restoration of a lost idyllic paradise.  The Christian scriptures conclude with a vision of the restored people of God: the holy city, the New Jerusalem.  The story does not end with a renewed garden, but with a vision of a city described as 1,400 miles square  and 7,392,000 feet high.

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Parisian Multiway Boulevard (Source: de.wikipedia.org user Luestling)

A tool for building the city, little known in the United States, is the multiway boulevard.  I was not aware of the term until reading “The Boulevard Book” by Allan Jacobs, Elizabeth Macdonald and Yodan Rofe, the authoritative reference on multiway boulevards.  I had seen roads of this type in my international travels, from Guangzhou to Paris, but didn’t realize their significance until reading this book.

Multiway boulevards are multi-functional roadways, consisting of at least a central roadway, optimized for fast automobile traffic, and side roadways, optimized for low-speed local access traffic and parking.  Medians separate the central roadway from the access roadways, and on well-designed boulevards the medians, access roadways and sidewalks create an extended pedestrian realm.  Multiway boulevards typically have at least four rows of formally spaced street trees.  The median trees visually and psychologically separate the traffic realm from the pedestrian realm.  Pedestrians feel comfortable lingering on sidewalks and medians, crossing the access roadways at will.  Vehicles in the access roadways travel slowly by design, due to the narrowness of the lane, frequent bicycles and pedestrians, vehicles entering or exiting parallel parking, and delivery trucks stopped for unloading.  Multiway boulevards are capable of handling heavy volumes of fast traffic, from 4 to 10 lanes, while providing a safe, quiet and relaxing environment for the adjoining buildings and pedestrians along the roadway.

Multiway Boulevard Cross Section (from the "The Boulevard Book")

In contrast, U.S. traffic engineering focuses on only one function for a road: high-speed traffic corridor, from which pedestrians and businesses stay away, and local access streets, with limited traffic volumes and speeds.  Multiway boulevards can accomplish both tasks within one right-of-way.  The best boulevards, however, do require very wide right of ways.  Absolute minimum is 100 feet wide, more typical are 180 to 250 feet wide.

It is well-known that freeways, whether at grade, in a trench or elevated, are detrimental to cities, separating neighborhoods with deafening and ugly “no-go” zones, and overwhelming the local street grid at off-ramps.  Multiway boulevards are an elegant solution to providing rapid mobility in a city without sacrificing quality of life.  Does your city have any of these roads?

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Recently I posted the 2010 update to the greatest city rankings.  As I noted, the updated rankings show a decisive shift in global influence from the United States to Asia in the period since the 2002 rankings.   European and Latin American cities held steady on average, although Italian cities shot up in the rankings.  Africa fell back a bit, confirming the thesis of the Bottom Billion by Paul Collier (short synopsis: the poorest billion on earth, predominately in Africa, are stuck in a variety of traps that keep them out of the development process and stuck in increasing poverty).

Lets zoom in on the drop in the U.S. rankings and the rise in the rankings of Asian cities.  Three biggest gainers were Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Wuhan, all in China.  The three biggest losers were Hamburg (Germany), St. Louis and Columbus (Ohio).  Detroit dropped 25 places from #21 to #46.

Here is the detail on the three large gainers:

The single largest factor in the rise of these cities is their massive population growth, underscoring the scale of the unprecedented migration within China to its manufacturing cities.  The growth in web citations is equally impressive, although totals are not yet high enough to receive scoring. 

The detail on the three largest losers follows:

In 2002, these cities received scoring primarily for web citations and Fortune 500 company headquarters.  (None of them are large enough to receive population scoring).  The growth of the web in the intervening years meant that the web citations had to increase ten-fold for the city to break even in the rankings.  Web citations for these cities grew, but nowhere near fast enough to keep up.  And all three cities lost corporate headquarters, possibly due to corporate mergers (centralization) or de-industrialization.   Also notable in the significant  drop in air traffic to St. Louis, resulting from the loss of the TWA hub after it’s “merger” with American Airlines.

During the 2000’s, Asian cities grew spectacularly, while many U.S. cities failed to keep pace during the “lost decade” of housing booms and falling real wages.  (For a German take on U.S. decline read here.)  Not all U.S. cities fell in the rankings: Orlando moved up 5 spaces, and San Francisco 2.  How did my hometown of Seattle fare?  Dropped 6 spaces.  Web citations and airport passengers grew proportionately, but the number of corporate headquarters fell, bringing down the total scoring.

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I have updated the list of the 60 greatest cities in the world for 2010.  Same as the 2002 rankings posted in August of this year, this is not a most-livable cities list, not a best-cities-to-do-business list, but a list of the largest and most influential cities on earth, i.e. the greatest.  The rankings consider population, economy, cultural impact and connectedness. 

The criteria and methodology were the same for both lists, but the world has shifted in the meantime.  The only methodological difference is in the metropolitan airport passengers criterion.  In 2002, I only had access to the passenger counts from the top 30 airports; in this update, I accessed 2006 passenger counts from the largest 400 or so international airports, so the airport ranking are more robust.

As previously, Tokyo, New York and London land in the top three.  A comparison of the remainder of the rankings shows that during the past decade Asian cities have rapidly increased in greatness while U.S. cities have declined.  I will parse the data further in a future post, including a close-up look at a few of the biggest winners and losers.

2010 Overall Ranking City 2002 Overall Ranking Ranking Change
1 New York 2 ▲ (1)
2 Tokyo 1 ▼ (1)
3 London 3
4 Los Angeles 5 ▲ (1)
5 Paris 6 ▲ (1)
6 Chicago 4 ▼ (2)
7 Seoul 9 ▲ (2)
8 Washington 7 ▼ (1)
9 Beijing 15 ▲ (6)
10 San Francisco 12 ▲ (2)
11 Osaka 10 ▼ (1)
12 Shanghai 37 ▲ (25)
13 Sao Paulo 18 ▲ (5)
14 Mumbai 27 ▲ (13)
15 Hong Kong 17 ▲ (2)
16 Madrid 16
17 Moscow 20 ▲ (3)
18 Dallas 8 ▼ (10)
19 Houston 14 ▼ (5)
20 Atlanta 11 ▼ (9)
21 Mexico City 13 ▼ (8)
22 Toronto 25 ▲ (3)
23 Guangzhou 111 ▲ (88)
24 Delhi 26 ▲ (2)
25 Jakarta 28 ▲ (3)
26 Amsterdam 22 ▼ (4)
27 Boston 19 ▼ (8)
28 Philadelphia 23 ▼ (5)
29 Manila 34 ▲ (5)
30 Taipei 57 ▲ (27)
31 Bangkok 40 ▲ (9)
32 Singapore 46 ▲ (14)
33 Lima 48 ▲ (15)
34 Istanbul 42 ▲ (8)
35 Kolkata 31 ▼ (4)
36 Seattle 30 ▼ (6)
37 Frankfurt 24 ▼ (13)
38 Karachi 36 ▼ (2)
39 Cairo 29 ▼ (10)
40 Dhaka 44 ▲ (4)
41 Rio de Janeiro 33 ▼ (8)
42 Nagoya 54 ▲ (12)
43 Miami 43
44 Rome 67 ▲ (23)
45 Minneapolis 45
46 Detroit 21 ▼ (25)
47 Buenos Aires 32 ▼ (15)
48 Milan 78 ▲ (30)
49 Tehran 41 ▼ (8)
50 Barcelona 82 ▲ (32)
51 Shenzhen ▲ (–)
52 Sydney 59 ▲ (7)
53 Wuhan 112 ▲ (59)
54 Phoenix 38 ▼ (16)
55 Munich 75 ▲ (20)
56 Lagos 47 ▼ (9)
57 Melbourne 69 ▲ (12)
58 Orlando 63 ▲ (5)
59 Kinshasa 68 ▲ (9)
60 Santiago 97 ▲ (37)

Data sources used in the ranking:

1. Metropolitan area population – Per “Th. Brinkhoff: Principal Agglomerations and Cities of the World, http://www.citypopulation.de/, 01.01.2010″

2. Web citations: Google search engine, October 2010

3. Number of Fortune Global 500 company headquarters – Fortune Magazine, Global 500 Ranking, July 26, 2010

4. Metropolitan airport passengers – ACI 2006 Airport Passenger Counts (latest data publically available)

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I developed a ranking system for the greatest cities of the world.  This is not a most-livable cities list, not a best-cities-to-do-business list, but a list of the largest and most influential cities on earth.  These are “great cities” in the sense of the definition in the Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary:

GREAT, a. [L. crassus.] 1. Large in bulk or dimensions; a term of comparison, denoting more magnitude or extension than something else, or beyond what is usual; as a great body; a great house; a great farm.  …  6. Important; weighty; as a great argument; a great truth; a great event; a thing of no great consequence; it is no great matter.

The rankings consider population, economy, cultural impact and connectedness.   Tokyo, New York and London land in the top three.  Despite the rapid rise in population and wealth among many emerging economy cities, particularly in Asia, U.S. cities are still very well represented in the rankings.  The strength of the U.S. economy, high internet use and the large domestic air travel market lead to higher ranking than I would have expected.  The data sources are generally from 2002; I will post updated rankings when available. 

From top to bottom, here are the 60 greatest cities:

Overall Ranking City
1 Tokyo
2 New York
3 London
4 Chicago
5 Los Angeles
6 Paris
7 Washington
8 Dallas
9 Seoul
10 Osaka
11 Atlanta
12 San Francisco
13 Mexico City
14 Houston
15 Beijing
16 Madrid
17 Hong Kong
18 São Paulo
19 Boston
20 Moscow
21 Detroit
22 Amsterdam
23 Philadelphia
24 Frankfurt
25 Toronto
26 Delhi
27 Mumbai
28 Jakarta
29 Cairo
30 Seattle
31 Kolkata
32 Buenos Aires
33 Rio de Janeiro
34 Manila
35 Essen
36 Karachi
37 Shanghai
38 Phoenix
39 Denver
40 Bangkok
41 Tehran
42 Istanbul
43 Miami
44 Dhaka
45 Minneapolis
46 Singapore
47 Lagos
48 Lima
49 Charlotte
50 Berlin
51 Las Vegas
52 Bogotá
53 Hamburg
54 Nagoya
55 St. Louis
56 Johannesburg
57 Taipei
58 Chongqing
59 Sydney
60 Columbus

 Data sources used in the ranking:

1. Metropolitan area population – Per “Th. Brinkhoff: Principal Agglomerations and Cities of the World, http://www.citypopulation.de, 12.11.2002″

2. Web citations: Google search engine

3. Number of Fortune Global 500 company headquarters – Fortune Magazine, July 21, 2003

4. Metropolitan airport passengers – ACI 2002 Passenger Counts

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