Cities and Globalisation

Lyon de JR Guillaumin

Sally Kneeshaw

By Sally Kneeshaw, on January 24th, 2014

> Read Sally Kneeshaw's articles

This week the economist, Harvard professor and author of Triumph of the City, Ed Glaeser, gave a fast paced and inspiring lecture at the London School of Economics on cities and globalization. Many of his comments resonated with the experiences of European cities and knowledge from URBACT networks. His optimism about the positive effects of urbanization around the globe was backed up by research linking density to both increased productivity and to improved life satisfaction.

Why proximity matters

Glaeser stressed that cities are forgers of human capital and clusters of genius, as illustrated by the Detroit of the Ford era and Silicon Valley now. Proximity matters for the transmission of information and ideas. In cities people compete and cooperate, buy and sell from each other, steal and build on each other’s ideas. Technology has revolutionized the way we are able to live and work virtually, but it can’t replace the advantages of this physical proximity. Human beings are a social species. We acquire information from others around us and cues around comprehension and misunderstanding get lost when we are not together. This holds true for the experience of learning and exchange in URBACT city networks. Email, telephone and virtual meetings are all useful, but can never replace the benefit of real face to face interaction between professionals and peers and the ability to ‘touch and feel’ the city .

Balancing attractiveness,  inclusivity and sustainability

The successful 21st-century city, he argued, will be made up of smart people, small firms and good connections to the outside world. It follows that one of the best economic strategies is to “attract and retain smart people and get out of their way”. But Glaeser was also clear that this is not an argument for laissez-faire policies, and that cities need to make sure they remain affordable and inclusive. He is also clear in recommending that citizens ought to pay for the social and environmental costs of their actions, advocating, for instance, for smart congestion charging schemes like the one in Singapore.

Entrepreneurial culture helps the city thrive

A good predictor of urban resilience, he claimed, is to have a lot of small firms not a few large ones. The talent and inclination of city dwellers to be an entrepreneur is important. Historically New York City has had lots of small garment industry companies, print and publishing, media and finance businesses. Pittsburgh, by contrast had a smaller number of big steel firms, and workers who became ‘steel company men’. A mono industrial economy and a less entrepreneurial population eventually contributed to its decline. Several URBACT networks, such as FIN-URB-ACT  and My Generation at Work, have reached similar conclusions about the changing urban economic base and the need to inspire citizens to have an entrepreneurial mindset: to make a job rather than take a  job.

Better analysis to avoid mistakes

Glaeser was asked how cities can learn from each and not repeat mistakes. His response was that, although there is an inclination for a city to want what the other one has, like a shiny new Innovation Centre, it is rigorous cost benefit analyses that will help a city to identify the appropriate investments. City leaders need tough ‘No people’ on their teams who will point out the bad ideas in their plans.
So the outlook for cities around the world is good, and URBACT cities can heed Glaeser’s advice that to remain or become places of both productivity and pleasure, we need good governance and sound planning.

trombih_sally-kneeshaw_110330By Sally Kneeshaw

URBACT Expert, Thematic Pole Manager


2 Responses to “Cities and Globalisation”

  1. Kristine Sergejeva Kristine Sergejeva says:

    Comment on the article in the LinkedIn group “European Urban Knowledge Network”:

    Kaarin. Taipale
    as Independent Freelancer

    This text is all you need to know about urban policy in the global age! In particular I appreciate the sentence “City leaders need tough ‘No people’ on their teams who will point out the bad ideas in their plans.” Not all that is considered ‘innovative’ and ‘competitive’ is what it promises. Imitating other cities is not necessarily the key to success.

  2. […] Artículo y fotografía de Sally Kneeshaw, Experta y Gestora de Polo Temático de URBACT. Original disponible en inglés aquí. […]

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