Sunday, April 28th, 2013
I had an interesting conversation about Washington, DC with Richard Layman a few months back. One of his observations, rooted in Charles Landry’s, was that great global cities don’t just take, they give. To the extent that Washington wants to be a truly great city, it needs to contribute things to the world, not just rake in prosperity from it.
Affecting the world, often for good but unfortunately sometimes for bad, is a unique capability that global cities have because they are the culture shaping hubs of nations and world. When an ordinary city does something, it can have an effect to be sure. But things that happen in the global city are much more likely to launch movements.
For example, Chicago did not invent the idea of doing a public art exhibit out of painted cow statues. I believe they copied it from a town in Switzerland. But when Chicago did it, it inspired other cities in a way that Swiss town did not. In effect, ordinary cities influence the world usually by influencing a global city, which then influences the world. Often it is the global city that gets the credit although the actual idea originated elsewhere. Thus the role of the global city is critical. But we shouldn’t assume that all ideas originate there or that other cities can’t profoundly influence the world.
We might also think of bicycle sharing, which was around in various forms for quite a while. But it was the launch of the massive Paris Vélib’ system in 2007 (which according to Wikipedia was inspired by a system in Lyon) that made bicycle sharing a must have urban item the world over.
Similarly it was the High Line in New York that has every city wanting to convert elevated rail lines into showcase trails. New York is really the city that made protected bike lanes the new standard in the United States as well.
Beyond simple urban amenity type items, global cities can also launch profound cultural and social transformations. A few examples.
The first is from Seattle, a sort of semi-global city. It was in such a depressed state in the 1970s that someone put up a billboard that’s still pretty famous: “Will the last one leaving Seattle please turn out the lights?” Yet in Seattle there was a coffeehouse culture that spawned a movement out of which came Starbucks which literally revolutionized coffee drinking in America and event pioneered the entirely new concept of the “third place.”
A lot of people like to attribute the emergence of Seattle as a player to Microsoft moving there from Albuquerque in the late 1970s. However, I think the coffee example shows that there were interesting things already happening in Seattle long before that. It was a proto-global city waiting for a catalyst.
Another example would be the emergence of rap music out of New York City. Or house music from Chicago.
Or consider the 1963 demolition of Penn Station in New York in 1963. The wanton destruction of this signature structure horrified the city and led to the adoption of its historic preservation ordinance. This was not the birthplace of historic preservation in the United States, but this demolition played a key role in bringing historic preservation to the fore, not just locally but nationally.
Lastly, the Stonewall Riots in 1969 clearly played a signature role in the gay rights movement in America. Many pride parades today are scheduled to fall on the anniversary of the event.
Who knows what might have happened with coffee in America without Seattle. But I think it’s clear that both the historic preservation and gay rights movements would have emerged at some point anyway regardless of what happened in New York. However, the events in New York clearly provided a sort of ignition and acceleration.
How many historic buildings in America were saved because Penn Station was lost? (Think about how many might have been destroyed had the historic preservation movement emerged later).
Think about a state like Iowa where gay marriage is legal. How many people in Iowa 40+ years ago had any idea that an obscure incident in New York City would ultimately transform the social conventions of the rural heartland?
I think this shows the power of the global city. I’m sure that there are things happening underground in New York and elsewhere that right now that we don’t know anything about yet that will ultimately transform our world 10, 20, or 30 years down the road. It’s crazy to think about.
Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
You may recall me previously posting a couple documentaries from Resident Advisor about the electronic music scenes in Detroit and Berlin. I thought these, especially the Berlin one, brought interesting insights about the way the creative scene (and economy) got developed in those places.
There are a couple more of these out now, and one of them, the video on Paris, is another gem. I’m embedding below. As you watch, notice a couple things related to the new geography of creativity. First, the scene in Paris has basically been dead. One would think that Paris would be a music hotbed perhaps, but it would appear to be a fairly boring city. In this way perhaps we see that the large traditionally elite culture centers have become victims of their own success. Secondly, the real action in Paris is now in the suburbs (other than a few Sunday afternoon outdoor events). The city of Paris is now simply too expensive for creativity to flourish. Thus the creative class of the city has been forced into the unfashionable suburbs to do their thing. Again, this is somewhat against the grain of the notion that you need to be in the center of the action or you can’t possibly succeed because of agglomeration effects, etc. The dynamics here are worth pondering, especially in conjunction with what we learn from Berlin.
Here’s the video. If it doesn’t display for you, click here.
Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
For some reason, Paris seems to inspire the most cool time lapses out there. (Click my Paris link in the left sidebar under Cities, and I think it’s mostly videos of various types). Here’s another one by Benjamin Trancart called “City of Light.” Definitely full screen, high def for this one. If the video doesn’t display, click here.
Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
This video is a little different from the type of slick time lapse I normally post, but is very fun. It’s a film a couple of American tourists made of their trip to Paris that gives an interesting window into that city. I hope you enjoy. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.
Here’s another short fun one called Paris vs. New York that playfully shows the contrasts between the two cities. If the video doesn’t display, click here.
More Paris videos:
Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
Back in August I posted a time lapse called “Paris in Motion.” The film maker just came out with part two, and I think it’s even better than the first installment. Full screen high definition recommended. Enjoy! If the video doesn’t display, click here.
Wednesday, August 1st, 2012
Here’s nice short time lapse of the City of Light called “Paris in Motion (Part I).” Recommended full screen in high def. If the video doesn’t display, click here.
Thursday, July 7th, 2011
I have posted quite a few “city videos” in the course of blogging. These are usually unofficial short pieces, often art projects, and frequently featuring time lapse, tilt shift, or other techniques to produce a very cool “music video” about a particular place. I thought I’d share a compilation of some of the coolest and very best of these today. If you have other suggestions, please post a link as a comment.
A lot of these are high quality uploads that more than justify watching them in full screen mode. Enjoy!
You’ve Got to Love London
This one was an instant classic (if the video doesn’t display, click here).
Le Flâneur (Paris)
Here’s a variant on the time lapse approach (if the video doesn’t display, click here). The creator of this video discussed his techniques over at National Geographic, but alas the post seems to have expired (or I can’t find it).
Little Big Berlin
This is such an incredible video. It doesn’t necessarily beat you over the head with the coolness of the place like the London and Paris videos, but instead gives you slices of everyday life in way that reveals the city to you. Even the classical soundtrack (Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody #2″) is awesome. (If the video doesn’t display click here).
Le Tour de France Grand Départ 2010 (Rotterdam)
This one actually is a promotional video, shot for the Grand Départ of the 2010 Tour de France. But it’s a great video about cycling and Rotterdam generally. This one I particularly love since the music is a delightful original composition by Erwin Steijlen, featuring vocals by Alma Nieto and Steve Balsamo. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).
Inter // States (Tokyo)
This video by Samuel Cockedey isn’t as good as the rest of them on the whole, but if you’re a transport geek like me, you’ll definitely like it (if the video doesn’t display, click here).
New York City
The best of the city videos all seem to be from overseas cities (though interestingly the London and Paris ones were made by Americans). Here are a couple of great New York timelapses, however. First, one from James Ogle (if the video doesn’t display, click here).
And one by Mindrelic called “Manhattan in Motion” (if the video doesn’t display, click here).
A Summer Sped Up (Chicago)
Here’s a reader suggestion that I can’t believe I’ve never seen before since I live in Chicago at present. (If the video doesn’t display for you, click here).
Hope you enjoyed these.
Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
Here’s another super-cool city video. This one is a series of photos combined into a time lapse video with nice music. It’s about Paris and is only two minutes so definitely worth a watch. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).
Of course, it is very much like the similarly awesome You’ve Got to Love London.
Sunday, July 18th, 2010
New York magazine recently had a fantastic story on NYC’s plan to focus on improving the quality of its bus system:
Buses are what most people think of when they think of not getting anywhere: senior citizens waiting in lines, guys counting out change, double-parked cars. They are less sexy than subways and tend to be ignored until the MTA announces another round of service cuts. The last time buses were new was in the forties, when they were installed around the city as a cheaper, more flexible alternative to streetcars….But over the last decade, in a few transit-enlightened cities around the world, the bus has received a dramatic makeover. It has been reengineered to load passengers more quickly. It has become much more energy-efficient. And, most important, the bus system—the network of bus lines and its relationship to the city street—has been rethought.
If New York City, the ultimate American city for rail transit, can see the wisdom of reinvigorating its bus system, then every other city in America should as well. No, New York is not cancelling its subway expansions. But it realizes that in a world of financial constraint, New Yorkers can’t wait decades for the relatively small number of projects that it has in the pipe to come online, much less develop new ones.
Too many American transit enthusiasts, especially outside our largest cities, harbor a deep hostility to buses for some reasons. There’s been an interesting alliance for light rail between transit advocates who pooh-pooh buses and the traditional rent seeking interests that brought us things like many local stadium boondoggles. Especially for smaller cities, light rail is, like pro sports teams, just another accoutrement of the “big league city” that they need to have in order prove they are one.
I’ll be the first to admit that some who advocate buses actually don’t like transit much at all. Promoting a bus alternative to a light rail line is simply a convenient way to try to sink the whole thing. Also, the bus in many cities isn’t that great, and isn’t well patronized.
But with the financial realities we face in America, and the need to create an actual network of service, not just a couple of showpiece light rail lines, we ought to be giving bus a hard look. This is doubly the case because rail construction costs are simply out of line in the US versus the rest of the world. No one cares to solve this problem – not the FTA and certainly not the consulting engineers, construction companies and rolling stock vendors who are doing just fine indeed off the current system – so we should really be thinking twice about rail anyway until we can rein in the costs.
A friend of mine once said, “People claim folks won’t ride buses. I agree. So why don’t we work on fixing that problem instead of jumping straight to the conclusion that we need to spend a billion dollars on light rail?”
Actually, people will ride the bus. In London, twice as many people ride buses as the famed tube system. In Chicago, despite its well known and extensive L system, more riders take the bus than all CTA and Metra trains put together. And there is nothing even particularly fancy about Chicago’s bus system. It’s what I call “Plain Old Bus Service”.
Still, with poorly designed systems and poor service levels, buses in many cities aren’t well patronized, particularly by discretionary riders. So how do we fix that? Jarrett Walker over at Human Transit has been on fire lately. He always has some of the finest transit writing anywhere, and if you aren’t reading, you’re missing something.
Lately he’s been writing about Paris, and Europe generally, and how their approach to bus design differs from the US. In Converging Vehicles, he writes:
European systems present buses and trams as part of a unified system, with amenity choices that minimize the difference between the bus experience and the tram experience. This is a striking contrast to US “streetcar cities” such as Portland and Seattle, where the streetcar is as differentiated as possible from the bus system, as though it’s expected to serve a different clientele.
In a lot of cities they do seem to be designed for different clienteles. And I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to imagine who those might be.
Jarrett supplies a photo of a bus interior to demonstrate.
And here’s the inside of a tram:
He then describes the similarities:
Look again at the [bus] interior above. Note details like the ticket readers next to the first set of doors. Note, just visible in the upper left of the photo, a strip map showing every stop that this bus makes along its route. Note the whole look and feel…. [On the tram] the continuous open space is wonderful. But there’s nothing else about this design, in terms of overall level of amenity, that differs from the bus. This vehicle isn’t trying to serve different people than the bus serves, or to provide a higher quality experience. This vehicle is on rails for one good reason: The corridor it serves needs huge capacity…In Paris, light rail is just what you do when you need a really, really long bus.
In part two, Jarrett goes on to talk about how you can board that Paris bus through any door, with proof of payment just like light rail. The New York magazine piece picks up this theme, talking about the Bx12 Select Bus Service in the Bronx:
All of the sudden, though, here it comes: the Bx12. Right away, you see it’s different. A different paint job—new branding, as the transit people like to say—and bright-blue lights flashing on the header. Buying a ticket is different, too: You pay before you board, from a little box like a MetroCard vending machine that offers you a receipt. In the world of transit planning, boarding time is everything, and the receipt streamlines the process. “You just hold on to it,” a woman offers, shouting from under her earbuds. She smiles. “It’s much faster.” Waiting on the curb, you notice that the bus has its own lane, painted terra-cotta, with signs to deflect non-bus traffic.
The relatively new head of the MTA used to work in London, where he was part of a change that saw a big upswing in bus popularity.
About a year into his tenure at Transport for London, Walder achieved the satisfaction of watching his neighbor, a London business executive, decide to make his primary mode of daily transportation the bus. It was simply the easiest, fastest way to get to work. “He would say to me, ‘Hey, the bus goes where I want to go, and it gets me there, and I’m taking the bus!’ ”
And that’s what a heck of a lot more US cities ought to be doing too. Of course, if there’s a legitimate case for rail, then go for it. I support rail projects ranging from the Second Ave. Subway to the Cincinnati streetcar. But clearly there is enormous opportunity in the US to start transforming the transportation infrastructure of our cities with high quality bus service in a way that is faster, cheaper, and much more pervasive than we’d ever be able to achieve with rail.
As NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, principal architect of that city’s remarkable public space transformation put it, “The bottom line is buses are back.” They need to be back in a whole lot more cities than just Paris, London, and New York.
Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010
As someone who is interested in civic branding, I wanted to highlight a relatively new blog called Branding for Cities, which is put out by one of the brains behind City Mayors. I’ve already found some very interesting information via this site. One of the things I like about it is that, being based in London, it brings a global perspective to the table. This is too often missing from US urbanist discussions. Particularly in civic branding, I think European cities are ahead of American ones, so that global perspective is especially helpful here. I’ll share some interesting highlights I’ve found to give you a flavor for what’s there.
The Brand-Territory Matrix
One highlight is a framework for relating commercial brands with territorial brands called the Brand-Territory Matrix. It was developed by Gildo Seisdedos of IE Business School and Cristina Mateo, a member of the Madrid City Council.
The general idea is that the brands of products draw on the brand of their place of origin to create part of their own image. Think Hermès , Barneys New York, or Ikea. In return, the products themselves then strengthen the place brand. This reciprocal benefit between commercial and territorial branding has developed organically, and has disproportionately benefited only a few places. However, there is opportunity for cities to look to more consciously encourage this process as part of a place branding strategy.
Here’s a very informative ten minute video where Seisdedos explains his framework. For anyone with an interest in place branding, I strongly encourage watching it. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).
As someone with a background in management consulting, I’m a sucker for 2×2 matrices. Since not everyone will watch a video, I took the liberty of turning their framework into a framework diagram for you. This is part of my continuing effort to provide useful frameworks and techniques cities can apply themselves.
There are two axes, the market scope of the commercial brand (wide or narrow) and the emphasis on the place of origin (low or high). This produces the four brand quadrants of Emerging brands, Ambassador brands, Impostor brands, and Aristocratic brands.
Ambassador brands are those like Ikea that are both broad in scope, but also make high use of place. You know it is a Swedish company through and through. Emerging brands are broad in scope, but downplay their origin. Seisdedos uses Spanish clothing chain Zara as an example. Aristocratic brands are often then most powerfully associated with place. Barneys New York, for example. And as an example of an Impostor brand, Seisdedos uses Victorio & Lucchino, a clothing line that sounds Italian, but is actually from Seville.
For cities, you can catalog your commercial brands and map them on this matrix. Then look at where there are opportunities to mutually enhance commercial and territorial brands through linkages or other mechanisms. For example, how could emerging brands potentially be encouraged to be more ambassadorial? Can aristocratic brands be leveraged for tourism benefits? If your city has lots of Impostor brands, what is that telling you?
Actually, I think Impostor is the weakest of the four, since not all low-low brands are faking who they are. I think of Endangered Species Chocolates in Indianapolis, which isn’t trying to fool anyone about its origins, but doesn’t highlight them either.
Whatever you think of this framework, the exercise of examining the relationship between your city and the commercial brands that call it home is a useful exercise.
In part of a series on luxury branding, Philippe Mihailovich extends this theme of the linkage of place brand and commercial brand.
Not long after meeting someone for the first time, you may expect to be asked, “where are you from?” based on your name, your accent or your look. The same will be asked (even if just in thought) of your brand, especially if it is different. We may be interested to know the brand’s place of origin, nationality, neighbourhood, everything. Here’s where heritage kicks in, even for new brands. If a watch brand is from Switzerland, that helps. If the car is from Germany, that helps. Luxury branding cannot be separated from place branding. They work by adding brand value to each other.
Places now compete in the same way as companies do and the emerging nations now realise the need to start developing their own luxury brands instead of importing them. Clearly cities, regions and nations can benefit from encouraging the development of local luxury brands. Paris is no stranger to this. The city positions itself as “Paris, Capitale de la Creation”. It’s a branding operation that brings together 20 professional fashion and home decoration exhibitions annually and helps the city to compete with all others and it works. We believe Paris to be the capital of creation just as we believe the best sparkling wine comes from Champagne and that the best watches are Swiss.
Hermès without Paris, could be misperceived as being Greek. Hermès and even L’Oreal, by adding Paris to their brand names, have effectively co-branded themselves with all Parisian associations thereby enabling their brands to stretch into almost any French category that Paris is known for….Reputation of a place can make or break a luxury brand just as it can affect the employment chances of an individual. The “Made in China” brand is a case in point. After concerns over pet food, toothpaste, seafood and defective tires, China had to cope with exploding mobile phone batteries and poisonous baby food. Ironically in the 18th Century the French were importing the finest luxury goods from China. It takes a long time to establish a good reputation for a brand and a very short time to destroy it. “Made in China” now reads like a consumer warning. Bad news always travels faster than good.
Read the whole things for yourself.
Aesthetic Failure in Brisbane
It’s not all Europe and it’s not all good news either, as this opinion piece illustrates.
One of the great frustrations of growing up and living in Brisbane is watching the city get uglier. Granted, we have, in the past few decades, grown from parochial cow town to “Australia’s new world city”, whatever that might mean. But did we have to lose so much of what made the place unique?…..just when you think you’ve seen the nadir of ugliness, something new comes along to set a new benchmark for practical plainness…..Hale says ugly outcomes are a symptom of, among other things, poor leadership from politicians “who fail to encourage better design”. As he said, “no self-respecting European politician would be seen cutting the ribbon on an ugly pile of concrete”. For years our self-promoting politicians have been far more interested in looking good by cutting the ribbon than making sure whatever it is they are opening itself looks good.
This is just a sample of what you’ll find at Branding Info for Cities. So if civic branding is your game, check it out.