Cities 1: Cities are at the heart of development

Cities are at the heart of development

Recent research shows many reasons why city development is at the heart of progress, growth and development.
  • History and civilization evolved in cities. All major scientific, social, political, economic and technological innovations have happened in human agglomerations known as cities. Great civilizations and empires have been developed around cities. It is no accident that the dominant empire of any time had the most important, creative and productive city of the time.
  • The most advanced cities have been places of learning and idea development. Cities such as London, Edinburgh, Paris, Los Angeles and New York have been a birthplace of invention, creativity and most important of all, enlightenment and reformation. Historically these cities have been for commerce and merchants and have evolved as mixed use commercial cities.
  • The bulk of the output in any country is produced in the cities. Markets are based in cities and in bigger denser cities these markets can be highly specialized clusters of information exchange. Innovation and entrepreneurship often is incubated in such cities. Economic activity, innovation and entrepreneurship tends to cluster and feed off each other favoring density.
  • The difference between the poor and the rich countries often lies in the productivity of their cities.
  • Cities allow space for everyone and all activities. All classes live in cities. Often the poor and middle class live in cities while the rich estates move to open suburban environments. Cities offer community and networking infrastructure— libraries, community centers, sporting and conference facilities and theatres—to all, especially the poor and the middle classes.
  • Creative cities enhance individual productivity. In the post-industrial information age, creativity creates value. Creative cities are multi-ethnic, open to immigration, culturally rich, dense, full of learning and innovation, allow for eccentricity, and offer many diverse learning experiences. In well-organized societies, productivity increases and energies converge to produce innovation and fresh ideas.
  • City centers are mixed use and densely populated where private space as well as private transportation are at premium. Increasingly, cities are using congestion taxes for cars and putting more emphasis on public transport to make cities more people-friendly. The young, the poor and the middle classes along with their creative activities co-exist and interact with businesses in busy 24-hour downtowns. These city centers are the heart of a city and define a city. All development around a city is then relative to this city Centre. City centers are a magnet for ideas and migration. In fact globalization is really the network of ideas generated in city centers.
  • Sprawls that put cars first are less productive, more energy intensive and wasteful.
  • City Regulation allow change and development. Cities are dense human settlements and it is no wonder that they accentuate all conflicts. Successful countries and city administrations develop institutions for managing these conflicts bearing in mind the needs of development and growth. Where conflicts are not properly managed, decline sets in.
  • Building regulations must allow for creative destruction and renewal must be allowed One important tension that needs to be managed is that between preservation of legacies and histories and accommodating the new and modern. Preservation is costly but necessary. However, without creative destruction, city development may be arrested. Preservation must be cleverly executed, preserving the spirit of the past and not seeking to keep obsolescent culture and functions alive.
  • Incumbents have the first mover advantage in any city occupying the best land and the use of the main amenities of cities like clubs and parks. Unless city management is looking toward development, these incumbents will use the preservation argument to preserve more than is necessary and most of the preservation will be self-serving.
  • Real estate prices go up where height restrictions are excessive and building process is discouraging of construction.
  • Rezoning helps development and increase of supply to keep prices in check. Mayor Koch of New York talked of the NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) mentality. Most of us would like a nice spacious mansion set in the middle of nice green meadows with all urban amenities within easy reach. Yet no one wants a busy highway or a shopping mall close to their backyard. But as a city grows, space has to be made for urban conveniences such as highways, hotels, offices and shopping malls. Often estates and even palaces have to give way to the development of the city. City management must be able to deal with the NIMBY mantra. Palaces, estates, hunting grounds, and leisure parks of the rich have given ground to the needs of the city. There are examples of the supremely entitled, namely kings and dukes and barons who have seen the importance of yielding such private spaces to the development of more productive cities.

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