June 8, 2011, 11:36 pm
Filed under: betaCITY, Cities, Gated Communities | Tags: , ,

Here are some notes from people who think a lot about cities.  The catalyst for the remarks is the new media which loves to rank things – including cities – and make slide shows of the top ten.  According to these city thinkers quoted below, the indicators used to generate the rankings are a problem.

The top 10s cities are called ‘productive resorts’ and the new media purveyors dealers in ‘journalistic catnip.’  Some of the qualities that define a top 10 city are:  cute, restful, orderly, clean, gated, no poverty, and of course also boring.

Real cities, on the other hand, are described by Descartes as an ‘inventory of the possible.’  And according to our city thinkers, some of the qualities that make a real city are:  large, complex, anonymous, unpredictable, afford opportunity and conflict, and safety.


I spoke to Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development, and asked him about these surveys. “I’ve been to Copenhagen,” (Monocle’s Number 2) he tells me “and it’s cute. But frankly, on the second day, I was wondering what to do.” So, if the results aren’t to his liking, what does he suggest? “We need to ask, what makes a city great? If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that’s fine. You can go live in a gated community. These kinds of cities are what is called ‘productive resorts’. Descartes, writing about 17th-century Amsterdam, said that a great city should be ‘an inventory of the possible’. I like that description.”

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