Quotable (#192)

The cyberpunk-urbanism circuit deftly described:

… the ideas of science fiction resonate very powerfully with how contemporary cities are shaped. Another example might be the designs of Shanghai’s Pudong district, where there’s a very palpable sense of Blade Runner-esque atmospheres. Blade Runner itself was partly shaped by Ridley Scott’s ideas about oriental urbanism and slightly orientalist treatments of street life in the supposedly futuristic Los Angeles. And ideas about Blade Runner are clearly influencing Chinese elites’ ideas about urban futurism. […] … there are even more relationships that are at play here, because once these cityscapes are built — once this extraordinary Blade Runner-esque cityscape in Shanghai is constructed or reconstructed, once Dubai is ratcheted into the skies — then the next generation of sci-fi movies are then filmed in these places to represent the future. You’re already getting a lot of sci-fi movies — like Code 46 by Michael Winterbottom, for example — filmed in these cities. They then become the exemplars of the future, which works very powerfully to help brand these cities as futuristic places, which is half of the battle for these elites: Once they become images for the future, then that’s it.

It does seem like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first, in that sometimes it’s sci-fi inspiring our cityscapes, and other times it’s our cityscapes inspiring sci-fi.

It’s reciprocal. There isn’t an obvious start point for this.


A wide-angle view of ‘Extrastatecraft‘ and its zones of escape:

No matter its ultimate effectiveness, the zone has proved durable; most recently China’s adoption of the formula has produced an especially potent and self-perpetuating version. If the Export Processing Zone was Zone 1.0, then China’s Special Economic Zone is Zone 2.0. Established in the early 1980s, the first SEZs — Shenzhen, Xiamen, Shantou, Zhuhai, and the entire province of Hainan — were planned as experiments with market economies. By 1984, China had created 16 more, and since then they have established literally thousands of SEZs. Most of these diverge from the typical EPZ, to the point where China now constitutes its own zone category; and an immense one — by 2006 the International Labor Organization had estimated that of the 66 million workers employed in EPZs worldwide, 40 million were in China.

Quotable (#73)

Just in case anyone thinks it was easy:

In the early 1960s … Singapore was ethnically fractured, under attack by Indonesia in its bizarre policy of “konfrontasi,” reviled by Beijing as “a running dog of U.S. and British imperialism,” and then in 1965 expelled unceremoniously from an ill-fated union with Malaysia. In announcing this devastating rupture on television, Lee became so distraught by the apparent hopelessness of his country’s situation that he ended up weeping.

Lee came from the diaspora of simple, poor emigrants who had been driven from the South China Coast by penury. Stripped of anything but folk culture and an abiding belief in the importance of their families, education and diligence, they had heaved onto the alien shores of this unlikely colonialized city-state. As Lee ruefully observed in trying to imagine his small country’s future, “City-states do not have good survival records.”

Urban Future @ Work

Benjamin Bratton found this stunning development:


It looks as if it’s really going to happen. (OK, that’s probably over-excited.) Yet another prompt for delirious rapture about the continuing development of Shenzhen.

Meanwhile, there’s also a brutal class war to fight:


The new airport doesn’t by any means say it all, but it says a lot:


If it were not that ‘modernity’ (also) connoted friction and nostalgia, would there be any hesitation in describing Shenzhen as the most modern city in the world? It is nothing beyond what the opportunities of the present era have enabled it to be — a uniquely unambiguous urban seizure of the global now. (Urban Future adores this place to the edge of neurological catastrophe.)

[Disjointed commentary to be added as the opportunity arises]

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The Urban Factor

Project Syndicate linked to this (2011) McKinsey study of urban contribution to world GDP. The top bullet-point take-away: “only 600 urban centers generate about 60 percent of global GDP.” Yet, because cities, as nodes in a global economic network, are distributed by a power law, any picture drawn by the top 600 urban centers tends to strongly de-dramatize the reality.

Wikipedia has a helpful table of world cities with a variety of GDP estimates. (The Brookings Institute figures are the most complete, and also the most generous.) From these it can be seen that Tokyo, on its own, accounts for almost 2% of world GDP. The world’s 10 most productive cities — Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, New York, Osaka/Kobe, Paris, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo — account for roughly 10% of total global economic output between them. The next thirty cities together do not quite double this figure, and from then on, the contribution of each city added dwindles rapidly.

McKinsey estimates the economic weight of the world’s “23 megacities — with populations of 10 million or more” somewhat more modestly, at 14% of global GDP. It expects them to contribute no more than 10% of global growth through to 2025, while: “In contrast, 577 middleweights — cities with populations of between 150,000 and 10 million, are seen contributing more than half of global growth to 2025, gaining share from today’s megacities. By 2025, 13 middleweights are likely to be have become megacities, 12 of which are in emerging-markets (the exception is Chicago) and seven in China alone.”

UF anticipates that the combination of continued urban agglomeration and economic concentration will tend to steepen the distribution, but the secular shift of economic gravity from West to East will dampen this pattern in the short-medium term. If, by mid-century, there is not a single Chinese economic center accounting for more than 3% of total global economic production, all our expectations about the world will have been proven wrong.

ADDED: A mid-century prediction isn’t very audacious, but it’s timidity is drawn from an important pattern of change. The world’s two most productive cities, by far, are Tokyo and New York, and both are likely to see their relative contribution to global GDP shrink substantially over coming decades. In consequence, the near-term shifts in the distribution of economic activity will appear as a dilution, until a new ‘capital’ of world commerce emerges — in a process that can be expected to take at least 20 years.

ADDED: An urbanization update from Reuters, linking to some cleargraphics).