Category Archives: cities

Tom Wolfe on Cities

Most of the world’s populations live in cities now. And each city has its own identity – that identity consists of the things that give it  life. How would you describe that life giving engine of your city to some one who knows nothing about it?

To get it right, you need a narrative voice. A voice that puts the city’s story in context. That voice for Manhattan, for example, might arise from ambition and money. Washington? Power, obviously. London Perhaps the assured voice of the aristocrat  Paris? The artist’s voice!

Tom Wolfe was able to find voices that took his readers inside a variety of cities. New York, Miami, Los Angeles.  Check out these excepts!

Here he is on Las Vegas

Las Vegas takes what in other American towns is but a quixotic inflammation of the senses for some poor salary mule in the brief interval between the flagstone rambler and the automatic elevator downtown, and magnifies it, foliates it, embellishes it into an institution … the only town in the world whose skyline is made up neither of buildings, like New York, nor of trees, like Wilbraham, Massachusetts, but signs. One can look at Las Vegas from a mile away on Route 91 and see no buildings, no trees, only signs. But such signs! They tower. They revolve, they oscillate, they soar in shapes before which the existing vocabulary of art history is helpless. I can only attempt to supply names—Boomerang Modern, Palette Curvilinear, Flash Gordon, Ming-Alert Spiral, McDonald’s Hamburger Parabola, Mint Casino Elliptical, Miami Beach Kidney. Las Vegas’ sign makers work so far out beyond the frontiers of conventional studio art that they have no names themselves for the forms they create.

There are four more! go for it!


Is Vienna Really the Most Livable City in the World?

Decor Magazine reports  that according to the Mercer ranking, ,Vienna is the most livable city in the world.

That would be the ninth year in a row!

The top-ranked city provides its residents with “high security, well-structured public transportation, and a variety of cultural and recreation facilities,” Mercer explained in a press release.

So what are the criteria?

The survey evaluates 39 factors including crime, healthcare, schools and education, housing, and public services and transportation.

Those things are important. But what about friendliness? What about access to great food and entertainment? What about vibrancy? If you add those factors in —which I think one should — would Vienna still dominate? I tend to doubt it.

So where are the ranking systems that  focus on these people oriented factors that make places either attractive or oppressive?

TimeOut ranks Chicago as the most “exciting” city in the world.

Chicagoans raved about their city’s bar scene, its live music and culture, its local neighbourhoods and its affordability. It was one of the happiest and proudest cities worldwide. In fact, it only fell short on safety and whether it had become a better place to live over time.

Porto came in second!

It may be Portugal’s second city, but pleasant Porto is the best place in the world for making friends, finding love, feeling free to be yourself and keeping in touch with family – beating Lisbon in most categories across the board, and ranking second overall. For travellers, it’s also the most affordable city for a night out.

EscapeHere ranks … drum roll please … Hamburg as the most exciting city in the world

Hamburg might not be an obvious choice as one of the world’s most exciting cities but upon closer inspection, it definitely fits the bill for thrills. As Germany’s largest port and second biggest city, the thriving commercial center is refreshingly bold in its moves—as much can be said about almost every scene in Hamburg, from art to food and especially after-hours. Maritime spirit throughout Hamburg transcends through squawking gulls, restaurant menus, and architecture; the influence of the water is palpable. Multiculturalism is exemplified right through diverse neighborhoods exhibiting a wealth of ethnic hotspots. Even the magnificently shabby red light district of Reeperbahn is popular for racier nightlife options while boho-chic Schanzenviertel and Grossneumarkt Square throw out more possibilities. Waterfront venues pump out the best of electronic and live music—after all, the Beatles have history here and Hamburg has shown unparalleled promise on the music front ever since.

Ranker says Amsterdam is the world’s best party town. London comes in second.

Thrillist lists Hanoi as the first place you need to visit at least once. Second is Nashville.

Errr … Hanoi?

… 1 million people strong and boasting a distinct, frenetic buzz, Vietnam’s capital city is extraordinary to visit, a haven for expats and backpackers alike. Many bars keep clandestine hours, staying open well past the government mandated midnight closing time — they’ll shut the lights and board up and everyone has to hush until government control passes by. After-hours, nightclubs on river barges just outside city limits thump until sunrise, inevitably depositing partiers at some kind of food cart — pho, banh mi (add an egg), you name it.

All of these places are no doubt awesome in one way or anther. Perhaps in many ways! But somehow, they leave me unsatisfied.

What do you think?

Dubai Goes Nuts over blockchain!

Dubai is a place that craves being known as bold and innovative. That is their niche. And they have aggressively tried to lure big names and bright stars to Dubai in order to promote their innovative ways. Remember the island building craze that attracted the likes of Michael Jackson … while he was still with us?

Their latest venture is to embrace blockchain technology. Not so much crypto, but the technology underlying crypto. This gives you a flavor of what they hope to achieve

(Tehir) vehicle lifestyle Blockchain initiative falls in lines with Dubai’s goal to become the first Blockchain government by 2020. In October of last year, Dubai announced that it would release its own cryptocurrency, emCash, through its local government. Also in October, Dubai hosted its first government-backed training program for Ethereum Blockchain developers in collaboration with a Brooklyn-based Blockchain company.

The hope is that they will build a culture that is blockcahin fluent and capable. Not just to use blockcahin, but to be in a position to export their ideas.

Stay tuned on this one!

Can Regular Folks Help to Solve Public Problems? Never!

By the way that governments operate, you might think that getting public input to solve thorny problems would be less useful than trying to fly to the moon the back of a pregnant cow When deciding on public matters they tend to lock themselves behind closed doors. They say that they are confiding in experts, but who would know?

Steve Blank makes the point that government can get better problem solving out of the public with a different approach. If they know HOW to ask questions, they can stimulate creative thinking — even among students!

Fred Wilson offers another example from New York. The subway system has to shut down the “L train” for 15 months. This is a major commuter line. The city government has no clue how to help those commuters, except to further clog up the Williamsbrg Bridge with more buses.

There may be a better way — a pontoon bridge — and it is proposed through kicsktareter.

I love it!

What Vancouver is Doing Right and Delhi is Doing Wrong!

Vancouver is an interesting city. One of the reasons is its commitment to sustainability.

Its goal is to be entirely powered by clean energy by 2050 — not just electricity, but transportation and heating as well. (I talked to city manager Sadhu Johnston about it in July 2016.)

And that is not all

… the city adopted the goal of 50 percent “sustainable mode share” by 2020 — half of all trips in the city taken by walking, biking, or transit rather than automobile.

And it reached that goal in 2015.

Vox has more on this. Very cool!

Contrast that with Delhi

Delhi has earned the unenviable distinction of becoming the most polluted city on Earth this month, as air quality has reached espically bad proportions, prompting some residents to flee.

Failure by the government to address the causes of the pollution is a big part of the problem.

Re-Thinking PPP’s on the city level

Public/Private Partnerships (PPP’s) were a hot topic some years ago. But in my view, the boat never really left the dock. Why not? I am not sure, but I suspect that it had to do with the pace at which government works. That pace is very different from private sector actors, and the two do not hook up except through rather complex contractual channels. We were not able to build networks that easily crossed the boundaries between public and private actors on a routine basis.

Tech should change this. It should open the door for anyone outside of government to offer ideas that can solve problems, as well as the means to share them, build coalitions and accelerate learning through doing. And it should make it easier for folks in government to react as well as generate excitement around partnering.

So why don’t we see more tech platforms that better link government and private actors? Perhaps they are there,and it is just me that doesn’t see them.

But that does not mean they don’t exist.  This initiative from New York does look interesting. It is called NYCx, and Fred Wilson writes about its “challenge” program. Very  cool! But as Greg Satell writes, having a platform does mean that the platform will deliver value added. I will keep track of NYCx and stay on the look out for more of these types of initiatives.

Very cool!