Of Cities and their Value

Cities are where people live nowadays. In 2008, we crossed that important landmark where 50% of the world’s population were living in cities; and UNICEF then estimated that the figure would rise to 70% by 2050.

Some people try to explain this phenomenon by going back to the 50s, to say that’s when urbanisation picked momentum. A post-war economic whiplash.

Others, like me, go further, and put the tipping point all the way to somewhere in the 1800s, with the revolutions that changed the world: the industrial and agricultural revolutions; maybe even the French revolution. Revolutions meant empowerment, and everybody wanted to be part of the new good. Infrastructure and economic opportunity are amongst the promises made by cities.

But there are cities and cities. To avoid confusion, I will add one more definition of “City”: A permanent human settlement that continuously brings out the best of its inhabitants and mashes it into a common good, which serves to increase happiness in the society(ies) that populate it; and attracts external investment in its infrastructure.

I will be happy to discuss this definition and to improve it too. But what is sure is that there are cities which are more City than others. And so maybe, we should have a City benchmark. On the benchmark I would put the following criteria:

  1. How permanent is this settelment? Or is it a city of ‘transit’? Do its inhabitants willingly bring up their family there, and see their children in the future bringing up their own families there?
  2. How continuous are its actions? Does it have a strategy which enjoys very wide championship, and thus (bar differences in implementation) would not change with political mastery?
  3. Do its inhabitants feel counted for? On a range of 1-5 how many inhabitants would answer “3” and above for the question: do you feel that you positively contribute towards the society you live in (within the confines of this city)?
  4. How happy are its inhabitants? There are enough happiness measurement systems – let’s apply one to see if people are happily realising their City-dream.
  5. The 3V Test: What is the estimated return on investment for money spent on infrastructure? (Is the investment viable?) In what ways are these returns visible? And are they attracting futher investment (Are they viral)?

Real Cities need to be named and demonstrated.

Real Cities need to be encouraged, and there should be a platform which acts to bring their actions together to make success more possible for each one of them.

Investors in real Cities need to also be named and demonstrated – in terms of how much they have been able to acheive a common good, and against a widely agreed benchmark (possibly based on the above five points).


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