We have a title for our book, being released here first as a serial blog. Millennial City: How a new generation can save the future.
The book is a collaboration with Dennis Walsh and this blog is Part 1 of Chapter 6. To those who made recommendations on title possibilities, thank you! Chapter 6 begins the second half of the book, which we will publish as an e-book when the serialization is completed. The book grew out of conversations that Dennis and I have had about the future of cities, sustainability, and the millennial generation. We think that these three domains, if you will, are coming together to create a new future – and just in time we hope.
CHAPTER Six – Part 1
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra
Some people might tell you its all downhill from here; that making do is the best we can expect; from now on. Some say that all the future holds is making the best of a bad situation. You see them every day. These are the ones who surround themselves with people just “like” them. It’s common. The desire for “sameness” creates vanilla personalities everywhere.
The idea that conforming would bring pleasure makes sense socially for the species. We live in a world of “me too” culture. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. After all, it probably doesn’t often promote survival to stand out from others in the small, tight-knit group on which you depend for your survival. For many, life is not about blazing new paths but about cherishing and preserving time honored ones. Choirs are made up of individuals singing the same song. Without tradition there would be no song.
Peer pressure can be rough but there are times when bucking convention can be beneficial. There’s a global debate about the homogenization of cities and towns and cities. That trend is troubling. In the past 50 years many of the world’s cities have gone from unique to the uniform, stylized to the standardized. That’s death. When it comes to competitiveness, great cities are great at being different.
Distinctiveness is a key concept in economic development in city differentiation. It works like this. If you can’t differentiate your city from any other city, you have no competitive advantage. The unique characteristics of cities may be the only truly defensible source of competitive advantage.
In the sacred choir that is globalization, too many cities suffer the social and economic consequences of losing their distinctiveness when it is that unique appeal that drives their economic prosperity. Change is inevitable. The concepts of world peace, world unity and globalization have a direct relationship to one another. The disorder and anarchy the world has witnessed is a natural consequence of the lack of unity among nations. Globalization is considered an avenue to world peace by minimizing differences between countries. But globalization breeds conformity that can lead to the destruction of the unique character and identity of cities. Cities do not have to grow by destroying the very things that people love about them.
What do people love about cities? What makes people love where they live? What attracts people to cities in the first place? And keeps them there? In the future, cities will need to think more about the customs, characteristics and quirks that make them a place worth caring about; that make them distinctive. The young and well educated want to live in distinctive cities. If you think about it, cities have personalities. Seattle is very different from New York. And they are different from Vancouver, BC.
Seattle is booming. Blue skies, abundant water and picturesque mountain ranges are appealing. It’s a stimulating place. A lot is going on making one of the most desirable places to live and work in America. Clubs, music, arts, sports teams, Seattle has it all. Design is everywhere. The arts scene mirrors its people. Some say it’s the coffee culture. Maybe it’s the weather. Who’s to say?
One might think that since Vancouver BC is just 140 miles up the road from Seattle, and like Seattle is set in the midst of water and snow-covered mountains, they might be twins. Even their population has similarities, with the Vancouver metro area of 2.4 million comparable to Seattle’s 3.4 million, each heavily influenced by connections to Asia. Yet, a visitor to each city may be more impressed with their differences than their similarities. Vancouver is all about the avoidance of freeways, while Seattle is cut right down the center by one. Vancouver’s waterfront is lively, with an emphasis on residential towers. Seattle’s central waterfront is more gritty, with a mix of tourism, an elevated roadway, and visible industry. That is scheduled to change in Seattle in the coming decade, but our guess is that each of these two cities have figured out that distinctive is a future advantage and each will work hard to retain their personalities.
The competition for people is substantial but the sheer scale of cities often prevents them from excellence. Without doubt, competing with cities like Paris will always be demanding. Paris is Europe’s number one city brand. The offset is companies have the option of doing business anywhere in the world. They can decide what the best location is, the place that provide the most benefits. People like you and I can’t bank on traditional industry for jobs. For many, living in one place but working somewhere else is no longer an idea but a reality. The “somewhere else” they chose must be “live-able”. It must be attractive to the individual.
Your generation is drawn to places that embrace entrepreneurship and innovation, but even that isn’t enough. Cities must also be “live-able” with quality of life appeal. The reason: the environment – where you live – makes a powerful impact on happiness. Great cities are going to great lengths to attract, entertain and retain you.
[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]