Why City Rankings Are So Often So Wrong

Joel Kotkin is one of my favorite urbanists, and here he does a take-down on the usual “best cities” lists such as those recently published by The Economist [sub. req], Monocle, and Mercer.  He notes a problem with the criteria: in each, the survey tilts heavily toward compact places in prosperous areas with good mass transit, cultural institutions, with few children and fewer poor people. In other words, the criteria tilt toward the sort of quiet, beautiful places in which the editors would like to retire. He then offers a contrary view:

It seems to me what makes for great cities in history are not measurements of safety, sanitation or homogeneity but economic growth, cultural diversity and social dynamism. A great city, as Rene Descartes wrote of 17th century Amsterdam, should be “an inventory of the possible,” a place of imagination that attracts ambitious migrants, families and entrepreneurs. Such places are aspirational — they draw people not for a restful visit or elegant repast but to achieve some sort of upward mobility.

He then goes on to give as examples Los Angeles, Shanghai, Mumbai, and… Houston.

Joel, we’ve got to talk.

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