As tiers go by

People who book conventions talk about first tier, second tier, down to nth tier; there’s presumably no point in going to some place designated as n + 1. Oklahoma City is somewhere around the third tier, and at least some folks around here aspire to climbing up to the second; the whole “Big League City” promotion, devised to sell a MAPS-y tax to improve the Ford Center to full NBA standards, was the poster child for those aspirations. The first tier, where you find places like New York and Los Angeles, is of course out of reach: these are our world-class cities, and they’re not looking for competition.

What world-class cities are looking for, apparently, is homogenization:

The joy of great cities lies in their differences. What’s special about Stockholm is different from what makes London or Vienna attractive. The “world class city”, and its gormless sibling, the “world class place”, is a political slogan, conjured by globally minded, air-travel addicted wonks, that has been adopted, sadly and dimly, by politicians, quangos and planners around the world. I’ve even heard, much to my disbelief, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson talking of London’s need to become a “world class city”. Blimey, mush, if London hasn’t been a top-drawer city for the past Gawd-knows-how-many centuries, I don’t know where between one and eight million Londoners have been living.

The dangers of the “world class” concept are particularly disturbing for cities smaller than London more readily harmed by globalised architecture and planning. The centre of Stockholm is under threat from a tide of thoughtless, shiny, air-conditioned architectural schlock, with politicians seduced by the idea that a “vibrant” city centre has to look like a computer-generated rendering of the most slickly dreadful and characterless place you can imagine, full of smiling people in casual clothes and with more witless shops dropped on them than the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on European cities a lifetime ago.

Remember this the next time someone tells you that what Bricktown needs most is more retail.

(Via Aaron Renn.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    10 May 2010 · 10:21 am

    Of course, for those of us WITHOUT enormous expense accounts, we welcome having our conferences in places like Winona, Minnesota or Cedar Falls, Iowa – because you’re less likely to wind up with a $900 hotel bill for four nights in some city you’re too busy sitting in meetings to actually be able to see.

    Or at least that’s my experience for the standard “academic” conference – you are made to feel like a slacker if you take an afternoon off from meetings to, say, go to the Field Museum.

  2. Mark Alger »

    10 May 2010 · 3:15 pm

    Central planning, like socialism, is a virulent disease that will devastate your urban core faster than you can say Fifty Year Plan. Cincinnati — number 25 among the top 25 Major League cities — provides ample evidence that city planners ought to be political pariahs, forbidden employment within lawful commerce distance of any central city district.

    You wouldn’t know it from a quick tour of our empty downtown streets on a weeknight, but we used to have a vibrant central city district, which was alive with activity at all hours of the day and night. That was before public funds were malappropriated and zoning ordinances subverted to the ends of the Central City District Master Plan — e.g., the building of Riverfront Stadium, the Coliseum (under its many ill-fated aliasess), the Convention Center, and nearly every under-occupied office tower between Broadway and Central Avenue, from the River up to Central Parkway. (For those from other places: a mile-square district encompassing essentially all of downtown.)

    Do not allow “planners” anywhere near your city’s core and you’ll do fine. Otherwise, pack up and head for eslewhere.


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