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.
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.)