kotkin contra khanna – mammoth // building nothing out of something

kotkin contra khanna

[Sorting facilities at Port of Singapore in the foreground, downtown Singapore in the background; via flickr/Storm Crypt]

Having mentioned Parag Khanna’s paean to a dawning age of mega-cities, I ought to also mention journalist Joel Kotkin’s article in the same issue of Foreign Policy, which argues — in near direct opposition — that (a) the coming dominance of mega-cities has been greatly exaggerated, (b) smaller cities are better positioned to succeed economically while providing a more liveable environment for their citizens, and (c) “the suburbs are not as terrible as urban boosters frequently insist”, but possibly even a better form of urban organization.  The linkage between (a) and (b) is relatively clear and the linkage between those first two points and (c) relatively opaque — Kotkin, for instance, spends a portion of the article making a case for the value of suburbs and then segues into Singapore as an example of how small cities are more successful than big cities, which seems an odd juxtaposition given the density of Singapore — but as a pair, Khanna and Kotkin’s articles at least demonstrate two of the major positions that might be staked out on global urban futures.

If there’s a particular part of Kotkin’s article I especially appreciate, it’s his discussion of the role of relatively unfashionable industries — “trade in goods, manufacturing, energy, and agriculture” — in driving “the world’s fastest-rising cities”; his discussion doesn’t dovetail perfectly with mammoth‘s interest in re-industrialization (which we understand rather expansively, including much more than just the traditional industries whose value Kotkin calls attention to), but the appreciation for the economic act of production (in contrast to economies of service or knowledge) is similar.

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