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Hub Culture 2012 Zeitgeist Ranking

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21st Feb 2012

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The 6th Annual Hub Culture Zeitgeist skids into place having rounded the bases a bit slower than usual, with a focus on the heavyweights and gradual power shifts. This is the year of determined resolve - everyone seems, dare we say, pretty optimistic?
Signs are that the US and European economies are finally evening out from their death spirals, income inequality is being addressed via pop culture platitudes, emerging markets are ticking over, its an Olympic year, etc. etc.. (Just how do we create this ranking?).
And its S o Paulo for the win - again! While the main cities remain on the list in different positions, power is shifting - with more BRIC cities in the top positions than ever before. It really is all about Brazil and China, but at the same time, growing signs of slow downs in both markets make the future difficult to predict.
Shortlink: http://hub.vg/2012Zeitgeist Background: http://hub.vg/zeitgeist

1. S o Paulo (2011 rank: 1)

Perched at the top of the list for a record third year is S o Paulo, where the defining topic of conversation continues to be how hard it is to find good help. You know things are going well when staffing your dinner party adequately is a major topic of concern. It is however a harbinger - inflation and class ambition do not make a tranquil mix forever. The strong currency and commodity growth at large aren't the only thing fueling Brazil - property and consumer retail are continuing to enjoy enviable growth rates despite a 4Q dip last year. Meanwhile, the city is ever more popular, and ever more desirable for corporate postings, regional businesses, and those looking to experience the Brazilian boom first-hand.
Enjoy it while it lasts, Brasileiros.

2. Hong Kong (2011 rank: 7)

Hong Kong hits a high note this year - a cosmopolitan mix, fantastic shopping and epicenter attitude for business make it the world's drop-in city. But the downsides - pollution, overcrowding, and little thought for public space - have often held it back.
Despite these issues, lately the world just seems to bend more toward Hong Kong - maybe because there is an ever stronger air of confidence and derring-do in the city? HK simply doesn't care what everyone else thinks anymore, and that makes us all care even more (especially big brother to the north). As the world navigates the shift of power from west to east, Hong Kong remains perfectly balanced between the two.
Plus, try going out on a weekend - holy schmodel! HK is ground-zero to the world's young, rich and beautiful, tomorrow's bright lights rocking today's late nights.

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Zhang Xin's SOHO is Beijing's new heart.
3. Beijing (2011 rank: 14)

While its still a bit rough around the edges, one gets the impression that Beijing is the new Manhattan, but on a much larger scale. Yes, its still under construction. Yes, you can still ride a rickety rickshaw from a man with no teeth through teeming traffic, but now he'll charge you $40 bucks. Yes, its freezing cold half the year and choking with dust the other half. But it will rule, and therefore, people are building and innovating and spending and earning and just plain living. It's very alive right now, Beijing, in a way other places aren't.

4. Berlin (2011 rank: 4)

Berlin is like your hipster friend who went into local politics and ended up raising your property taxes. All the cool kids are still there, but the city's evolution into political power player is complete, and that's replacing the hip factor with raw power. Berlin is calling the shots across Europe - from the Greek crisis to EU interest rates, and so for every underground dungeon slash disco there are now two lawyers in a coffee shop talking about work. That's life.

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5. London (2011 rank: 9)

It's official, this is London's year - from the Queen's Jubilee to the Olympics, there is no better place in the world to be this summer. Lots of labour is coming to fruition in London - from the epic Shard, Europe's tallest building, to progress on Crossrail, the city is making sure it will remain the center of European business for a long time to come. As the pound deflated in the crisis, cost of living has become thankfully more reasonable, and there's still an influx of foreign money propping up property. Trouble is... no one knows what abyss lies after the Olympics, and how Team Britain can compete in a world that offers a lot more for less - and with better weather. Banks are downsizing. Taxes are epic. The streets are filled with unemployed alcoholics. But otherwise it's great!

6. New York (2011 rank: 6)

As the US economy evens out, New York stands to benefit from all the forces that make urbanization a driving force elsewhere on the planet. America's most optimistic city offers a comparatively green lifestyle and a steady creative sector, leadership in finance, and a re-emerging 'scene'. Somehow the city managed to capture and amplify the Occupy movement into something resembling hacktivism, with a simple message: "if we don't like something, we change it". Not much has actually changed, but at least post-Occupy, can-do New York refuses to be anyone's victim.

7. Sydney (2011 rank: 3)

Sydney remains the place everyone would go if it weren't so far away. Over the last twelve months, the continent has only moved about 6 mm closer to the rest of civilization. Another year of strong commodities and a hot economy mean another year richer. The biggest challenge is that Sydney is pricing itself out of the global market on the back of a strong currency and intense demand in the urban core, but is that so bad if you're already established there? Nope.

8. Singapore (2011 rank: 11)

Singapore is sizzling. We've talked about the city's green credentials, oasis feeling, sticky-bun mall flavouring, and increasingly beautiful architecture before, but its nice to see the edge here getting sharper and sharper. Where else can you feel like an alien strolling into a roof top bar covered in neon and gold fixtures, as the city glimmers at your feet? One casino here turns over as much cash as Vegas in a year. And you'll need to gamble just to afford the drinks - life here has gotten pretty expensive lately. Also: bubble tea.

9. Istanbul (2011 rank: 18)

Istanbul is electric. All that youthful energy is just busting with creative endeavours, and its such a cool place to be, especially if you're in the leisure sector. The sense that Istanbul is building a great future for itself has been pervasive for awhile now - its more of the same, with more results, more people and more attitude featuring that unique stamp of a crossroad. The creative vibe has really taken root here, and its turning a leisure attitude unrivalled anywhere and completely impossible to copy into big business. Its evident in the art galleries popping up all over town, the furniture brands, and the growing list of mobile tech startups squashed into every corner of the city.

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Even Rio's sidewalks are in style
10. Rio de Janeiro (2011 rank: 20)

2012 kicks off a 4 year marathon for Rio, beginning with this summer's Rio +20 Summit on the environment, and running to the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Is Rio ready? Crime is still an issue, 1 in 3 live in a slum, and all the activity has driven real-estate prices sky high. There aren't enough hotels, or cops, or thong shops.
But relax, this is Rio! Have a frozen acai smoothie, don your Havainas and ride the wave - Rio is in for a fantastic ride. For quality of life alone, it might be number 1 on the planet, provided you don't have to ruin your beach runs with a day job.

11. Capetown (2011 rank: 17)

If Africa was a car, South Africa would be the engine and Capetown the tantalising hood ornament. From the cheesy panoramas infesting Facebook to the bragging tourists sipping a Stellenbosch wine on Clifton 4 in their status updates, this city is where everyone wants to be. Overlooked is how great the time zone is - right on par with London, one wonders if you couldn't actually serve the world from an iPad on the beach in a pair of Aca Joes.
Crime is down, Africa is booming, and the living is good, why not?

12. Tokyo (2011 rank: 12)

Sometimes it take a disaster to jolt us into new ways of thinking, and its nice to see how Tokyo has changed since this time last year. A stoic response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami lit a fire for something new in Japan - a kind of hacker mentality that was never obvious has been revealed - with a sense that citizens are taking their future into their own hands. In the days after the disaster a flurry of activity unleashed social collective responses, and the results were fascinating.
Tokyo was at the center of this shift and is different because of it. Now its less status quo, more DIY.

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Hipster + Kitsch = Seattle Kitster
13. Seattle (new)

Forget the coffee-house cliches - the Nicki Minaj of cities is back in fashion. That's all there is to it. Signature look neo-grunge and flannels stretch from Doha to Detroit, and Seattle's neon Twin Peaks quirkiness is visible in so many forms. Pop music has taken the hint, infusing everything from the Foo Fighters to Beats by Dr. Dre with the Seattle Kitsch.
This time Amazon, not Microsoft, is the poster-child - as they move to own the entire book publishing supply chain, take on Apple and the Goog, and deepen their reach into business services all at the same time. Seattle may not be the biggest city on this list, but it is punching well above its weight in this cultural register.

14. Mexico D.F. (2011 rank: 16)

Still the world's biggest city, Mexico is onto a leisure story much in the way that Istanbul is creating its own reality. Big, brash, noisy, the city's elders are trying to kickstart a green revolution without much luck. But change is slow, and in the meantime the habit of escaping hell for the weekend, much the way New Yorkers exit for the Hamptons and Miami, has become de rigeur. The city may not offer everything, but the jetset is finding it further afield, and that's attracting global talent, who increasingly agree Mexico's capital is a great place to be based - on the weekdays.

15. Shanghai (2011 rank: 8)

Why did Shanghai slip so much this year? Zeitgeist is all about radar, and while we know Shanghai should be on this list, there's not much new happening this year that explains why. Sure, its a mecca. Sure, there's new stuff every day. Of course its getting bigger and better and more exciting. But growing rumbles of a property slowdown, bad debt and other go-go problems (that extend across the land) are tempering the mood in Shanghai. Compared to Beijing, Shanghai just feels a bit "meh" at the moment.

16. San Francisco (2011 rank: 10)

San Francisco isn't the first city that comes to mind when you think of corruption, but this is the year where the city gets skewered by the new rich. Facebook's IPO is creating an army of millionaires who are expected to cash in and change the dynamic of the city in overnight - from luxury real estate to funding the next big thing, the mood is bright, but the envy is deep. It remains to be seen how windfalls will affect the city at large, or if it will just widen the booming class divide.

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Another Dubai creation
17. Dubai (Returning, 2009 rank: 15)

Its been hard-time-city in Dubai since the crash - with all those stories of abandoned BMWs at the airports, migrant workers keeling over with kidney failure and the like. But you can't build a city like Dubai and expect it to not come back fighting. As the economy absorbs its own growth and residents settle into whatever latest and greatest thing was just built, the reality is that brands are still coming, tourists are still coming, families are growing and the miracle of the Gulf is more than a mirage. Dubai is back, chastened, and with a smirk. As one local puts it, "Dubai has withstood the test of time". In this case, that's 24 months, but ok! It does sum up the optimism.

18. Los Angeles: (2011 rank: 4)

Its not those homeless tent cities in the park, the endless traffic, the train wreck that is Beverly HIlls reality TV or the yawning Oscars - but something is a bit stale in the city of Angels. The decay hit the nostrils around the whole SOPA brouhaha, which revealed to the entire world how desperately worried Hollywood is about its business model - and the lengths it will go to trying to protect what remains. Somehow this... fear... can pervade everything, despite the relatively small role of entertainment on actual output. So yes MPAA, a dog on the defensive bites, but who likes a biting dog? LA's overplayed hand against the valley will be costing it dearly for time to come.
Bright spot? The Grammys are "in" and flourishing in LA.

19. Moscow (2011 rank: 15)

Speaking of class divides, Moscow gets credit for its own approach to activism. The city's gritty determination to plunge forward, regardless of sleet, snow, or political baton stick deserves some credit. Russia is never easy to understand, but if the universal language is money, then Moscow remains a growing force. Especially abroad. The Ruskies have invaded Thailand and Sri Lanka, turning their sights from the Mediterranean to new paradises for bi-continental living. Moscovite money is transforming these locations into elite havens, far from the realities of life at home, and that's shaping futures from tundra to tropics.

20. Abu Dhabi (2011 rank: 19)

Steady as as she goes, Abu Dhabi bumps along the bottom of this year's list with more money in the bank than ever. It has emerged as the third of a private banking triumvarate (with Zurich and Singapore) and a similar reputation for sensible reliability. Cultural investment dividends like the Guggenheim, art fair, and museums are maturing, and the city is actually pretty fun! Maybe it will move up once it loosens up.
Falling off the list: Stockholm, Zurich
New: Seattle
Returning: Dubai