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The Center of the Universe

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2nd Oct 2008

Monday, 1 January 2007

Earlier we looked at this from a historical perspective as we prepared our first ranking of hubs and their impact on hub culture. Yes, its arbitrary, and no its not scientific, but it does reflect a combination of influences on a global basis. It does not reflect ultimate power or coolness, but some combination that reflects "right now" better than anywhere.

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Berlin's hot contemporary art scene
Presenting the 2007 Hub Zeitgeist List: Hub Culture's 2007 Zeitgeist Ranking:

1. Los Angeles

A controversial choice? Sure it's big, but LA is finally hitting on all cylinders: fashion, tech, entertainment, and overall groove. American Apparel is changing fashion with vertically integrated manufacturing. LA's skull and bones indie rock fashion dominates globally. Myspace culture is taken for granted, everywhere. New walking areas and urban regeneration projects, from downtown to Malibu to Hollywood, make the city much more palatable than before, despite the endless crush of traffic. Entourage and other shows, from the OC (while over, which started it) to Laguna Beach, have moved the collective consciousness west. All in this and more help make LA the city of the moment: the energy is positive, its power is on the rise, and people everywhere have LA on their mind.

2. Berlin

As contemporary art begins to dominate the mainstream, Berlin has emerged as the identity for a fun young Europe. With Merkel putting Germany on the mend and the World Cup of 2006 having shone the spotlight on the city, Berlin has spiffed up - a lot. Real estate is booming, but there is still an undercurrent of gritty, rough urban experimentalism that resembles London during its moment. It's rough, but richer. So hot its nearly establishment, but not quite yet, which makes it a serious contender for the top spot.

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Revellers on Mumbai's night scene
3. Mumbai

The center of global attention seems to have shifted off China and onto India, and Mumbai (or as we should say outside, Bombay) is the hot spot in India. Its mix of Bollywood and technology lend well to the Youtube era, and the rich, infectious Indian attitude is becoming a global cultural force. The clubbing in Mumbai continues to improve, but its the people who make it - the sense of optimism here dominates.

4. Istanbul

Somehow Istanbul has managed to balance its location with style and grace. Those in the know swear by the city, with its speedy speed boats on the Bosphorous, continually improving scene tempered by an ingrained respect for Islamic tradition. Istanbul is about the only place where Christian and Muslim seem to blend to create a sum greater than their parts - it is evocative of the world we want, and a symbol of where a truly global world can co-exist.

5. London

London is about to overtake New York in some areas of the financial world. On constant alert, it remains confident and open, unlike the American attitude. One of the most expensive cities in the world, it has come to dominate the international cultural life, and remains a center of the world in wide areas of business. London can feel a bit stale with old world eccentricity at times but its power is omnipresent, like New York before 9/11.

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Sizzling, sumptuous and styling BA
6. Buenos Aires

So hot! The Argentinian financial crisis has faded, but the incredible value of Argentina as a destination remains. This is fueling a buying boom in urban real estate as Europeans and North Americans establish summer homes and secondary residences here. Business remains slow, but BA is the hot spot of Latin America. Panama and Sao Paolo have heat, but BA sizzles. It's the hottest "second city" in the world.

7. Beijing

Beijing's big Olympic moment is not until next year, so the city feels like it is totally under construction. But its a wonderful moment for creative development and business risk taking in China's capital. Beijing always had a stronger underground feel than neighbor Shanghai, which has soaked up much of China's glory lately, but Beijing is very interesting - it is a cultural crucible in a darker, more definite way than Shanghai, and while quieter, its architectural projects, from the new CCTV tower to the Olympic bird nest stadium, are teeing up the city for its big moment to come.

8. Dubai

Sure, it's a giant construction zone. Sure, the Palm is sinking and traffic is a nightmare. But Dubai is finally attracting the international professional elite in a serious way, and that's a very recent development. The city feels a bit like Hong Kong 20 years ago - where opportunity calls for young people hungry for a hit. One & Only, Jumeriah, and even the W are transforming the city into a sleek holiday party town, and despite the alcohol restrictions, it offers a different, more positive vision of the Middle East than is commonly accepted. It may be crass, but this city of the future is evocative.

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Brooklyn Museum selected as NY's new "Culture Spot"
9. New York

The big apple has its stride back, but it has been so sanitized that the cultural revival of the city feels as if it has been outsourced to Brooklyn. But Brooklyn is still part of New York, and New York still dominates in advertising, finance and international business. This hub of hubs seems to be following the leader - in architecture, in culture, and in innovation, but it is still completely critical for processing other advances into the mainstream, and as the city moves farther from its 9/11 nightmare, sprouts of change are seen... from the revival of the speakeasy to a sudden interest in poetry and drama to the new dominance of the Lower East Side over Meatpacking. One hopes that NYC can survive its own mallification.

10. Geneva

Geneva is an odd selection but here for a very real reason. Much of what people in hub culture have been talking about lately involves a search for authenticity - this rebellion against mass consumer culture and cookie-cutter cities. Quiet, laid back Geneva is just what it claims to be, and it is not trying to be much else. It's authentic and original, a city that refuses to go with the global grain. Somehow Geneva is evocative of this sense of authenticity, and deserves recognition. It is very in, without trying to be. Perhaps it is the fact that wealth is always in, and Geneva is certainly wealthy, but in an era of shouting from everywhere, Geneva's quiet reserve stands it in good stead.

So, that's the top 10... and following are the rest of the top 20 - cities that for various reasons stand out - from Shanghai's frenetic pace to Seoul's growing confidence and tech leadership (Cyworld cometh!), San Francisco's new role in Energy, Tokyo's rising yen, Hong Kong's outlying growth, Sydney's easy pace, Seattle's growing philanthropic leadership, Mexico D.F - so big and so crazy, and Rome - strangely hot after years of neglect.

11. Shanghai

12. Seoul

13. San Francisco

14. Tokyo

15. Hong Kong

16. Sydney

17. Seattle

18. Moscow

19. Rome

20. Mexico City

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A vision for the future: the CCTV Tower, Beijing