Hub Culture 2014 Zeitgeist Ranking
Welcome to Hub Culture’s 8th Annual Zeitgeist Ranking - charting the pending urban moment in the squishiest of ways, with pure conjecture, conversation and cold calculating analysis on the subjective mood.
To prepare, Hub Culture distills conversations from around the world into a gut feeling, utilising a range of soft factors.
As always, new themes emerged around changing definitions of influence, a growing appreciation for ‘the broken’, and a new sense of irrelevance in old hierarchic structures.
At the same time, old metrics still apply, which is why London held on to this year’s top spot. Beyond that, wellness, community and vitality, coupled with reinvention while dealing with persistent problems are this year’s dominant themes.
1. London (2013 Rank: 1)
Pretty much the most expensive city in the world, London is on a precipice - while the country is technically broke and the weather remains dreadful as ever, money simply wants to live here. So Rolls-Royces glide the urban core, and its literally impossible to get a table reservation -anywhere - even if you’re a member of one of London’s many storied private clubs.
For many in Europe’s capital city, the good times are back and money is being made - with rents climbing 10-25% over the last year. What’s lacking is a sobering assessment of the truth: should London’s status as a real-estate tax haven propped up by foreign cash become too widely known, will the delusions of grandeur fizzle?
2. Rio de Janeiro (2013 Rank: 4)
The frozen acai smoothie of global cities, Rio’s moment is finally here. More than hosting this year’s World Cup and World Surfing Championships, Rio captures the generally good spirits of the moment, and reflects our obsession with health and vitality, even if the city is a festering, overpriced cauldron of craziness.
In a way that the world previously envied American dreams, Rio’s photo-ready way of life sets the new standard of envy across the planet, and for that, we can all thank the humble, happy Carioca.
3. Miami (2013 Rank: 3)
Design. Design. Design. Last year Miami bolted back to attention amid resurgence, and this year the trend continues, with a subtle power shift in play.
What’s evident is this: the city has graduated from an obsession with Art (thank you ABMB
) to an obession with Design (thank you Zaha
No big name architect is lacking a vanity project in Miami right now, and even bank branches
have to be sexy hubs. Vain. Glorious. It’s okay.
4. Los Angeles (2013 Rank: off)
After owning the early years of this ranking, Los Angeles fell off the deep-end with the financial crisis. Like Rio and Miami, Los Angeles today is all about quality of life. No one works, (not the old way), and the pace here feels healthier than it used to - less panties-in-da-club, more roof-top lounge.
The center of gravity is shifting east, back toward Hollywood and points beyond like Los Feliz, even down to Century City and Hermosa Beach, where west coast variants of the hipster are maturing into families with toddlers. The feel in LA right now is surface perfection and sunny vibes - nevermind the underlying drought.
5. Tokyo (2013 Rank: 8)
More than anywhere, Tokyo imagines the City of the Future
Tokyo is still feeling the flush of cash injected by Abenomics in 2012-13, and could it be that the city is feeling the future more than ever? Living with the Fukushima disaster taught Tokyo how to deal with a kind of rolling psychological apocalypse. Is our tuna radiated? Will everyone get cancer? How does a country reinvent its power grid? Weird questions, but the answers that Tokyo comes up with point a way for everyone else in a world of uncertainty.
Meanwhile, Tokyo’s obsession with the future is feeling right on the money - from auto design to the nori wrapping of Bitcoin, in the form of the pseudonomic Satashi Nakamoto.
6. Moscow (2013 Rank: 11)
Moscow ranks highly this year not because of the impending Sochi Olympics or any ‘positive' factors, but because of the culture wars that have erupted across much of the conservative urban world.
Where the West had 20 years to come to terms with gay rights and Pussy Riot style activism, the present Moscow cultural lurch looks especially troubling in areas that were previously able to sweep these issues under the carpet, through oppression or silence.
Moscovian struggles with these issues are symptomatic of a huge trend, mired in different sets of values and mores that don’t gel well in the age of Facebook. Watch the evolution this year: it portends much.
7. Hong Kong (2013 Rank: 3)
Forever trapped inside a champagne bubble, everyone is too busy having a good time to pay attention to this ranking, which says it all. Point of interest: rapidly growing squatter-like encampents in protected parks indicate some undercurrents of un-Gucciness.
8. Detroit (2013 Rank: New)
Catharsis is a beautiful thing. Detroit’s death at the hands of municipal lenders marked the low point in a long, sad recent history. From the 'ruin porn’ of abandoned buildings littering Buzzfeed to the railroad talk among American youth of squatting an urban farm, Detroit right now is about resurrection.
It is gut-wrenching to watch, but from the crisis of Detroit are glimmers of hope - a toughness that defies, and grit not seen in America for a long time.
In the same way that America’s sunbelt is soft, Detroit is hard, and it attracts young people who thrive on that - in some weird way. If it works, Detroit may turn out to be the best example of renewal the world has ever seen. If it doesn’t, blame the endemic corruption, not the kids giving mouth-to-mouth to a dying city.
9. Brooklyn (2013 Rank: New)
For the first time, we’re breaking Brooklyn out from New York City. Even though it is literally a borough, Brooklyn really is its own thing. In the same way that NYC has gentrified to become almost unrelatable, Brookyln has coolified to become Establishment, the king of Neighbourhoods. You see, the hipster is long over, but hipster culture has grafted itself from Kuala Lumpur to Helsinki, and that needs to be replaced… with something.
Until it is, the Brooklyn vibe is the reigning reference for the modern establishment. So Brooklyn, give us your plaited and your flanneled, your organic tomatoes and rooftop bees, yearning to breathe free - the world has given up resisting.
10. Tel Aviv (2013 Rank: New)
Bloomberg ranks Tel Aviv #2 for tech
Tel Aviv! From out of nowhere, this city kept coming up in our discussions this year. From Davos to Melbourne, people are talking about Tel Aviv.
On one hand, tech has emerged, with massive deals pumping huge cash into the tech scene - with Waze
redefining the highway experience, eToro
changing the face of trading, and Wix
making it easy for anyone to build a website.
There’s also the beaches, the booze and the babes! Silicon Wadi has arrived, just don’t mention that pesky Palestinian freedom awkwardness, and you’ll be fine.
11. New York (2013 Rank: 6)
Everyone loves New York, but the place is increasingly out of touch. Its twin pillars of power, big finance and big media, feel totally out of step with what’s happening in the real world. Manhattan has become such an oasis of privilege that its become impossible to recognise or serve the needs of the common man.
Meanwhile, the mallification of the City continues, erasing culture block by block. Even Papaya Dog has closed - the surest sign of something amiss there ever was. Sigh. At least there's still the advertising and fashion thing. Its may still be New York City, but the new has been suffocated with a fat corporate ogilopolic pillow.
12. Berlin (2013 Rank: 10)
Berlin is like a designer hostel. Inexpensive but inviting, exhibiting a certain youthful sexiness, but slightly annoying when your shoes stick to the disco floor's muddy beer puddles.
13. Bangkok (2013 Rank: New)
Marking its first time ever on the list, the key phrase here is rolling with it. Somehow Bangkok has mastered the art of quasi-permanent revolution, figuring out how to keep the place humming amid constant political uncertainty. There is something very clever, and very now, about this skill, where Cairo could take a lesson.
Neither red shirt nor yellow shirt, street flood or night-soi crackdown can keep this city down. Bangkok is a balance between the constant threat of street water cannons and an over-supply of orchid necklaces, but what it remains is resilient. Life goes on, and the place just gets better - especially from a design perspective.
14. Black Rock City (2013 Rank: New)
Image courtesy: leodirac
On the theme of new power structures, here’s something to consider: impermanence.
annual temp-city of 70,000 influences the world’s influencers, and it is teaching us all important lessons in civic organisation, crowd intelligence, pop-up power and more.
Some would argue that Burning Man’s influence as a festival is on the wane, which may be true. Black Rock City’s rise as a utopian, utilitarian experiment in social physics
is another thing altogether, and its teaching us all about the merger between the virtual and the physical, the spiritual and the temporal.
Its amazing that something so flitting could change the way we think about cities and the role citizens play in them. BRC is the DMT of Zeitgeist.
15. Istanbul (2013 Rank: 9)
Still heaving with potential, Turkey’s voyage in the modern world is all about connectivity. While this year nothing particularly new jumps out (other than amazing local engineering projects under oceans to link continents), the role Istanbul plays in bridging the European with cultures of the Silk Road is undisputed. Istanbul is more than the capital of Turkey and a city with youthful energy, its also becoming the capital of all those obscure, commodity rich booming republics to its north and east, playing a pivotal balancing role to Moscow for Central Asian influence.
16. Panama City (2013 Rank: 19)
Panama City climbs three notches this year, playing up its cultural position as the conceptual love-child of Luxembourg and Miami. It has elements of both - a booming offshore banking sector coupled with beach-front high-rises that evoke gilded retirements for gringos the world over. Its tax-havenish status, couple with a short flying time from the US, is drawing all sorts of business and investment, and it remains incredibly cheap. Year ahead? Pint-Sized Wonder.
17. Beijing (2013 Rank: 12)
Hack, hack, wheeze.
Beijing really needs to do something about the air and the environment at large. On days where the pollution indexes pass 300 and citizens literally choke in the streets, it becomes evident that success is about more than export numbers and GDP. Beijing is visible for all the wrong reasons lately, and other than frenetic construction (which is, admittedly, amazing to behold) the consequences of unchecked development are catching up fast.
As China watchers know, the Party has an uncanny ability to turn things around when it puts its mind to it. Right now there is little outside leverage to do so, so things continue to drift toward atmospheric gridlock. Toss in the constant monitoring of an increasingly tech-savvy surveillance state, and the picture is anything but rosy.
18. Shanghai (2013 Rank: 15)
While Shanghai’s business sophistication now exceeds that of almost anywhere on the planet, it suffers from many of the same existential issues that currently plague Beijing. The same story of economic growth is not enough. One bright spot is the 3D printing and local manufacturing revolution that is turning Shanghai into a city of independent designers. That is exciting and portends well for Shanghai’s pending emergence as a global design centre for the 21st century, but its not quite ready for prime-time yet.
19. Dubai (2012 Rank: 17)
Dubai tends to do well when things are humming along. Middle East fears are at an all-time recent low, and investment from across the world is pouring into the tiny Emirate. Success and growth in neighbouring Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and even Oman are feeding the city, creating a more regional identity that the area needs.
This uptick in regional focus is enough to land Dubai back on the list - while a gleaming metropolis in the desert is anything but sustainable, the Dubai dream of a global hub driving the region’s growth looks more and more like a sure bet. Plus, soon: offshore casinos!
20. Seoul (2012 Rank: 5)
Hyundai's hydrogen beauty
Last year’s cultural pop tart is this year’s crumbs, but Seoul sticks to the list for a new reason: true technological leadership. While the rest of the automotive world is betting on electric, Seoul is leapfrogging with a move to hydrogen vehicles that could hit the market as early as next year.
All that hard work building an integrated, networked economy is paying off, and its great to see the mood here less about copying other work and more about being FIRST. First wearable watches coming from Samsung. First hydrogen cars. Maybe not the best in the world, but for the first time, first. (But still last on this year’s ranking.)
Heave Ho: Delhi, Stockholm, Madrid, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Cape Town, Singapore - We think about more than 150 cities when preparing these rankings, and making the top 20 is very difficult. Delhi - nothing new, Stockholm - tends to vacillate between super hot and super not, Sao Paulo - finally eclipsed by Rio, and suffering from high costs, San Francisco, so far up itself it can’t even see Secession Valley, Cape Town, always fun, just not this year. Singapore - oddly, completely forgotten.