Hub Culture Reveals 9th Annual 2015 Zeitgeist Ranking

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6th Feb 2015




Hub Culture 2015 Zeitgeist Ranking

Hub Culture has revealed its 9th Annual Zeitgeist Ranking - an annual snapshot of the world’s leading hubs and the cultural references resonating at the moment.  
 
For years, this ranking has taken the subjective views of members, combined with a finger on the pulse and various bits of data to identify a magical list marking of-the-moment power, attention and influence around the world.
 
Right now the word on everyone’s lips is inequality.  How do we address it? How angry is general society at the very rich?  How do the vast majority prosper in a world where gains are going only to the few? And what are we going to do about it? Run? Fight? Riot? These issues are colouring the conversation everywhere, and provide a new lens for the spirit of the moment that is best represented by Paris.
 
 

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1. Paris (Returning; 2009 Rank: 18)

 
A number of factors conspire to put Paris into pole-position, for the first time leading our ranking of the world’s zeitgeist. Aside from the recent horrors begetting Je Suis Charlie, Paris today represents the 'invisible subversive' as mainstream. 
 
For a long time Paris has felt robbed of its historic stature as stifling economic policies, lack of opportunity, weird labor laws and high tax rates have driven away young ambitious French to other places, like Berlin, London and Hong Kong.  In their place, swathes of ethnic periphery have nurtured resentment from failed integration, and the inequality issue, (now moving front and centre to global consciousness), is acute here.
 
What’s changing in Paris is a visible acceptance that to be Parisian is no longer to be French - the style and sophisticated grace by which Parisians are famously known has indeed been imprinted to immigrant populations, creating a diverse new flavour of citizen. You can spot these fashionistas on rue Charlot and riding the Eurostar, commuting to power. They represent a new France, a darker, more exciting France. The hottest young designers, entrepreneurs and bloggers are not the pasty bourgouis but Parisians by design, and they reflect ethnic diversity.  Absent wealth and glamour, this new blood is the great hope of Paris. 
 
On another level, Paris has become Europe’s lynchpin - the arbiter of success for the European experiment.  The recent moves by the European Central Bank to pursue a loose monetary policy have had huge impact, and this could not have been possible without a French desire to see it happen. Germany, for all its power, can not force austerity effectively upon Greece, Spain, Italy and others if French support falls away.  And this summer and fall, the eyes of the world will turn to Paris as it attempts to tame the unicorn of a global climate deal at COP21 - an effort Paris has pledged to make a success.  Hollande may have killed the economy, but the people of Paris have an opportunity to turn the ship around.
 
For reasons good and bad, austere and blighted, hopeful and contrite, Paris leads the moment, for the moment.
 

2. Tokyo (2014 Rank: 5)

 
Abe-nomics enters its fourth year with a test - can Japan lead the world in engineering real growth from simple monetary policy changes? The hard work of economic reform remains a sugar-coated chimera, and money-pumping charades only entertain for so long.  
 
Behind this challenge, there are tailwinds. Relations seem to be improving between Tokyo and Beijing, opening up potential for more economic cooperation. Youth culture is booming, with the world’s first virtualised population coming of age. Not just friendships but even sex lives are now lived in emojiland, a harbinger for the rest of the world’s youth.
 
Japan feels like a healing patient - and after 20 years of stagnation is trying to lead once again.  While the population feels old, the Japanese still feel somehow ahead of the rest of us, and as technology becomes not just central but ENCOMPASSING, urban Japanese are leading the way.
 

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3. London (2014 Rank: 1)

 
London slips this year out of the top notch it has held the last two years, and the main reason is price. Sure, the city continues to magnetically attract talent and wealth from around the planet, but the strain on resources is really starting to show.  
 
A building boom of new luxury apartments is not keeping up with demand for space with a population that just passed a record high. The real cost of living continues to inflate daily as a result. 
 
That said, the London story is still a story of success, and it remains Europe’s beacon, without the volatility of the Euro or the austerity politics of the continent dragging it down.  
 
An emerging angle is London’s embrace of the sharing economy - reflective of its young and dynamic population - and the new necessities of cooperation in a place that continues to suck every pound out of your wallet relentlessly.
 
 

4. Rio de Janeiro (2014 Rank: 2)

 
2015 offers Rio de Janeiro a chance to pause and catch its breath - coming between the highs of the 2014 World Cup and the pending 2016 Summer Olympics. The currency is also taking a siesta, having tumbled from earlier highs on the back of commodity price deflation. This adjustment is bringing things back into line across the Brazilian economy.
 
Now is the chance for Rio to prep itself for its big moment next year.  There are hopeful attempts to address chronic housing and accommodation shortages, corruption around infrastructure and maintenance, and to some extent, the giant wealth gap that exists between neighbourhoods.  None of that can be fixed in 12 months, but some level of action to ameliorate the worst aspects wouldn't hurt.  Anyway, Carioca beach life continues as the city rakes in revenue from all those visitors. 
 

5. Sydney (Returning; 2012 Rank: 7)

 
Australian spirit: this is one reason why Sydney regularly features on this ranking.  Year after year, Sydney demonstrates to the world some of the best living and quality of life there is. Blessed by a strong economy, fantastic weather, and the stability of a commodity-rich nation with strong, diversified education, the Sydney dream continues to be a model for aspiration all over.  
 
Even rogue or random terrorism can’t seem to dent that optimism that comes from down under. Cuddly and wholesome, like its own koala, nothing seems capable of puncturing that Aussie spirit.  Sydney remains Hub Culture's feel-good pick.
 

6. Hong Kong (2014 Rank: 7)

 
Hong Kong has always represented money - the quest for it, a love of it, and the flash that comes with it. Never has this been more true than now, after months of protests in which the city’s collective voice attempted to address issues bigger than money - democracy and the right to self-determination.  
 
But in the end, it seems Hong Kong’s true love has won out - the protests fizzled while locals fretted about falling luxury receipts, the impact on tourism and Hong Kong’s image as the centre of the Asian financial world.  The protest results might be disappointing, and the city has proven once again where its true loyalties lie.  In some ways this reflects realities larger than Hong Kong, and begs the question about what citizens really can and can’t live without in a global, capitalistic economy. For the year ahead it will be back to just that, as the remains of the umbrella revolution get swept to the curb outside Armani and Prada.
 

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7. Berlin (2014 Rank: 12)

 
The city of two faces continues to impress. One of the only places in the world to consistently place in our top 10, its been amazing watching the evolution of Germany’s capital.  
 
It’s startup and technology credentials, increasingly with an environmental flair, maintain momentum, while its bureaucratic insistence of unwavering policies toward the rest of Europe continue to roil the blood of many.
 
This year, an added emphasis to the east emerges as Berlin negotiates the fragile egg that is Urkaine. Berlin also seeks to prevent the Baltics from cracking, and its more assertive international role has not gone unnoticed by the US.
 
The city rusts and gleams, both at once.
 
 

8. New York (2014 Rank: 11)

 
Inequality has raised the temperature of New York, as widespread frustration about "oasification” of Manhattan has become visible across numerous threads of city life - from the NYPD to the ossified club scene.  Now that Brooklyn is firmly established (broken out on our list last year for the first time) the issues of class pressure are leading affordable housing conversations in Queens, Bushwick and Harlem, just as the new luxury super-towers of mid-town reshape the skyline of Manhattan.  
 
New York shouldn’t feel like a city only for the ultra-rich, but it increasingly does, and its about time efforts like Di Blasio’s artist housing project help to counter the trend. Even if, in the long run, the outcomes are far different than Bloomberg's broken windows.
 

9. Seoul (2014 Rank: 20)

 
Tech. Tech. Tech.  Watch. Watch. Watch. Where else does consumer technology hold such a fascination, acting as a laboratory for the world?  Seoul’s gadget economy is set to become even more dominant in 2015 as home-grown services like Line and the wearable revoltuion worm their way deeper into hub life.  
 
Even here, inequality is reaping its ugly head, as more and more people voice their objections to the privileges of chaebol and their princelings.
 
While probably not enough to result in any lasting changes, one hopes that all that consumer technology may have some impact on transparency and responsibility - as evidenced by checks on power that come from the Twitter masses who took down Cho Hyun-ah, daughter of Korean Airlines chairman.
 

10. Beijing (2014 Rank: 17)

 
A slowing Chinese economy is not helping Beijing, but a snapshot of demographic change reveals how far the city and country have come. Today, 95 Chinese companies, 52 from Beijing, make up the FORTUNE Global 500.  Underpinning this growth is a sea change in Beijing itself, with a plethora of neighbourhoods and developments springing from the drawing boards of central planning commissions designed to ease the transition of a rural population into urban life.  
 
The dynamism of Beijing is cooling, and with it luxury consumption and nightlife antics that come with high-rolling growth, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing - especially if it gives Beijing’s growing middle class a chance to situate itself and flex growing clout.
 

11. Miami (2014 Rank: 3)

 
Life is good in Miami - confident in its role as gateway to Latin America, America’s design and art capital, and playground to the East Coast elite.  With the impending opening of Havana, the Cuban community in Miami is set for a new level of influence in a variety of spheres, and this will in turn add to Miami’s regional clout.  The real story here remains quality of life and those fabulous parties at night - areas in which Miami continues to excel.
 

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12. Istanbul (2014 Rank: 15)

 
The poster-child for moderate Islam remains a dynamic and engaging city buffeted by rocketing growth, a tech-savvy youth oriented population, and a desire to make the world according to Turkey’s unique perspectives.  
 
The city’s nightlife remains among the best in Europe, and the pace of development continues to be one of the world’s economic bright spots.  
 
Its not like Istanbul is without challenges, especially given the wars raging on Turkey’s eastern borders, but Istanbul remains a world away, wrapped increasingly in its own world of progress and prosperity.
 
 

13. Los Angeles (2014 Rank: 4)

 
Sure, the LA gossip mill has had a rough winter, with all those pesky hacks and nude photo scandals underlining issues around security and privacy, which has helped keep the LA media machine very much in the spot light, and made Amy Pascual a household name. What’s less discussed is the amazing bargain that LA real-estate is increasingly seen to have, as prices have not matched the growth seen in San Francisco, New York and other US hubs.  
 
For the first time, in a long time, the conventional wisdom is seeing LA as relatively affordable, especially given its proximity to economic capability in the form of startups, talent and entertainment.  As such, the LA formula has never looked better. Now, if only they could land some rain!
 

14. Dubai (2014 Rank: 19)

 
Dubai is sitting pretty, with a buzzing economy and growing focus on quality of life. For the region, it remains a bastion of relative freedom, even if by western standards many aspects of treatment, especially toward immigrants, women and others, is dismal.  
 
For elites who call the city home, Dubai is more and more focused on leisure and quality of life, cementing a reputation as one of the best places to raise a family in the region, to find gainful employment, and as a centre for fashion and the arts.  In short, Dubai is ticking along nicely, especially if you don’t gaze too closely.
 

15. Oakland (Rank: New)

 
Some call Oakland America’s coolest city - a place awash in San Francisco refugees, home to the burgeoning digital health movement (anchored by Kaiser Permanente) and littered with artisinal coffee bars popping up like mushrooms after the rain.  Oakland remains dangerous, violent and poor, but its proximity to both San Francisco and Silicon Valley are definitely driving changes.  
 
Now is the time to enjoy the best of raw Oakland - its mix of overnight gunfire, influx of angry gays and still semi-affordable housing won’t stay balanced for long.
 

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16. Tallinn (Rank: New)

 
Tallinn is a tiny city thinking big.  As Estonia casts a wary eye toward Russia in the east, the city is being reshaped as the core of the world’s first virtual country.  Over the next ten years, Estonia plans to open digital citizenship to over 10 million global citizens, resulting in a hoped for 5X increase in population.  With low taxes and digitally driven citizenry services (such as online voting), there is some evidence the plan is gaining momentum.  
 
And not a moment too soon, as Estonia’s reasons for doing so are far more than financial. The more it diversifies and expands its citizenship, the harder it becomes for Russia to make a case for interference in the tiny nation’s sovereignty.  Estonia’s future lies in the hands of Tallinn’s geek-force, and their success or failure in creating a virtual city-state will have far-reaching implications.
 

17. Black Rock City (2014 Rank: 14)

 
Burning Man has a mission to go global, exporting its brand of culture to a series of regional ‘burns’ on every continent.  This pop-up city of 200,000 appears every summer in the Nevada desert, but its ideas and principles are what make an impact.  From discussions at Davos to gathering in New Zealand and South Africa, the 10 principles of Burning Man are at the forefront of a growing elitism found worldwide.  
 
How we export those principles to infect the world ‘off-playa’ is a constant topic of conversation among Burners, even as the class divisions of the real world (Billionaire’s Row and the arrival of the 1%) become greater issues for the Burners of Black Rock City.
 

18. Athens (Rank: New)

 
After years of humiliation and a culture of protest that always seemed rooted in desperation, the election of Greece’s left leaning Syriza party has opened a new chapter in the Greek austerity story. Athens today stands for something larger than itself - with the question of how liable a country should be for its debts at the centre of the picture.  Its odd that after 4 years of the same story around austerity, the subsiding protests have been replaced with political manoeuvering - with the people’s future at stake.
 
Meanwhile, everyone else has decided to revisit Greece and its magical islands - 2015 is set to be a record year, whether Athens burns or not.
 

19. Singapore (Returning, 2013 Rank: 13)

 
Singapore continues to invest in itself, cementing itself as the home for private wealth in Asia.  As Switzerland and Luxembourg succumb to US and EU requests around tax and transparency, the Asian city-state has emerged as the best place to store personal assets - ranging from gold to art to finance.  
 
The city’s appeal as a business centre and its strong family-friendly climate keep it at the centre of expat wish-lists the world over.  Singapore remains so predictable, but pleasant, the Geneva of the East.
 

20. Panama City (2014 Rank: 16)

 
How did Panama City become the Miami of Central America? Its laissez faire approach to financial services continues to draw both startups and established financial players, all looking for havens amid the buffeting economies to the south.  Argentine, Brazilian and Chilean money finds an easy home in Panama, and the still-booming real estate sector continues to generate wealth for all concerned. It's also Bitcoin central for anyone with a laptop and a block-chain idea.
 
There are signs that the Panama formula is replicating - Nicaragua is high on the list of new opportunities for those scouting the region.  Not much new to report, but the city hangs on to the list by its fingertips.
 
Slipping off: Moscow (ruble rubble), Brooklyn (looking west to Oakland), Tel Aviv (yes but...), Bangkok (humming along), Shanghai (slowing down).