Hub Culture 2016 Zeitgeist Ranking

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23rd Feb 2016




Fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a new ride. The 2016 Hub Culture Zeitgeist Ranking returns for the 10th year with a refreshing look at the moment and some new opinions on the state of the world's most important hubs.  This year the keyword is turbulence, where a choppy global economy, wild currency swings and shifting alliances are turning up radically new centres of attention.

As always, the Zeitgeist Ranking is distilled from the Hub Culture community via chats, discussions and impressions on the state of our world. Last year, Paris topped the rankings, foreshadowing a year of cultural impact that far exceeded our own expectations. Now, the energy moves farther east, to Istanbul, Seoul and Moscow.

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House of Voga takes in the views of Istanbul
1. Istanbul ( 2015 rank: 12)

Istanbul jumps to the top of this year’s ranking as a microcosm of a challenged and complicated world. This hub represents the eastern edge of NATO and Europe, where it is on the front line of emerging security issues. Turkey, and by extension Istanbul, is the first to experience the waves of refugees and immigrants crossing from the near east - with over a million at the moment.

The city is fighting a creeping conservatism that has chilled the cultural scene from years prior, and shadows of this trend are being cast across Europe, and in a weirdly similar way, a polarising United States. Istanbul is in the political firing line of both Russia and America, and it faces dangers that are so murky one can’t even predict what will happen next.  

Fortunately, at the same time, mobile technology has transformed youth culture completely, and the city is teeming with nervous energy (sadly not just from the Soho House Istanbul opening). How Istanbul navigates its challenges today paints a picture for how the West will tackle similar issues, amplified, very soon.

2. Seoul ( 2015 Rank: 9)

While China sputters and Japan nods off again, Seoul keeps accelerating into the future.  Sometimes smaller means nimble - the economy continues to tick along, and Seoul’s competitive advantages in social consumer technology continue to outpace just about everyone.

Aside from those alpha all-seeing, all-hearing Samsung devices, the Korean imprint on AI, your mobile, genomic research and pop-culture continues to expand. Even Hollywood celebrities seem to have caught wind of Seoul, perhaps sensing the rise of the young Korean female instagrammer as our iconic tastemaker.

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Moscow State University is a favourite target of roofers.
3. Moscow (Returning, 2014 rank: 6)

Trying to understand Putin’s Moscow is like trying to decipher a rorschach test: we see what we want to see. Ukraine and Syria have wedged scary gaps between Moscow and the West, while the low price of oil is quickly pushing Russia toward a devaluation or crash.

This is having deleterious effects on Moscow’s economy, but the city’s influence on world affairs has grown stronger through an corresponding willingness to flex force. Also, people here climb skyscrapers to take seflies, and this idea has gone global.

The people's partying may be over, replaced with a grim seriousness grounded in real politik. Fly-bys, missiles and muscle are keeping all eyes glued on Moscow, trying to understand the risks reaching dizzying heights.

4. Miami (2015 Rank: 7)

Meanwhile, in America, Miami has it right. This year’s election has candidates mumbling in Spanish as they try to capture the issue of Latin immigration, a topic Miami long ago learned to embrace to its economic advantage.

The city demonstrates a progressive view on many fronts: active discussion on climate adaptation forced by its efforts to stop ocean encroachment, chop-licking as it eyes Cuba, a boom in the cultural conversation, and increasingly a desired home for international business. Miami’s vibe is setting a standard the rest of the country would do well to study.

5. Los Angeles (2015 Rank 13)

Los Angeles is inching back toward the top, thanks in part to a luxuriously wet winter that has dampened that fundamental drought, a diversified economy that is less likely to feel the pain of Silicon Valley’s unicorn slaughter, and the wholesale surrender of the nightlife scene to Uber - finally making LA an awesome place to play without penalty.  

The area’s relatively low real estate prices might be a myth of the past, but so many neighbourhoods are blossoming with creative talent and investment even South Central homesteading is looking like a good idea.

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6. Rio de Janeiro (2015 Rank: 4)

After enjoying lots of upward momentum the last few years, its sad to see that Rio might have peaked. It comes down to broken promises - the world had high hopes for Rio in the run up to this summer’s Olympics, but the city simply threw in the towel on the environmental cleanup work it needed to do to make the city an example of leadership.

2016 presents Rio’s big moment, and while the show is certain to be great, housing shortages, the Zika virus scare and a general sense that the city hasn’t reached its full potential has faded the celebrations. But hey, Rio is always a party - even after this year.

7. London (2015 Rank: 3)

London needs a plan B. Brexit is casting a pall over the city’s fortunes as the UK muddles about with a fruitless discussion over a departure from the EU. UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s June 23 gamble on a referendum hasn’t provided the clarity he hoped for with an opposing mayor who has a lot to gain from a fight, and the result is a capital city with a cloudier future.  

London remains Europe’s powerhouse but with its very inclusion in Europe under question, it is a bit tough to argue now is a good moment for the Big Smoke - the city is too dependent on foreign money and sentiment. It is affecting everything negatively right now - from foreign investment to the housing markets, so 2016 has become London’s wait and see year.

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The Namaste Tower
8. Mumbai (Returning, 2009 Rank: 12)

On hiatus since 2009, Mumbai is back on the strength of India’s continuing growth. An aggressive new outreach plan for the city is capped by this year’s highly publicised Make in India Week, incidentally showcasing the city’s new monorail and airport terminal which have finally brought a future oriented feeling to the city’s infrastructure.

A total building boom is also underway across the city with skyscrapers appearing like weeds at the city’s edge, and some of them look and feel like the world class venues Mumbai deserves. Mumbai is growing so fast it has overtaken Shanghai in terms of economic growth rates - no small feat. 

9. Singapore (2015 Rank: 19)

Singapore is benefiting from uncertainty in Hong Kong, which has fallen off this ranking for the first time ever. The twin power-houses of Asia often complete, but Singapore’s independence and resulting stability currently give it an edge that Hong Kong can’t match.

That stability is translating into investments to improve the quality of life for all of Singapore’s citizens, from a vast new high-line inspired north-south urban park to initiatives designed to foster huge advancements in green urban mobility. Singapore could become the first all-electric mobility city - a massive undertaking that requires serious vision. 

10. New York (2015 Rank: 8)

De Blasio’s New York is not Bloomberg’s New York, and power isn’t everything.  The revitalisation of the World Trade Center area has finally found its rhythm, and the City’s super-tall building boom is inspiring and exciting, but cracks are appearing all over the city. Crime and homelessness is on the rise, and the city’s immigrant populations complain of feeling ever more on edge with the police.

Extreme gentrification continues to wilt the city’s creativity, but the outer edges - Harlem, Astoria, Bushwick continue to inspire. Food scene? Still hot.

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A few people show up at Primavera Sound.
11. Barcelona (new)

Barcelona joins the club! Spain’s Catalan city is more than a great place to visit during February, (when the annual Mobile World Congress draws the titans of communication to discuss the future of tech over paella), or during the summer, when practically every college student in Europe pays a visit.  

Primavera Sound, one of the world’s largest and best festivals, is infusing the city with cutting edge music and style - and that vibe has infected Barcelona writ large. 

12. Tehran (new)

Everything is relative. Tehran’s recent entry to the global scene is fluttering the hearts of capitalists and backpacking hippies everywhere. The emerging accessibility of a city the size of London (8.15 million) in a world where new ‘bad guys’ make the old 'bad guys' feel like potential allies is a rare spectacle.

The beauty and hidden charms of Tehran are not just leaking into social media feeds and boardroom presentations, but also shifting perceptions about what could be possible in a place we haven’t been allowed to consider much.  There’s potential here, and apparently beautiful, modern things, according to Buzzfeed.

13. Mexico D.F. (Returning, 2012 Rank: 14)

Despite claims by some to the contrary, Mexico City is not about to start building walls or paying for them either. Mexico’s continuing growth story is finally building some wealth for Mexicans, and the government’s efforts to finally clean up the city core are bearing fruit.

The world’s largest urban metropolis now boasts improving public spaces and rising incomes - but the thing still driving everything here is the food - simply splendid, led by our favourites including Biko, Contramar, and Denominacion de Origen.

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14. Abu Dhabi (Returning, 2012 Rank: 20)

Abu Dhabi’s cash is finally outpacing Dubai’s glitz on the global stage. The perennial competitors of the Gulf are both ticking along nicely, but its Abu Dhabi’s quiet placements of financial support that are attracting interest. Whether shoring up Morocco’s plans for the next COP environmental summit, backstopping European real estate or placing tech bets in Silicon Valley, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth pockets are simply deeper than almost anyone's.

In an era when oil oriented funds are feeling the pinch of a commodities rout, depth gives Abu Dhabi a wealth of advantages. Now, if only they could manage to get that Guggenheim off the ground...

15. Beijing (2015 Rank: 10)

China’s voracious dragon is experiencing some heartburn as years of spectacular growth have given way to ghost-burbs, a currency scramble and rising social tensions. Foreign exchange reserves are dwindling fast as the government props up the currency, and the only remedy in sight seems to be more massive development projects.

On that note, Beijing’s Daxing Airport is set to spur an entirely new regional Hub, connecting Tianjin and Beijing with a capacity to handle over 100 million passengers a year, and operations beginning as soon as 2018. The scale at which Beijing tackles these issues is nothing short of wonderful, and given the success of Pudong, probably not something to bet against - even with a stomach churning slowdown in progress.

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16. Geneva (Returning, 2007 Rank: 10)

Geneva is home to the braintrust trying to figure out Europe’s single largest problem, how to deal with a swelling tide of refugees and migrants arriving at its door. The international organisations here don’t have the answers, but the role of Genevan residents who fill these institutions in determining the fate of millions is undisputed.

From international aid organisations to the UNHCR response teams, global health to migration groups, everyone is trying to figure out the answers for an increasingly acute problem, and many of them reside here. Quality of life is gorgeous here, so maybe some of that generosity will rub off on the decision making.

17. São Paulo (Returning, 2013 Rank: 4)

The appeal of South America’s largest city has dulled considerably since its position at the top of this ranking some years ago, a victim of unsettling economic headwinds in Brazil and most recently a full on impeachment effort for Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff.

The area’s recent struggle with drought impacted the economy but is easing. In its wake, a growing frustration with environmental protection, the rights of workers at large, and especially shooting crime has grown. The financial sector continues to suck wind on the back of a weak commodities market, but at least the São Paulo Futebol Clube continues to perform well, to the relief of an entire metropolis!

18. Berlin (2015 Rank: 7)

Berlin has generally been near the top of these rankings. It drops this year on the back of the pending tech slowdown across Europe. While European venture funding is holding steady relative to the US, its much smaller size indicates trailing status, and its likely the funding picture will get tougher for 2016.

Support for startups and the innovation scene is what makes Berlin cool, and with influence ebbing, so does outside interest.  On the political front, Berlin’s time in the limelight is giving way to a wider group of stakeholders (see Istanbul) - so it will be tougher to call the shots as cleanly going forward.

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19. Vancouver (Returning, 2008 Rank: 20)

Clean, green and serene. People are talking about Vancouver again, and its not just the quality of life, growing business scene and access to Whistler. Vancouver feels like an antidote to all those ugly complications facing the world. Americans enthralled with the extreme tone of the US election cite Vancouver as their existential escape haven, while in Asia parents dream of sending their kids, and their savings, to reside in Canada’s most affluent city.

Vancouver couldn’t be more opposite than Istanbul, and for that relieving dichotomy thanks is owed.

20. Bangkok (Returning, 2014 Rank: 13)

Ticking right along, Bangkok continues to be underestimated and is currently the cheapest its been in years. This fun and lively city has not just learned to live with its demons but even expelled a few. Check it.

Lots of change this year. Dropping off the list, Paris (a long recovery), Hong Kong (wilting freedom), Dubai (meh), Sydney (nightlife dying), Oakland and Tallinn (point made), Tokyo (Abenomics flailing).