Re-Doing the Map: Major Cities and Everywhere Else

Paul Salmonse, an American ex-pat who’s just moved to Berlin, has a great post up about how the urban core of Berlin feels more like the urban core of New York (or any other big city) than more rural parts of Germany.

This is one of the most interesting consequences of globalization — the increased interconnectedness and cultural homogeneity of "global cities" due to broadband internet and cheap air travel, among other things. As Paul points out, an American from Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York is likely to feel as or more at home in central Paris, Tokyo, or Moscow as he would in a small or mid-size town in the U.S.

All these global cities contain a tremendous amount of diversity. This is their commonality: you can eat any kind of cuisine, shop at any kind of store, see every ethnic group represented, consume high quality culture like art and concerts. As Tyler Cowen has argued, globalization has increased diversity within big cities even if comparative diversity has decreased. (Sure, Paris might seem more like San Francisco comparatively speaking, but the cultural diversity within each city has increased thanks to trade and markets.)

International travelers know that it is often easier to fly from global city to global city versus global city to small town. It took just as long for me to fly from San Francisco to upstate New York as it did to fly from San Francisco directly to Tokyo. Los Angeles to Stevens Point, Wisconsin (small airport in midwest) was only a tad shorter after connections and layovers than San Francisco to Frankfurt.

The question, then, related to my review of Sam Huntington’s book, is whether citizens of global cities feel more of an allegiance to their cities, cosmopolitan lifestyle, and globetrotting co-patriots than to their home country and suburban or rural residents, and whether the resulting decrease in nationalism and connectedness to vast swaths of the country’s population should be a cause for concern.


5 comments on “Re-Doing the Map: Major Cities and Everywhere Else
  • ” .. whether citizens of global cities feel more of an allegiance to their cities, cosmopolitan lifestyle, and globetrotting co-patriots than to their home country..”

    I think it may even be a good thing. This is an ideal state view of course.. (‘tending to’ rather than ‘equal to’).

    People may develop a better understanding of perspectives from other cultures/ religions/ communities. Many of these people often vote in their native countries and can help shape the polities of nations.

    In the ideal scenario, we could tend to a situation where nations can avoid wars as the only – and very savage – way of settling scores and differences. May be? Not a bad thing that would be, would it?

  • Ben,

    I think it’s dangerous for a global elite to emerge that’s fundamentally disconnected with the citizenry’s culture and complaints. By the same token, more and more people are moving to the big city. A recent survey suggested that 1 in 2 people now live in cities — an unprecedented modern phenomenon– so perhaps the citizenry is becoming more and more urban and urbane.
    At the same time, it should be noted that people who live in the city have fewer and fewer children (typically) and so cities, in order to be self-sustaining, depend on new blood. That can’t hurt.

    What’s more if city dwellers feel an affinity for one another they are probably less likely to go to war with one another and therefore the cosmo elites won’t drag the rest of their countries down with them. Friedman has a bit about the Dell support structure and how it never leads to war and I would definitely agree. More integration means less war, for the moment, at least.

    That said, a few months back Atlantic Monthly ran a piece about how cities were tending to have a culture that was a brain drain that small towns are experiencing. Small towns may be irrelevant in terms of population, but they, do to the electoral college and senate representation, become important in presidential elections. Perhaps that explains why the country is electing more and more populist candidates as time goes on?

    I can’t wait until that suburb expert comes to CMC in October. It should be interesting fodder for discussion.

  • Ben,
    Thanks for picking up the “new maps” thread. Personally-speaking, I feel far greater allegiance to my “cosmopolitan lifestyle”, as you put it, then to the nation of my upbringing. But I do owe a large amount of gratitude to that nation (the US) for its role in co-creating the cosmopolitan world-network in the first place. Either way, great post! Hopefully I will write more on this soon.

  • One interesting question is to what degree the “City Elites” vote? That will determine the relative power to the people outside the big cities. The highest percentage of people who vote tend to be the elderly. If they move out of the cities for affordability reasons, will that tip the balance of power?

  • I think the disconnectedness is certainly a cause for concern, but I don’t think it will be properly addressed in the mainstream, at least not for a while.

    I think the way to alleviate the problem is to find new ways of connecting people, but the mainstream reaction will probably be to cry and moan, rather than take action.

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