This is the ninth of Havas PR’s “11 Trends for 2016.”
What stops a great world city from being the place to be? Some people might think it’s terrorist attacks such as 9/11/2001 in New York; London on 7/7/2005; and Paris on 1/7/2015 and 11/13/2015. There’s no argument that all were horrible. It’s too early to say for Paris, but it looks now as if the New York and London terrorism acts barely touched the appeal of those big cities. The population of New York City has grown to its highest ever. Admittedly, a lot of the growth has been in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, but that has far more to do with affordability than security. And the population of greater London has grown by 12 percent since 2001, with 100,000 a year growth since 2008.
For the most magnetic big cities, the largest risks are not terrorism but affordability and livability. They’re crowded, clogged and expensive. Big new real estate developments are designed for global super-wealthy investors who tend to pass through rather than live in the city. A penthouse in the Mayfair district of central London recently sold for £26 million, while real estate in New York is scaling ever higher heights. It’s not just at the elite end of the market that prices are soaring, though. Faced with expensive housing, essential workers such as cleaners, restaurant staff and construction workers have to live a long way out. Even people in higher-paying jobs can hit a quality-of-life crunch, especially if they have a family. They find that too much of their salary is swallowed by basic living expenses. They realize that too much of their time is spent working, or getting around, to really enjoy what the big city has to offer.
The cost and space pressures in the world’s great cities are creating incentives for the smartest people living in them to cash in and move on, or for others to bypass them altogether. Employers and the talented workers they need are increasingly looking to second-tier and even third-tier regional cities to become new magnets—often drawn by the intellectual pull of regional universities.
Just as cities in the past gained critical mass and a name for their local expertise (medieval Florence, Italy, for banking; 19th-century Bradford, England, for cloth; 20th-century Detroit for automotive, for instance), expect regional centers to become attractive alternatives to overcrowded and overpriced world cities.