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Monday, August 20, 2012

Something else from London: The World Cities Culture Report (don't look for Chicago)

Posted By on 08.20.12 at 07:46 AM

Boris Johnson
  • Featureflash/Shutterstock.com
  • Boris Johnson
In case you didn't get enough of the Brits during the Olympics, here's another global project from them: a cultural survey of 12 "world cities," initiated by London's wonderfully improbable mayor, Boris "Bozza" Johnson.

It won't create the buzz Johnson got for his "glistening otters" description of certain Olympic athletes, but, here in Chicago, as we await delivery of our new cultural plan from Toronto, it's relevant.

Brace yourself, however: we know we're global cultural destination material, but the World Cities Culture Report does not mention our town.

One to a country, and mostly chosen for their wealth and population size, the "world cities" are Berlin, Istanbul, Johannesburg-Gauteng, Mumbai, New York, Paris, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, and, of course, London.

And how about this? We didn't make the cut, but they've gone and stolen our culture-as-an-economic-driver strategy. Or maybe they just read Richard Florida too, a decade ago, when The Rise of the Creative Class was published.

From "Shanghai to Istanbul to Sao Paulo," the report says, "there is a belief that culture will help determine their city's future economic success."

The report compares data on 60 "cultural indicators" in the 12 cities—everything from the number of video game arcades (Tokyo has the most) to the percentage of public green space (highest in Singapore). Some of the results are unsurprising: New York has the most theaters (420), and Paris has the most libraries (830). And some are astounding: Tokyo has 150,510 restaurants.

Written by a London-based consulting firm, it says all the cities struggle to balance tradition with progress, hang on to their local identity, and broaden participation.

That last point raises (but doesn't answer) the question of reach, especially for what's usually thought of as "high" culture. Even in London, which logs far and away the most visits per capita to major museums and galleries, for example, the total amounts to only about three per person each year.

Still, "a rich and vibrant culture" is both a direct and "indirect source of economic success," the report concludes.

It doesn't say that in America, where the industrial base has been lost to a cheaper global labor force, cities are grasping at culture with the desperation of a drowning man reaching for anything that looks like it might float, no matter how flimsy.

Mayor Bozza hopes the report will launch a new World Cities Culture Forum — "the cultural equivalent of the G20."

Maybe we could host it.

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