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Re-Imagining Cities: They're Here To Stay


About 800 participants from around the world discussed the future of the urban world at the New Cities Summit in Dallas. Commentator Lee Cullum considers the summit’s theme: “Re-imagining Cities.”

Years ago, Jim Crupi, an urban specialist who had just moved to Dallas from Atlanta, foresaw a world of city-states, with New York, Los Angeles, Dubai and New Delhi, among others, assuming the importance of Singapore. I was intrigued by the elegance of his argument, but not persuaded. The federal government still looked like the only center of serious action.

Now a writer in the Financial Times has announced the arrival of exactly that. Investor AfrifNaqvi says  the global economy must be seen in terms of cities, not states. National boundaries may shift, as indeed they are shifting in Ukraine, but cities are here to stay, and no country can prosper without them. Indeed, their growth rates often exceed that of the nations in which they reside.

This will be the subject of the New Cities Summit in Dallas. Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas Museum of Art director Max Anderson will host urban gurus from every continent, here to admire our own North Texas study in success. Here, commerce, culture and fortunate geography between two coasts and sitting on shale make this an opportune spot from which to  look ahead to how the 4 billion people expected in cities within the next 10 years might live and work and express themselves.

These visitors will find some metropolitan governments in the U.S. taking national problems into their own hands. Weary of  Washington’s current stance, Mayor Ed Murray worked out a plan to raise the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 an hour, more than twice the federal rate. According to the New York Times, other cities, such as Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles are considering programs in education, transportation and housing, as well as wages to bolster the prospects of the middle class they need.

Not all is well, of course. Megalopolises across the planet are plagued by bad air, dirty water, and tall buildings built so shoddily that the slightest tremor in the earth could send them crashing to the ground. In India’s Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, called GIFT, a favorite of the New Cities Foundation that’s staging the summit, poor people have been bulldozed out of their homes in the slums to make way for dazzling new development that thus far has yielded only two office buildings with four tenants, including, the New York Times reported, the state electric company and the developer behind the project. It sounds like this country in the 1960s when urban renewal meant people removal. Certainly "New Class cities," such as GIFT purports to be, will rise in the years ahead, but it will take wise direction, such as the summit here in Dallas seeks to supply, to make them work.

Nobody’s expecting another London or Paris. The models instead are radical high-rise cities such as  Shanghai. Even so, these European capitals are far from over. I thought former Prime Minister Tony Blair was a little silly when he said he wanted to rebrand Britain, and make it blingier than merely the home of the Horseguards and Gothic cathedrals. Well, to my surprise,  he did it. It’s a much more today city than Paris.

When Anne Hidalgo was  elected mayor in March, she said that Paris will always be “a city that never cheats its ideals or its honor.” Now there’s something for the summiteers to put their minds to. Ideals and honor will be critical to the megacities to come. Otherwise they may devour the people who try to live in them.

Lee Cullum is a veteran journalist and commentator from Dallas.

Lee Cullum was the host of CEO, KERA’s original monthly series of interviews with North Texas business leaders that previously aired on KERA television and radio. She is a commentator for Morning Edition on KERA-FM and contributes columns to The Dallas Morning News. A veteran journalist, Lee was previously a commentator for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and All Things Considered on NPR. In addition, she was editor of the editorial page of the Dallas Times Herald and host of Conversations, a series on KERA with major newsmakers. Lee also worked as a reporter, on-air moderator and executive producer of Newsroom on KERA.