Redefining competitiveness

City competitiveness is usually defined as economic at core. But the competitiveness debate is becoming more sophisticated. Increasingly, new ideas are coming into play, such as an innovative business and cultural environment. Is the city a cradle of creativity with high rates of innovation within commerce, science and/or the arts? Does the city have clusters of cutting-edge niche specialisms requiring specialized networks of professionals? Has the city got a strategic virtual location through intense connectivity? Does institutional capacity exist to get beyond bunker thinking? Is the leadership willing to trade its direct power for a greater creative influence, so unleashing more leadership potential in the city? Is there good governance and management, involving transparency, trust and lack of corruption, a precondition for seamless trade to be conducted? Is there ability to work in partnerships to maximize the benefits of combining public and private sector approaches? Is there capacity to network globally and to keep abreast of the best? And, significantly, is there cultural depth and richness, which might mean heritage or the availability of contemporary artistic facilities? Is strategic thinking so embedded across key actors in the city that the idea of learning infuses every tissue of its being? Does this make the city a place where individuals and organizations are encouraged to learn about the dynamics of where they live and how it is changing? Does this in turn feed into the quality of municipal services, including transportation and, most importantly, education? These competitiveness issues are just as important as costs and productivity or a piece of technology.

Increasingly significant in understanding the new competitive environment is the play of urban iconics, through which the intention of physical structures or events that project a story, an idea or ambition can be grasped all at once. Iconic communication is dense, packed and experience rich. But finding the triggers that do this is difficult. A building that does succeed is the Guggenheim in Bilbao, while Chicago's Cloud Gate, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and the Rio Carnival are examples of public art, utilities and events that achieve iconic communication. These are more than just well known - each tells a deeper story. These iconic triggers then need orchestrating in order to generate critical mass and momentum. They involve design awareness, another competitive tool, and often eco-awareness, which might speak to higher ideals of healing the environment. In sum, what this does is help create and reinforce the resonance of the city. And resonance generates drawing power, which in turn can override underlying real economic potential. This is why some places do better than they should do, as resonance represents a form of capital.

Finally, does the city have an ethical framework of action that inspires people to give more, to care more and to have more social solidarity? The crucial step is to be able to define and communicate a bigger role and purpose for the city by defining a common goal based on an integrated emotional, technological, environmental, social, economic, cultural and imaginative story. It should feel like an unfolding drama where the citizens know their roles because they are gripped into engagement. It needs to tap into peoples' sense of who they are and where they might go, hinting at their role. City goals need to be delivered through a wider skills set, beyond that of planning professionals.

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