Shifting the Zeitgeist Better choices politics and power

City-making is about making choices, applying values, using politics to turn values into policies and exerting power to get your way. Choices reflect our beliefs and attitudes, which are based on values and value judgements. These in turn are shaped by our culture. So the scope, possibilities, style and tenor of a city's physical look and its social, ecological and economic development are culturally shaped - culture moves centre-stage. If, for example, a culture invests its faith only in the market principle and trusts the drive of capital to produce sensible choices, the logic, interests and points of view of those who control markets will count for more than those who believe market-based decision-making is an essentially impoverished system of choosing.3 If a culture holds that individual choice is everything - individuals always know best - this impacts the city. Conversely, if it is held that there is something in the idea of a public, common or collective good that has value and is beyond the vagaries of the market, credence can be given to inspirational and emblematic projects that can lift the public spirit: buildings that are not constructed according to market principles, imitate environmental initiatives, attending to the sickly or investing in youth.

City-making is a cultural project involving a battle about power. Power determines the kind of cities we have and politics is its medium. What are the effects of these different values? Consider Mercer's 'quality of living' rankings of 2006.4 This US company's annual survey of 350 cities, focused especially on expatriates, is now seen as authoritative. It considers 39 criteria covering economics, politics, safety, housing and lifestyle. European, Canadian and Australian cities dominate the rankings, with Zurich, Geneva and Vancouver the top three, followed by Vienna. Six of the top eight cities are European. The implications of the market-driven US approach for how city life actual feels to individuals is instructive. The top US cities are Honolulu at 27th and San Francisco at 28th; Houston, where you cannot walk the streets even if you want to, is the worst of all large US cities at 68th.

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