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Necessary city

I’ve spoken about global cities, such as New York and London, many times before on Architect This City. I’ve also talked about the rise of consumer cities. That is, cities with a high “urban amenity premium”, which could be great outdoor amenities or great restaurants, theatre and so on. These are places of consumption.

Sometimes global cities and consumer cities are one and the same. But there are also cities–such as Vancouver–where I view the urban amenity premium as outweighing their status as a global city. Vancouver, quite simply, is an awesome place to live and enjoy life. I almost went to UBC for grad school because of Whistler Blackcomb and the city itself.

Today, I’d like to introduce another type of city into the discussion mix: the necessary city. I heard about it here and, although it seems somewhat intuitive, I think it’s an important reminder that, even though a city may not be an alpha global city, it may be fulfilling a specific function for a particular industry or aspect of the global economy. It may still be a necessary city for your corporate headquarters.

For example, Houston is the city for energy companies. If that’s your business, you likely need a presence there. For fashion and luxury, it’s Paris. And if you’re in the auto industry:

The major global equipment manufacturers are widely dispersed, but when you look at leading global parts suppliers, they virtually all have their North American headquarters in Detroit – including the German, Japanese and Korean ones. Among them are companies like Robert Bosch, Denso, Yazaki and Hyundai Mobis. If you’re in the auto industry in America, you have to deal with Detroit. Unsurprisingly, Detroit boasts several nonstop flights to key Asian destinations.

In essence, we’re talking about cities making themselves necessary by becoming niche experts. And what I think is interesting about this concept is that it’s likely much more attainable for a lot of cities. Most cities will never become New York. And most cities will never be able to transform themselves into the next Silicon Valley.

But maybe those are the wrong economic development goals. It’s not about becoming the next, whatever; it’s about finding and owning a particular niche and making yourself absolutely necessary to the global economy.

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