For a third year running, Italian cities failed to make our list. Though attractive spots for 48 hours of sightseeing or shopping, more needs to be done for their residents. Take public transport. Poorly funded and chronically late, the number of commuters on buses and trams actually fell in 2008. With most people behind the wheel, city centres are gridlocked and pavements used as makeshift car parks. Rome alone notches up 70 cars for every 100 inhabitants – Paris has just 26.
Milan, the country’s business hub, has no shortfall of urban planners but smartly designed mixed-use developments with grocers, independent shops, and gyms for office workers are absent. Bike-sharing has been introduced but cyclists face a fragmented network and fight for space with pedestrians. Officials should look to Copenhagen, with nearly five times the cycle lanes and synchronised traffic lights that allow cyclists right-of-way during rush hour. Shopping hours also need to be liberalised in the country’s financial centre – people queue outside the few food stores open on Sundays.
In their favour, Italy’s metropolises rank high for their food and café culture, enviable climate and wealth of cultural offerings. With more nimble public services and better infrastructure, a few could soon make the grade.
How will cities be run in the future?
Increasingly, how cities are run is evolving to include grass roots organisations – particularly when elected officials fail in their civic mission. “People want to engage with their surroundings,” says Roope Mooka of Finnish think-tank Demos. “They want to mould the city.” One example of this is architect Peter Tattersall in Helsinki, who has started workshops where residents can put together plans for new developments in their neighbourhoods. Those plans are subsequently submitted to the architects and city planners involved.
The internet is also playing an important part in supporting this shift towards self-governance. “Using web-technology is a cost-effective way to build and improve on common city services,” says John Geraci who runs diycity.org, a web-based community for residents in 55 cities worldwide.
His solution to cut costs on New York City’s $15m (and rising) installation of bus-tracking devices is simply to ask bus riders to submit their location to a centralised source run by the city. “What’s needed now is a city that operates on open data flowing through decentralised, open source tools, that actively engages residents not only as users but as participants and owners of the system,” he says.
We can make it
City halls need a new focus on helping small businesses
It was something we did in 2007 but this year we’re making a more vocal recommendation for city governments to do more to encourage existing small businesses to flourish and expand, and wide-eyed entrepreneurs to launch fresh new ventures.
While some cities are better than others at creating an environment that’s hospitable to mom, pop and their offspring, none are outstanding. In some cities clued-up developers have been standing-in for government to put the right pieces in place to let small enterprises grow but we’re keen to see an easy to use, effective and sustainable shop-front concept spring up in one of our top 25 cities (or any other for that matter) and engage people with ideas, banks and backers, developers and the broader community.
Small business is not only the mortar that binds infrastructure and community but in many cases it’s what keeps an entire city ticking over. The coming year is going to see a wave of people checking out of shiny glass towers and taking to the streets to hang out their own signs and launch businesses that they’ve been keeping on the back burner for far too long. A smart city hall would make it its mission to ensure that it could attract and help launch as many of these ventures as possible.