The power of five - Issue 55 - Magazine | Monocle

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Technically gifted

In 2000, the Chinese government had a message for the country: “Go West, young comrades.” It also invested huge sums and created financial incentives to lure businesses – and workers – westward.

The strategy paid off handsomely in Chengdu, which is emerging as the IT hub of China. The city has become a magnet for foreign investment due to its highly educated workforce, low cost of living, and the pro-business environment. Chengdu also has a reputation for a high quality of life, fiery cuisine and a thriving rock scene.

IBM, Dell, Intel and Microsoft all have a presence here – as well as Chinese giants such as Alibaba and Tencent. One of Foxconn’s controversial facilities is also here housing a workforce of 60,000.

Why it could be the next tech city: it has all the elements for long-term growth; education (50 colleges and universities) and a tech-savvy population on the make.

Why it might fail: the likes of Foxconn have limited shelf life. As conditions improve and wages increase international companies may shift production elsewhere.



Future perfect

The Indian government has set about transforming the capital of Gujarat into a Detroit-style manufacturing heartland; Ahmedabad is home to Ford and Peugot-Citroën plants and Suzuki is the latest to announce it will build a $1.3bn factory there.

Gujarat is in the midst of India’s most ambitious development; the Delhi to Mumbai Industrial Corridor, a $90bn (€72bn) plan to create industrial zones and seven new cities along a freight corridor.

Work has begun to transform the nearby village of Dholera into a “special investment region” with an international airport. Through business-friendly policies and foreign direct investment, Gujarat’s government has made it clear it is committed to attracting new investment.

Why it could be a success: it will be connected by a high-speed rail and an international airport near Fedara is in the offing.

Why it might fail: the authorities must think about social infrastructure too.



Culture city

A hefty embargo and Stalinist autocracy hasn’t stopped Cuba’s cultural unfolding. Art was seen as crucial to the island’s revolution and may well be key to its future. Here’s a city where everyone seems to have an appreciation for art; when there’s an opening hundreds of people queue round the block for a look and the art school, ISA, is tougher to get into than the upper echelons of a corrupt American bank.

The recently opened Havana Biennial afforded a panoramic view of the artistic landscape.

Galeria Habana, competes with the big boys at the international art fairs. Cuban artists challenge the problems of the place they’re from with a wit and vigour missing from many spoiled cities (let’s not be silly here, though, there are writers in jail; it’s China-ish).

There’s a subtle scramble among wealthy collectors and foreign galleries to land-grab Havana’s art scene, to be there when the country “opens up”.

Why it could be the next culture city: Havana’s ramshackle colonial facades are an attractive backdrop for investors and its art schools are producing a new-gen of artists.

Why it might fail: the Castro/ Communist dinosaur does not tolerate dissent. Without freedom of expression the art scene will suffer.



Designs on greatness

Ljubljana’s creative crowd are makers and innovators, producing everything from boats to appliances, skis to turntables, furniture to architectural materials.

Ljubljana is where the action happens. It has a month-long citywide design festival each autumn backed by the Slovenian Ministry of Culture. As well as design awards and conferences, there’s fashion and food exhibitions. Each year there’s a different theme – 2011 was “New Roles, Rules and Rulers”, which discussed how homegrown creative industries might work better with local businesses to grow into global players. Nika Zupanc is the closest Ljubljana has to global name on the design scene. A graduate of the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts and Design, she has pieces in production with Moroso, Moooi, Nodus and is represented by Spazio Pontaccio gallery in Milan. “From a practical point of view being a designer in Slovenia is very good. It’s a drive away from Milan and half an hour away from some of the top end companies I work with,” she says.

Why it could be the next design city: it combines the robust work ethic of Eastern Europe and the design sense of its Italian neighbours.

Why it might fail: try as it may, quirky Ljubljana will always be eclipsed by its chic neighbour Milan. Slovenia’s recession might hinder growth and small business.



Russia’s bright spot

On the banks of the Kuban River as it weaves its way to the Black Sea coast, Krasnodar is remarkably open by its nation’s standards: over 750 foreign owned enterprises currently operate in the region, drawing talent from over 70 countries, and the first quarter of 2012 saw the local economy receiving $249m in foreign investment, 2.4 times more than in the same period last year.

The city is part of Russia’s warmest region and the tree lined boulevards feel a world away from many austere northern urban centres.

Why it could be the next culture city: Russia’s Black Sea gateway has healthy retail sector, natural resources a-plenty and a diverse economy.

Why it might fail: like the rest of Russia Krasnodar is also blighted by corrupt practices.

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