Hub Culture 2009 Zeitgeist Ranking

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21st Jan 2009

Change is in the air, and it has a decidedly political slant.  The third Hub Culture Zeitgeist Ranking debuts with a new No. 1, set amid a palpable shift in our collective expectations.  Security, sober simplicity and quality of life are dominating the scene now, creating a very different vibe among the world's globerati. 


Hub Culture compiles this ranking as a measure of the moment, drawn from discussions, emails, and observations gathered from members around the world.  What keeps coming up, and more importantly... where?  


The list may be debatable, since there is no formula for setting the pace. This gut read on how its all shaking out reflects the combined wisdom of niche crowds and curated views.


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Washington DC courtesy Michael6076
1.  Washington, DC  (new)


From out of nowhere, Washington D.C. bursts onto the No. 1 spot on our list, taking the running title from the beautiful people in Los Angeles.  Known by some as 'Hollywood for the Ugly', Washington is alive with excitement as Sasha and Malia Obama get settled.  But its not really about the Obamas - its about the context of our changing expectations of government.  Hundreds of thousands of applications are flooding the city for new administration posts, and the bailouts of 2008 have shifted the attention of global business to the city.  If you're just starting out, DC is the place for jobs.  If you're hunting for a bailout, regardless of sector, DC is your first stop.  DC's slower pace fits with the new sober mood, and all eyes are on the Administration for policy cues, expanded international cooperation, and insight on an age of creeping socialization.  We hate to say it, but for 2009, its all about Washington.  Long may it not last.


2. Berlin    (2008 rank: 2)


Berlin holds onto the second spot for several reasons.  It remains the bleeding edge of Europe, and a unique position as seat of government provides some stability in increasingly harsh times. In Berlin the art scene is still flourishing, mostly because everything comes off a lower base, both for cost and talent. Its never been about money as much here as other art centers like New York or London.  The music scene continues to innovate, and Germany in general has not suffered as badly as other European countries hit by the credit crunch.  Add in a strong Euro, and Berliners become an enigma - povo at home, increasingly affluent abroad. Solid.


3. Beijing    (2008 rank: 4)


Where do the young and ambitious turn when credit has evaporated and opportunities are few and far between? The dusty environs of Beijing perhaps, especially as the government seems to have latched onto a branding fervor in China's post-Olympics conjugal glow.  Looking for a PR, advertising and general marketing hotspot? Brand China is where its at, and with the government pumping hundreds of billions into the subject, Beijing looks better than ever, at least on paper. Just ignore the noxious skyline as you watch the GDP growth rates, still hovering near 9%.


4. Los Angeles    (2008 rank: 1)


ZOMG, LA finally loses its grip on the No. 1 spot!  All that celebrity bling and sunny living has worn thin, and stage two terminal onset of the US meltdown is taking its toll.  Empty shopping malls and vacant strips are more common, the first hints of blight appearing like a cancer on the auto-oriented consumer landscape.  LA's fashion scene has stagnated, and the city's hold on entertainment is slipping to diffusion by web 2.0 - a fact especially noticed post-SNL election.  But Los Angeles is still the city of angels - the sun shines constantly, more people live here than any other urban center in America, and let's face it - the world remains addicted to reality entertainment, no matter how it gets delivered.


5. Tokyo    (2008 rank: 5)


Tokyo is Tokyo.  The city has missed out on much of the crisis infecting other financial centers, and a new green design vibe is overtaking the cutesy image of the past (very early century).  Japanese design has spotted the environmental theme permeating business, and the principles of kaizen (continuous improvement) are shaping a really cool new Japanese ecovibe.  Look for it in consumer products of all shapes and sizes as the year progresses, and watch Tokyo flout one of the world's lowest per capita carbon footprints as the city shifts its citizens toward zen green.


6. Sydney    (2008 rank: 18)


Need a safe port? Australia is another bright spot going into 2009.  Maybe because work is never really the top priority here, or because you can still find great roles that touch the global economy.  The general attitude down under appears to be one of distant concern - everyone knows the game has shifted, but in Sydney the rules remain very much the same.  Sure, real estate and private equity are stumbling here like everywhere, but in Sydney, it's still "no worries, mate!" 


7. Saõ Paulo    (2008 rank: 14)


So the thing with Saõ Paulo is this: it is huge. It is still growing, fed by rural to urban migrations. The people are fun. They serve Caiprinhas all morning and all night.  SP is fine, just fine, and the need for skills here is unquenchable.  Brazil's resources will always be in demand, and despite the crime, its a genuinely fun place to be - for anyone.  Saõ Paulo has been climbing our rankings steadily, and this year is no exception. Here, 'crunch' is in the quinoa, not in the financial vocabulary. 


8. Hong Kong    (2008 rank: 9)


Hong Kong remains blighted by bad air, and is reeling from the rout in banking and financial services.  Even so, rumor has it the last banking jobs in the world are still available here, and the city's real estate sector is expected to turn around faster than any other market.  Hong Kong is hurting, but not like other financial centers, and for the super globally connected, it looks more appealing than ever. The city is rich enough to sit out the bust, and it can always rely on China's neighboring Guangdong province to drive the local economy - a luxury New York and London don't have. One minus - many expats are leaving as job cuts sweep the board - from Christie's to Citic to Citigroup.


9. New York    (2008 rank: 8)


Down is the new up in New York.  The city slips a notch, but the recalibration of wealth is having some positive consequences in the city that never sleeps.   You can get a decent table almost anywhere. The pace has slowed and social pressure has eased. 90% of the city is still up and at it every day, and there's a new sensation in the city: hunger.  Hunger breeds innovation, because people actually have to think, plot and scheme to make a difference, and are more likely to do it on a shoestring budget.  This is good news for the youngs, who operate best on hopes and dreams to begin with. Manhattan, for the first time in a long time, feels less like a gilded prison and more like its scrappy, fighting self.  Wait a few months for the graffiti, crime and starving hipsters to settle in, and New York just might be edgy again.


10. London    (2008 rank: 6)


London is suffering.  The credit crunch has hit London worse than perhaps any other city, and the mood is as gloomy as the weather.  The fancy nightclubs of Mayfair are half full, and the pint-drinking in the East End is lackluster at best.  With all that in mind, London remains the principal global center of Europe, and its not like things are that much better on the continent. With large infrastructure projects on the horizon for the Olympics, nimble currency moves and a general stiff upper lip, the mantra now is survival and sobriety.


11. Shanghai    (2008 rank: 15)


Sure, its a bit ratty and a little frustrating, but Shanghai remains an adventure.  China is one of the last places in the world still experiencing growth, and that means that the party is still in progress here on the Huangphu River.  The lights are still on in Shanghai, and while its not easy finding jobs, its still easier than a lot of other places.  Even real estate and art are holding up, though buyer beware - price security is not uniform.


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Mumbai courtesy d ha rm e sh
12. Mumbai     (2008 rank: 3)


Clearly the November attacks had a large impact on the mood of the city, but they can't dent the can-do spirit of average Mumbaikars. What the attacks did do, however, was reveal the extent to which Mumbai relies on a few international symbols to internationalize the city, and to what extent those symbols can be targeted for terror.  The combination makes for a less than enthusiastic recipe for attracting and retaining global talent, which has a knock-on affect to other areas.  Add in the new security needed everywhere and unclear leadership horizons, and a perceptible shift in viewpoint occurs.  Sad, but still strong.


13. Singapore    (2008 rank: 17)


Singapore is steady, and right now steady is very good.  The tiny city-state showed restraint in the early part of 2008, and it continues to sit on piles of cash reserves.  Private wealth and trading (two of the city's biggest focuses) are giving ground to medical tourism, biotech and other homegrown industries taking root with support from the government.  Throw in the nice quality of life, low crime, low cost of living and an improving plethora of local entertainment, and you've got yourself a pretty good deal: simple, clean, secure.


14. Buenos Aires    (2008 rank: 7)


The last few years have been good for Buenos Aires, as the city benefited from increasing visitors, low prices and an overall positive outlook.  That changed this year as the international markets and visitors that provide an international feel to the city began to dry up, leaving BA harder pressed to attract attention.  Some bad macro bets have also proved harmful, but at least the banks are guaranteed!  Trouble is, few think of Argentina as a currency haven during times of economic distress, making the road ahead that much more lonely.


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Dubai peeks through... a mirage?
15. Dubai    (2008 rank: 12)


Highflying Dubai has had a bumpy landing to Reality Island.  The over-stretched housing market is deflating like a limp Atlantis opening balloon, and the glitzy attitude of the city feels out of step with the austere realities of the global marketplace.  But if you're up for it, this is still a good place to base yourself regionally, and Dubai's taste for showcases, whether luxury, architecture or design, make the remaining grand opportunities here very interesting.  


16. Paris    (new)


This is the first time Paris has appeared on the list, but now it just feels more relevant. The current mood is about refocusing on priorities, living life more simply and thinking deep thoughts.  Where better than Paris?  Ok, so the higher Euro makes the bread, cheese and wine a bit more expensive, but who's counting when you're sharing? This is inevitable in Paris, unless you are alone, sitting under a bridge, which can also happen. And thank you Madame Bruni, your style is helping put Paris back in the spotlight.


17. Toronto    (new)


Stability is a big theme of the moment, and Toronto keeps coming up in this thread.  Canadian globe trotters are heading back home to Canada's most influential business city as they check out of their stints abroad.  Again, the economic roll here has been a bit more mellow, so the vibe hasn't been totally destroyed by doom and gloom.  Take into account Toronto's great outdoors and socialized services, and it all starts to look pretty good. 


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Istanbul parks courtesy robokow
18. Istanbul    (2008 rank: 11)


Looking ahead, the story of Istanbul is about youthful opportunity.  The city's increasingly educated population are creating their own 'perfect society' - a uniquely modern Muslim identity, with clubs!  Istanbul is remarkably reliant on international tourism in defining its globalized aspirations, dampened by a diminishing will of many to travel and spend extravagantly.  But this also works in Turkey's favour - Istanbul is comparatively cheap.  On balance the international quality of life remains good, if isolated. In all, the city's grip on the global zeitgeist has weakened as attention drifts elsewhere.


19. México DF     (2008 rank: 19)


Its still the largest city in the world, and México DF is not as exposed to slowdown as the major global financial markets.  Again, a young population works in Mexico City's favour, creating optimism and opportunity for the future, generated by an increasingly well educated and global population.  The recent explosion of social networking is drawing Mexico City into the mainstream, even as it continues to march to its own beat, and its just plain fun to be here.


20. Copenhagen    (new)


2009 is a big year for Copenhagen as it hosts the next round of global climate talks in December, considered by many the most important since the Kyoto Protocol.  The city is gearing up, and efforts in wind and other alternative energy will be in the spotlight.  As such, the Danish way of life, from design to food, with a focus on streamlined simplicity, makes more sense than ever.  Like it's neighbor Stockholm, Copenhagen feels like a small, sustainable city where luxury is a necessity, and simplicity a luxury - an efficient, satisfying mantra to live by.


Falling off in 2009: Vancouver (meh, try Montreal or Toronto), Madrid (pobre real estate and tourism), SF (socked by the private equity collapse), Moscow (bling is out, and some markets are down up to 70%).  Who's new? DC, Paris, Toronto and Copenhagen.