The Wealth of Cities

HiMY SYeD is sending reports about the World Urban Forum to the Spacing Wire. Here is his third report.

World Urban Forum

 A thousand people are squished in and outside of Ballroom C of the
Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. 15 minutes of polite negotiation through
the crowd, yet I have barely weaved into the ballroom proper.
UN-Habitat Award winner John Friedmann is delivering his special
lecture as part of the first annual UN Human Settlements Lecture

‘The Wealth of Cities: Towards an Assets-Based Development of
Urbanizing Regions’.

In John Friedmann’s worldview, the traditional divying up of the four
factors of production into land, labour, capital, and management
(entrepreneurship plus technology), with the latter three being
globally mobile, give way to seven assets of urbanizing regions,
grounded locally in a region’s numerous neighbourhoods.

The city region’s seven assets:

1. Human Assets: these fulfill people’s basic human needs (shelter and
good health) while also addressing quality of life needs like
co-education. In the “final analysis, this is a state responsibility.”

2. Organized Civil Society: as an asset, it has self-organizing
attributes and translates into social networks. Friedmann’s numerous
examples include: church, synagogue and masjids with
multi-generational congregations; cooking clubs throughout Spain;
amateur sports teams across city regions; yet paramount are grassroots
people becoming “active politically” who then “lobby civic

3. Heritage Assets: more complex than the catch-all word of ‘culture’,
heritage as an asset is measured by the “spirit of the people and the
vibrancy of a city’s cultural life.” Physical heritage (buildings and
monuments) and heritage values preserve relics (murmur) and
memory (t.ode) of a bygone era. Such continuity is important as
Friedmann argues designated heritage districts (Old Cabbagetown) are
very important. Afrofest, Pedestrian Sundays Kensington Market, Word
on The Street are Toronto examples of “spontaneous appearances of
creative annual events [and] are things to look forward to. [The]
strength of a region are its people and traditions.”

4. Local Intellectual and Creative Assets: the Japanese name such
individuals, “living human treasures”. Contradicting Richard Florida’s
Creative Class thesis of cities competing for nomadic talent,
Friedmann emphasizes, “creative work deserves creative support.”
Consequently local people must have the “freedom to create”. This
suggests support for creativity from ordinary people rather than
extraordinary support for the already creative.

5. Natural and Physical Assets: forest and rivers and the fringe. “The
Fringe is where village and city meet: airports and strip
developments”. The cost of “fractured, fragmented and out of control
development” in a “city’s relentless expansion undermine its own
development.” Suburbs are in fact a ‘public space’ between rural and

6. Environmental Assets: water, air, and high density living.
“Draconian measures are needed, otherwise we drown in our own waste.”

7. Quality of Urban Infrastructure as an Asset: Friedmann asks, “what
purpose and social groups are being served?” Is it the “15% emerging
middle [automobile] class” or the needs of “the 80% bike, [public]
transit, and walking [class]…city building can be a 15% or 80%

Being first to the second mic during the Q&A, I ask John Friedmann,
“How does public space support your seven assets?”

“The first public space was the street. The state shouldn’t regulate
the street other than order. [In] states where public space is absent,
people use ‘semi-public space’, a teahouse or a pub, wherever people
are gathering together. Public space in contemporary China is the
neighbourhood temple where congregations share belief. The question is
one of regulation or absence of regulation. Public finance is
necessary but savings is important. Cities around the world live hand
to mouth with money from federal governments. You need urban savings
to finance the city.”

In other words, Friedmann answers my question with a question: will
the city be 15% full or 80% empty ?